Budget cuts, outdated textbooks and dangerously high high school drop-out rates are just some of the reasons why Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed a restructuring of Los Angeles Unified schools.
This plan, he states, is all for ‘improv[ing] test scores, for lowering the dropout rate and for making a more successful educational experience for our [L.A. Unified School District] students.’ Surprisingly, however, the plan has been opposed by the United Teachers of Los Angeles. One reason for this is that the plan ‘will not be voted on by the millions of people inside the boundaries of L.A. Unified’ as the mayor explained, but instead, by the legislative body of California.
The plan itself proposes the creation of a superintendent of LAUSD and includes benefits for teachers.
This new superintendent would have the power to grant charters, develop the budget and create and supervise instructional programs for L.A. Unified schools.
Teachers would receive increased salaries and more power to improve the safety and maintenance.
Though Villaraigosa claims the plan increases the power of parents and teachers, ultimately, the increase of power will be for him and for whomever is appointed superintendent.
This is because the superintendent will not be voted upon by Los Angeles County citizens but by a committee of L.A. County mayors.
Each mayor will receive a number of votes proportionate to the size of his or her respective cities, giving Villaraigosa the most power because Los Angeles City is the largest within L.A. County.
The UTLA opposes the plan because it does not offer smaller classes, development of vocational education or better-trained teachers.
The mayor is ignoring these desires and calls for what he believes is the answer to the crisis in Los Angeles schools: more charter schools.
The new plan virtually breaks down the L.A. Unified school system and proposes a new system inspired by successful charter schools.
Using South L.A.’s Vaughn Learning Academy and KIPP Academy as prime examples of places ‘where kids are really doing well in a part of the city where other kids aren’t,’ Villaraigosa assumes children who attend private schools are more successful than those who attend public schools.
This may be true but only in the sense that the children who attend charter schools are given more attention because their classes are smaller than those in most L.A. schools.
Furthermore, the money charter schools receive from private sponsors gives teachers the opportunity to buy updated books and engaging class materials.
Rarely do sponsors assist in the development of public schools and, due to the recent California budget cuts, L.A. schools have even less money to fund the development they desperately need.
Villaraigosa suggests that an increased number of charter schools will decrease the issue of small budgets. I, however, view this as problematic.
Private schools are able to thrive because of the support of private sponsors.
As these sponsors are not limitless, it cannot be assumed that by building more private schools there will be enough sponsors to sustain them.
And even if there were enough sponsors, because the superintendent (according to the new plan) would be overseeing the budget, it raises more questions. Will certain schools receive more money than others because they are in good favor with the superintendent? Will the superintendent manipulate the money for his own benefit?
Mayor Villaraigosa does not seem to consider these questions, ‘We’re putting one person in charge […] like in a business, the CEO is in charge, not the board of directors.’
In other words, in his view, the replacement of the current seven supervisors of LAUSD by one superintendent is far more efficient.
As I see it, in order for this plan to be successful it must be reworked.
The school board must be responsible for more than just evaluating and giving report cards to schools based on their performance.
Teachers and parents must have the ability to vote for who will be supervising the school board.
And, even more, they must be able to determine whether this new plan will be passed.
Without revision, the new plan diminishes the power of parents and teachers and Mayor Villaraigosa can only expect increased opposition if such power is not restored.
Juontel White is a first-year literary journalism major.