VICA backs LAUSD breakup

first_imgThe influential Valley Industry and Commerce Association plunged Friday into the political maelstrom surrounding school reform by endorsing legislation calling for breakup of Los Angeles Unified into at least 15 smaller districts. The group that represents about 300 corporate members across the San Fernando Valley area supports the identical bills proposed by Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Granada Hills, and Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, to split the 727,000-student district by 2010 into districts with no more than 50,000 students each. VICA’s support, coming at a time when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is getting ready to unveil his own reform plan, is a sign of growing support for structural change in the way local schools are run. “There’s no question about it. It’s a school reform symphony and the more people there are on the same page singing the same song, we’re more apt to get something done,” said VICA Chairman Bob Scott, who said they’re looking for a meaningful reorganization of the district. Under his proposal, the reorganization would be overseen by a nine-member commission of mayors from the 27 cities the district serves, the state superintendent of public instruction and university professors. L.A. Unified officials expressed concern that the issue of education reform has become fraught with political agendas, distracting from a focus on actions that would truly affect student achievement. Proposals by Villaraigosa, Richman and Runner muffle the real reforms under way at the LAUSD, they said, pointing to improvement in state academic performance test results and efforts to reduce the dropout rates. Vivien Castro, director of legislative and governmental affairs at the LAUSD, said the district welcomes substantive discussions on all the reform proposals on the table. “The local community should take a stand and be aware of all these issues and be able to weigh these so-called reforms to determine whether they actually are going to improve student experience and achievement,” Castro said. “We want to bring the focus back to what matters for pupils and to improve their academic achievement.” Villaraigosa has questioned whether breakup is practical and VICA has left the possibility of supporting mayoral takeover. More than two-thirds of VICA’s board voted Tuesday to support the Richman/Runner reorganization bills, and Scott said it will be one of their “landmark issues” they will champion in the next year or two by aggressively informing the public to rally support. “The thought is if we bring it closer to the people and we get the size of the school districts down to below 50,000, that that will give us and the various communities of Los Angeles the ability to have a better handle on the operation of the districts,” he said. The endorsement will likely trigger other civic and business groups to get involved in reform efforts aimed at the nation’s second-largest school district, said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. “It is a huge endorsement because VICA is a very well regarded organization representing a huge chunk of the city of Los Angeles and this just adds fuel to the fire that Mayor Villaraigosa has already lit. VICA is drawing a line in the sand,” Kyser said. “The ball is rolling downhill more and more rapidly, and now that VICA has come out with this stance, I think you may see other groups fall in behind them, and this is going to get people’s attention.” The United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley has also endorsed the legislation. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, seen as a key endorsement, has not yet taken a position on the legislation or on mayoral takeover, but has called for all parties – the Mayor’s Office, business community, education providers and the school district – to work together to create a plan and goals, as a way to build consensus, said spokeswoman Marie Condron. VICA’s commitment to taking an aggressive stance on the issue could be the sign of a revived sense of Valley activism – dormant since the secession movement a few years ago. “I think it’s a constructive sign that the stakeholders in the San Fernando Valley are going to re-engage in a metropolitan-wide effort to provide transparency and accountability of LAUSD, so they’re joining forces,” said David Abel, chairman of New Schools Better Neighborhoods, a civic advocacy organization that promotes a 21st-century vision for California’s urban school districts. School board member Jon Lauritzen, who represents parts of the Valley, said he was disappointed in the position taken by VICA. “I think it has some merit to look at the possibility of dividing things up … but I still think the L.A. community in general is better served by a large school district that is comprehensive,” he said. “When you break up a school district like Los Angeles, it’s like breaking up a marriage, and you don’t go through that without suffering some traumatic effects.” While a number of LAUSD breakup and reform efforts stalled in the past decade, Hertzberg said this time change will happen. “Reform of the education system is going to stick, because everybody deeply understands how so dramatically poor education affects our economy and public safety. In this new economy, the only ability to succeed is through education and everybody understands that,” he said. “It’s a different situation now and there’s a real sentiment in the public that this has to get fixed, so I don’t think this is going away.” Naush Boghossian, (818) 713-3722 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE‘Mame,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’ composer Jerry Herman dies at 88 “We have the charter-school movement going on. We have the possibility of mayoral control and breaking up/reorganizing the school district. There are a lot of ideas out there with varying degrees of merit, but we all agree that something has to be done.” Others who have called for major reform took the same tone. “The frustration about the failing schools is alive and well and the civic leaders in the San Fernando Valley and throughout the L.A. area are still mad as hell about the failing school system and want something to be done,” said former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who mounted his campaign for Los Angeles mayor around a call for breaking up the LAUSD. “The status quo is just not good enough.” Richman said the public is fed up with the district’s failures. “The community has tried over decades to break up L.A. Unified into more manageable and accountable districts, but has been repeatedly stymied in their efforts. There’s no question that there is a much broader recognition of the failure of LAUSD and the need for reform, whether that reform is mayoral takeover, or what I think is a better option, the breakup of the district into smaller districts.” last_img read more