Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn and Councilmember Antonio Villaraigosa, candidate for mayor in the upcoming May 17 election, have consistently stressed improving education as a top priority, despite the fact that the Los Angeles mayor’s office has little authority over education in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation.
However, if re-elected, Hahn has said he would support a City Charter amendment to allow the mayor’s office to appoint Los Angeles Unified School Board members, permit the creation of five charter schools per year, establish more early intervention programs for young children, and provide incentive pay to teachers who work at low-performing schools.
Similarly, Villaraigosa has pledged that education would be a focus of his term, citing that he would use his position to bring attention to the problems the LAUSD faces, as well as work with school officials to get more funding, from Sacramento.
One of the top priorities among voters is education, said Martin Saiz, CSUN assistant political science professor.
“The mayor is trying to respond to the concerns of the population,” he said.
Giving the mayor more jurisdiction over education would make it easier to hold someone accountable, Saiz said, but he is unsure whether this would improve the LAUSD or not.
“The state of the LAUSD is not good,” Saiz said. “I wouldn’t want that responsibility. It’s a big responsibility for just one person. We would be adding a huge number of duties to the job title of mayor, and we would be making the problem worse. We may never be satisfied with the mayor.”
Citizens should be concerned that the proposal would mean a complete shift of responsibility from a group of elected school board members to just a single elected official, Saiz said. Presently, seven board members and one superintendent govern the LAUSD.
“I don’t want to see a shift from (Superintendent) Roy Romer to someone else,” Saiz said. “He and the board have done a remarkable job.”
Dan Chang, director for the Small Schools Alliance, said he thinks it is about time the mayor proposes a stronger educational stance.
“It’s a stronger accountability structure,” Chang said. “Board members rarely agree, and that makes for a more complicated system. Having the mayor (involved in LAUSD) means less ambiguity about what needs to get done (within the school district), and when. It’s a logically more clean structure for the district.”
Chang’s organization, the Small Schools Alliance, is trying to team up with the mayor, the LAUSD board and other elected officials to transform the school district into one of the best districts in the nation within 10 years, he said.
The Alliance believes that every leader in the Los Angeles area, including the mayor, should take responsibility for the success of Los Angeles’ public schools, Chang said.
“People should know who’s accountable,” Chang said. “People need to know what’s happening (within the school district).”