School systems in New York, Chicago and Boston boosted achievement and improved efficiency after being taken over by their cities’ mayors, analysts say, supporting Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s claim that the Los Angeles district would improve if controlled from City Hall. In recent speeches to civic groups and educators, Villaraigosa has invoked these mayor-run school systems as models for the Los Angeles Unified School District, second largest in the nation and plagued by dismal achievement and poor graduation rates. But some question whether it’s fair to compare LAUSD with other districts and whether the legal issues of a mayoral takeover would confound the process. “Every city is very different, and it’s impossible to extrapolate from one to another very easily,” said Michael Kirst, professor of education at Stanford University, who has studied mayoral control and testified before the Joint Commission on LAUSD Governance. “That being said, the cities that have had mayoral control were in terrible condition before that – in terms of governance and many elements of performance – so there wasn’t much downside risk.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake There might be more of a downside risk in Los Angeles, where even critics concede that Superintendent Roy Romer has brought stability and leadership to the district. And the district has had some achievement success, Kirst said – just not enough. “Bureaucracies had imploded” in other cities, he said. Chicago public schools were considered the worst in the nation, and the New York system was rife with corruption. Kirst – who’s urging Los Angeles leaders to study mayoral takeover in great detail – concurs that Chicago, Boston and New York are generally better off under mayoral control, with balanced budgets, more centralized curricula and buildings in better repair. NYC takeover In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took over the New York City school system – the nation’s largest, with 1.1 million students, 85,000 teachers and 1,406 schools. He appointed a chancellor to head up the schools and created a citywide advisory panel on education policy. Members are appointed by him and by borough presidents. Until Bloomberg took over, the school district had 32 local school boards across the city and no single curriculum. “Our feeling is that we’ve eliminated the waste and the corruption and the lack of direction that existed at the community level at the city, and we’re simply getting things done,” said Stephen Morello, director of communications for the New York City Department of Education. “The flip side of having the mayor appoint the chancellor is … you have … someone who works in lockstep with the chief executive, who is ultimately accountable.” Given the reality that a school system the size of New York’s cannot be turned around in four years, Morello said, the changes have been noteworthy, though not dramatic. In 2004, the overall four-year graduation rate reached 54 percent, up from 50.8 percent in 2002, and the 2004 dropout rate declined to 16.3 percent from 20.3 percent in 2002, he said. Also, under Bloomberg, the district negotiated a contract with the teachers union that made it less daunting for principals to discipline underperforming personnel. Now, all of the New York teachers are certified, while 15 percent were still noncertified four years ago. Blacks and Latinos are narrowing the achievement gap with whites; a single curriculum was implemented citywide; and a mentoring program was launched for all incoming teachers. Chicago improves Chicago’s 600 public schools also have improved since 1995 under Mayor Richard Daley, who appoints a seven-member board and a chief executive officer to head the system for 435,000 students. “We’ve made steady, steady progress since the mayor took over. We still have a long way to go, but it has had a huge impact,” said Peter Cunningham, Chicago schools spokesman who cited increases in test scores and attendance, as well as reductions in the dropout rate, mobility rate and truancy. The dropout rate declined from 16 percent to 10 percent in the last five years, Cunningham said. The key difference brought by mayoral control: greater accountability. If the voters are unhappy with how the schools are run, they have the power not to re-elect the mayor. “With school board members, there’s no true accountability. But everyone knows who the mayor is, and it’s a much more effective form of accountability,” said Bill Ouchi, Sanford and Betty Sigoloff professor in corporate renewal in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. But while Villaraigosa is a vocal advocate of mayoral control, he concedes it will be a difficult challenge to make it a reality in Los Angeles, one of 27 cities in LAUSD territory. “In Chicago and New York, the boundaries of the district are the same as the city’s,” he said recently. “Here, we have all these other cities (that) have to be involved in whatever we do. It is not a simple matter of just turning it all over to the mayor.” And the California Contract Cities Association board adopted a resolution last week saying that voters in all 28 cities should determine who governs and sets policy for the district. Villaraigosa’s attorney, Thomas Saenz, said the boundary issue probably will result in the need to have a City Charter change as well as amendments to state law. “You can’t take a chance and leave any loose ends,” Saenz said. “Implementation is a long-term strategy, and that’s why we will need to look at the entire legal structure, including state legislation. You don’t want to leave anything to chance.” Fewer than a dozen of the 16,000 school districts in the nation have mayoral control, Ouchi said. Powerful mayor needed A mayor, especially a powerful one, likely would be able to set the tone and rally the community behind the cause of education as a priority, supporters said. When Daley called corporate leaders – as Villaraigosa is now doing – to urge them to “adopt” schools, they opened their wallets. Bloomberg, for example, raised $70 million in private contributions to open an academy that trains new principals. “Suddenly the whole city embraced the cause of education when the mayor took over. He is the leader of the city, and he told the whole city education is his No. 1 priority,” Cunningham said. “A board member can’t do that. It’s that kind of bully pulpit the mayor has that a nonelected school superintendent, who’s not accountable to voters, doesn’t have. “I think sometimes only an elected official has that power, that ability. I just don’t think that a school system can reform itself, and a mayor does.” In addition to greater power to get the business community involved in education and more accountability, a mayor might also carry more weight to stave off special interests, Ouchi said. The teachers union is the only one with political clout that the school board deals with, so union leaders exert a tremendous amount of control over the district and the board, Ouchi said. But this would be only one of the big unions that a mayor encounters. “A mayor is not susceptible to the pressures and desires of just that one union,” Ouchi said. “It gives him a lot more independence, and it gives him a lot more backbone in doing what he thinks is right for children, even if it’s not exactly what the teachers union likes. I think that’s a big part of why mayoral control works.” Education leaders agree that one thing is clear: Changing the governance of Los Angeles schools should not undertaken lightly; there should be extensive study before any dramatic shifts are made. “Los Angeles has been making recent gains in achievement scores. The board is not totally dysfunctional and unable to do anything, and they’re building a lot of buildings,” Kirst said. “It’s not clear that they’re in the same conditions as these other cities, so it’s a hard call. They have to study it in great detail.” Naush Boghossian, (818)713-3722 [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!