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Villaraigosa: Give California Mayors Control Over Local Schools

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Former Los Angeles Mayor and California gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

California voters will elect a new governor in 2018. Capital Public Radio's Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler starts his six-part interview series with candidates for the 2018 race to become California's next  governor. You can find all the interviews here.

This week, Ben Adler sat down with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. 

Antonio Villaraigosa wants to give big-city California mayors control over their local schools – a power he strived for as mayor of Los Angeles but could never fully attain.

“When one person is ultimately accountable, then they get elected or defeated at the polls based on that accountability,” Villaraigosa told Capital Public Radio in an interview Tuesday after appearing at a conference on early education in Sacramento. “What we have currently is a situation wherein too many of these cities, you’ve got seven people (on a school board) who aren’t accountable to success.”

Villaraigosa, who served two terms as mayor of Los Angeles and before that was speaker of the California Assembly, is one of four prominent Democrats running to replace termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018.

He says he’d support a change to state law that gives California mayors the control – and responsibility – for schools that mayors of big cities in other states have, such as New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC. Such a change has yet to be debated in the California Legislature and would likely require an amendment to the state’s constitution.

“I just think that the buck has to stop with the governor,” he went on. “It has to stop with individuals and not just the Legislature, as an example, or a school board, who can say, well, you don’t understand, Mr. Villaraigosa – these kids are poor, they’re English language learners, their parents didn’t go to college. It’s like, excuses!”

Asked for additional details, his campaign said it plans to roll out “specific policy proposals” in the coming months.

Villaraigosa angered some education groups – especially teachers unions – when he sought to take control of the Los Angeles Unified School District after being sworn in as mayor in 2005. He lost that effort but later took over the administration of several poorly-performing schools.

(PolitiFact California recently checked a claim by Villaraigosa about a rise in LAUSD graduation rates during his term in office. You can read it here.)

As part of his bid to take over Los Angeles schools, he sponsored a 2005 bill that passed the Legislature and was even signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – but it was eventually struck down by the courts as unconstitutional.

Villaraigosa also supports increasing the time it takes for teachers to earn tenure, arguing the current two-year threshold “just isn’t enough” and that it’s too difficult to fire an ineffective teacher in California.

He praised a lower court ruling in the Vergara case, which challenged California’s teacher tenure and dismissal laws. The original judge struck those laws down as unconstitutional in 2014, but an appeals court overturned that ruling in 2016 and the California Supreme Court declined to intervene.

But he acknowledged being a teacher is a tough job and called for more training and support – as well as holding school administrators and superintendents equally accountable.

Editor's Note: The original story said Villaraigosa would "push for" a new state law that gives big-city mayors control of schools. His campaign says that while Villaraigosa supports such a change to state law, he has not yet committed to pushing for a new law and will roll out his education policy proposals later in the campaign. We've updated our story.

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