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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

L.A. Mayoral Candidates Lay Out Their Vision For Education

Salomon Fuentes |
February 27, 2013 | 9:59 p.m. PST

Executive Producer

The five major mayoral candidates (Neon Tommy)
The five major mayoral candidates (Neon Tommy)
In their final formal discussion before the March 5 election, all five of the major Los Angeles mayoral candidates promised to help make fundamental improvements to Los Angeles Unified School District at an education summit Wednesday.

Each of the candidates stressed the need for added funding to LAUSD, along with increased accountability for schools and teachers and creating technologically skilled graduates.

“The health of our city depends on our schools more than anything else,” said City Controller Wendy Greuel, stressing the underlying importance of a capable workforce to the city’s economy.

“Teachers have to be the center of how we move forward,” said Councilman Eric Garcetti. “I have a deep respect for [teachers] unions, but also a deep respect for accountability as well.”

The summit, hosted by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, sought to highlight progress LAUSD has made throughout the two terms of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Though the candidates were pleased at the current efforts from Villaraigosa, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), each of them said that improvements were still needed and necessary.

“How can we as Angelenos convince existing businesses to stay in our city...when we don’t have a public school system that the employees of those businesses are comfortable putting their kids in?” asked candidate Kevin James. “Because until we answer that problem, we will not solve the job crisis.”

“We have made some progress,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry. “But we have to continue to work very hard to keep kids in school, to make sure they graduate from high school.”

Though there is no formal mayoral control over the LAUSD, the candidates insisted that any increases in the education budget would be put to good use. Some ideas included restoring funding to adult education, incentives for afterschool programs and technology programs for students.

“I really appreciated many of (the candidates) in depth comments around, first supporting, and then reforming our schools,” said Jonathan Williams, the CEO of Accelerated Schools, a charter school chain in South Los Angeles.

“There have been a lot of cuts over the last four years to our public education institutions and we’ve seen programs that keep kids enrolled, and excited about coming to school diminished or cut altogether. So it was nice to hear that focus on re-edifying our school system.”

Significant disagreements were far and in between during the discussion, with all candidates pledging to work with UTLA to find a better way of making teacher evaluations fairer. Greuel added that she would push for parents’ feedback to be worked into evaluations, as currently test scores and grades make up the bulk of the evaluations.

The summit also included a tribute to Villaraigosa, who will be stepping down on July 1.

In particular, Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and Villaraigosa put a spotlight on partnership schools, which operate with a higher level of independence than most schools, leading to what Villaraigosa termed, “the largest [education] turnaround effort in the United States.”

Since Villaraigosa became mayor in 2005, the number of district schools that have met California’s Academic Performance Index (API) goal of 800, have doubled from about 180 schools reaching the target, to about 360, or one-third of all LAUSD schools.

“This issue of education…it’s really the civil rights issue of our time,” Villaraigosa said. “We’ve given up on too many of our kids. We haven’t said to them, ‘I believe in you.’”

“These are kids that can reach for the stars, but we have to be willing to fight for them.”

Reach Executive Producer Salomon Fuentes here; Follow him on Twitter here.



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