LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for a major overhaul of the Southland education system today, during his annual State of the City speech.
Villaraigosa said he chose Jefferson High School as the site for his speech because it is an example of a school that has made a significant turnaround through the Public School Choice, a program he supports. The program, which began in 2009, identifies the city's Los Angeles Unified School District's lowest performing schools for targeted improvement plans that include installing new leadership.
"While it is true that I don't have any formal authority over our schools, I do have a bully pulpit and I will continue to use it," the mayor said.
Villaraigosa called for a fundamental shift in the management of the LAUSD -- changing from a system in which decisions are made at the top to one where local schools make the calls on budget, staffing, curriculum, schedule and professional development.
The mayor said the expiration of teachers' contracts in June will provide an opportunity to negotiate a new contract, one that he said should empower teachers, parents and principals. He also hinted his support for a teacher-evaluation system that measures performance in part by the achievement of the educator's students.
"... I know that these proposals will raise some concern and spark controversy. ... As a former union organizer, I understand your (teachers') fear. I stood with you then and I'll stand by you now. Change is never easy. It's hard to risk what you've got when you never had what you deserve."
Those comments drew some criticism from A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing LAUSD teachers. Duffy said measuring a teacher's performance by students' performance on standardized tests is "moving down the road toward narrowing the curriculum, getting rid of the arts and social studies and sciences in elementary school."
The mayor called for more public-private partnering when it comes to education, including the establishment of a fund to maintain disappearing art, music and after-school programs. He also suggested expanding "zones of choice," which allow parents to rank and prioritize a selection of schools in their areas.
The mayor fired a shot at Sacramento, saying the state needs to restore funding for education "so we aren't firing a single -- not one -- effective teacher, let alone 20 percent of the teachers in the state's largest school district."
Villaraigosa spent the rest of his speech listing the bright spots in the city's economy, infrastructure, environmental efforts and crime reduction. He cited statistics that suggest the economy is improving, including a declining unemployment rate, and bumps in the housing and construction markets.
He touted his America Fast Forward plan -- an effort to leverage federal transportation dollars with local money -- and his Summer Night Lights program, which he said led to the safest summer in three decades.
"The simple truth is, our budget will propose a series of deep, permanent and strategic reductions in city spending," Villaraigosa said of his proposed budget, which is scheduled to be released April 20.
The mayor did not talk about contentious negotiations taking place with police and firefighters' unions over pension changes that have been recommended to cut the city's budget deficit.
Villaraigosa closed his speech quoting the venue's namesake, President Thomas Jefferson, "To penetrate and dissipate the clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education.
"... This is our opportunity. Let's seize it together. Our kids are counting on us."
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)
for more features.