Even as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa faces a lengthy battle for control of Los Angeles public schools, he has launched more immediate efforts to propel broad change in the district. Moving to fulfill a campaign vow to improve education, he has expanded the after-school LA’s BEST program, created a council of education advisers to recommend reform, pledged to raise $35 million privately to provide health care for district children, and has begun efforts to boost student safety. And while his push for mayoral control of the Los Angeles Unified School District has antagonized many school officials, his broader efforts in his first five months in office have been welcomed as more aggressive than those of his predecessors. “From what I’m seeing, it’s a much broader base of support,” school board member Mike Lansing said. “I think he’s picked up the mantle and is trying to take it to a new level.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals Much of Villaraigosa’s focus on education is rooted in his own experiences dropping out of a parochial school and, as he has described it, being given a second chance at Roosevelt High School. But improving the environment for Los Angeles’ 727,000 students also has become a linchpin in his vision for vast improvements in the city, including public safety, transportation, housing and jobs. “We must give our children the skills they need to compete and succeed in a global economy,” Villaraigosa said. “Reforming Los Angeles’ schools is about our children, our economy and the future of our city.” Toward that end, he is pushing for broad cooperation between the city and district. “Most cities look at school districts as a separate political entity that occupies the same space but is separate from city government,” Deputy Mayor Carolyn Webb de Macias said. “We are trying to change that.” Acting on a top recommendation last month from the council of education advisers, Villaraigosa has appealed to the business community to raise $35 million to fill the gap of health care for all children in the LAUSD. “What we found is that one of the biggest reasons for absences by students was health care, particularly dental care, if you can believe that,” Webb de Macias said. “Even parents who have health insurance often don’t have dental insurance for their children. And, the more a child is absent, the poorer their performance.” Los Angeles Unified officials estimate as many as 33 percent of district students do not have health and dental insurance. A 2003 California Health Interview Survey estimated that 191,000 children ages 6 to 18 in Los Angeles County are uninsured. The issue hits close to home for Villaraigosa, who said he never visited a dentist when he was young. “Many kids miss school up to 20 days a year primarily because they have no dental care,” he said at a press conference last week announcing a grant that would provide health care coverage for more than 2,000 Los Angeles children. Villaraigosa also is working with state legislators to try to find $300 million to $400 million that would be needed for an annual statewide health care program for all children. He also has met with Southern California Grantmakers, representing 2,500 foundations based in the city, to seek funding for school needs. “In the past, these foundations have come to us and said, ‘These are the programs we have money for. Why don’t you apply for some of it?’ What we are saying to them is that, ‘Here is a list of needs the city has. What can you do to help?”‘ Webb de Macias said. “It’s a completely different strategy.” She also said Villaraigosa was given a list of major corporations in the city that could be approached for funding to help the schools. “In the 1980s, we had more corporations and their executives based here, and there was a culture of giving,” Webb de Macias said. “Because of mergers and other factors, we don’t have that anymore. The mayor is trying to rebuild that.” Efforts to rebuild began even with his inaugural eve fundraiser, which increased funding for the after-school LA’s BEST program by $7 million and allowed it to be expanded to 17 additional schools. LA’s BEST now operates at 147 elementary schools in the district. The Mayor’s Office is also moving ahead with creating safe passages for children to and from schools. The city has identified more than 1,000 sites – from libraries and community centers to police and fire stations – that will be networked in the coming months to serve as safe havens for children. And the city has taken aim at addressing violence and racial tensions on campuses, working with UCLA and a mediation training program to teach high school students how to deal with campus problems. “We’ve done some of this at a high school and it’s proven effective,” Webb de Macias said. “What we want to do is bring together about 400 students from different schools to train them and they will train other students, so this concept can spread.” Lansing said the support is welcome, although he believes the city always should have been responsible for some of the efforts. “I’m very supportive of them coming out and doing support programs, but the reality is after-school and school safety programs should be things cities are responsible for,” Lansing said. “We’ve pretty much taken up after-school programs because the city of Los Angeles has abdicated it. If they want to step up and help out, that’s great.” Lansing said the cooperation, however, highlights the collaboration between schools and cities that is needed. “I think that’s exactly where it’s supposed to be – the city needs to be supportive of the students and the educational system – and any way we can work together, I’m all for,” Lansing said. “But, governance and instruction are a much more involved and a much greater task … and I have yet to hear anything about how the mayor and the city taking over the governance of the school district is going to improve student learning.” Rick Orlov, (213) 978-0390 [email protected] Here are some of the proposals being studied by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as he works with the Los Angeles Unified School District on immediate solutions: Develop a “safe passages” program for students traveling to and from schools. Develop student-to-student mediation programs to help reduce campus violence. Provide more funding for LA’s BEST pre- and after-school programs. Raise $35 million from private donors to provide health and dental care for students. Develop more joint-use sites of schools, libraries and parks. Work with corporations and private foundations to develop volunteer and fundraising programs for schools. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!