Tuesday, April 03, 2007

LAUSD v. Villarigosa: The Appeal

4LAKids: Tuesday April 3, 2007 EXTRA—The Appeal
In This Issue:
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• "There was no discussion about the rights of kids," said Thomas Saenz. "There was no discussion about the rights of parents. There was more focus in the courtroom on the rights of school boards." – LA Times

• "All of those reform efforts designed to improve education for kids are imperiled if you end up with a constitutional right of school board members to retain all of the authority they've always had, and that's essentially what's being argued," Saenz said. – Daily News

I agree with Tom Saenz, who is the mayor’s counsel and sits on the county board of education. We haven’t heard nearly enough about the kids; this has been way too much about the adults. The mayor. The board of education. The legislature.

But methinks he protesteth too much. Saenz not only crafted the mayor’s plan, the to-date adjudged unconstitutional legislation that implements it and the legal strategy for this appeal – but as a county school board member would have an oversight role in its implementation …created in the very law he wrote. There was no discussion about the rights of kids and parents in the courtroom; there has been none since the back room deal in Sacramento that created the whole sorry affair.

▲ All that follows, including the rant above, are first impressions – the court has not ruled "...we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost."

• The mayor’s team did a much better job of presenting than they did in the trial court; as appellants the burden of proof is on them.
• That being said the justices asked very pointed questions and it didn’t seem that they were necessarily buying any of the answers from the mayor’s side.
• Justice Klein’s "There are only 'X' number of years to this scheme and then it's all over; does that coincide with the two terms of the mayor?" was the morning’s comedy moment - but it was telling. Her question, beyond the glib, was whether the short timeframe allowed in AB 1381 [Romero] (it sunsets in 2013) is enough time to accomplish much at all?
• In the trial court the question was whether Jiffy Lube could be empowered to run an educational agency under the legislature’s claimed prerogative – this time Justice Kitching set up the Department of Transportation as the hypothetical worst case.
• Justice Croskey opined unprompted that LAUSD is doing well and pointed to improvement and growth in test scores – pointing out that LAUSD is outperforming other urban school districts. He did this to reinforce that the district “is not failing” and that there was no evidence or legislative intent established that AB1381 was punitive. The mayor’s team was forced to agree, even though AB1381 is a rework of the earlier SB 767 (Romero) which did attempt to define LAUSD as a failure!
• Much of the questioning revolved around whether the Council of Mayors and governance structure created was “part of the public school system” …or something else.
• Much was made of the legislative intent of Prop 3 in 1946 – the PTA sponsored initiative constitutional amendment that – among other things prohibits municipal government from interfering in local school districts. The appellants claimed that this was done to bar undue interference in the state college system and further claimed that it was meant to strengthen legislative and not local school board control. As I have no law degree I did not jump up and shout “balderdash!” – but I thought it real hard!
• Other arguments were made as whether AB1381 unconstitutionally meddled in the government of a charter city in that it assigned power reserved to the chartered board of education to the mayor and a council of mayors from outside the charter’s jurisdiction.
• As the discussion focused on the fine points of legislative intent, the role of the legislative counsel and case law there were a few moments when the distinction between “charter cities” and “charter schools” blurred into a haze of legalspeak.
• Ultimately the justices will decide the appeal on the fine points of the law – the discussion was always an intellectual discussion of the intent and meaning of the law within the framework of the state constitution and the city charter, never about policy.

From the direction and tone of the questions I believe that the court will decide for the District. In the interest of full disclosure I am a plaintiff in the original action and a respondent in the appeal.

At one point Justice Klein asked the appellants to discuss the difference between mayoral control of schools in New York City and what AB1381 proposes for LA. You could’ve heard a pin drop as the well prepared attorneys scrambled away from going there!

No criticism of the court is intended; one needs to remember the correct role of the court as an arbiter of law.

And no alignment wit the mayor’s cause should be inferred either, but as Mr. Saenz points out: at no time in the proceedings was the best interest of children discussed or weighed.

That was the job of the legislature, and at that they failed. – smf

Constantly updated Google news search on the appeal

The Associated Press – from the San Jose Mercury News website

Monday, April 2, 2007 - 4:13:35 PM PDT - LOS ANGELES (AP) - A panel of appellate judges on Monday questioned attorneys about a law that was designed to give Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa partial authority over the nation's second-largest school district but was ruled unconstitutional by a lower court.

Justices from the 2nd District Court of Appeal questioned the law's impact on the rights of voters and asked whether the mayor had explored other options for creating change in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Attorneys for Villaraigosa and a group called the Los Angeles Parents Union attempted to convince the justices to overturn the lower court's ruling.

Justice Joan Dempsey Klein noted the legislation, AB 1381, was scheduled to expire in six years. It would shift some powers from the elected seven-member school board to the mayor and a new council of more than two dozen other mayors of cities within LAUSD boundaries. It would also give Villaraigosa control of the district's 36 worst-performing schools.

"There are only 'X' number of years to this scheme and then it's all over," Klein said. "Does that coincide with the two terms of the mayor?"

Fredric D. Woocher, one of the attorneys representing the school district, argued that the Office of Legislative Counsel had twice concluded the bill was unconstitutional. He said the state Legislature "can't just declare the mayor part of the public school system."

Klein asked attorneys for Villaraigosa to tell her "about the right of the people to have a voice with the mayor sitting on top of the heap."

Daniel Collins, an attorney for the mayor, said that the votes of the people were not being "diluted." Rather, the bill establishes a re-delegation of duties, he said.

Deputy Attorney General Susan K. Leach, representing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, argued that school board members would still have significant powers under the law.

After Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law, the school district, along with a coalition of district parents, students, administrators and the League of Women voters filed suit Oct. 10. The law had been scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1 but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs found it unconstitutional in December.

The mayor initially sought to bypass the 2nd District Court of Appeal but the California Supreme Court refused to immediately review Janavs' decision.

The appeals court will likely decide the case within 30 days, according to attorneys.



by Howard Blume and Joel Rubin, Times Staff Writers

April 3, 2007 - A law that would give Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa substantial authority over L.A.'s schools came under stiff scrutiny Monday from justices who will rule on whether it is constitutional.

The two-hour morning hearing, before a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles, was a near replay of arguments before a trial court late last year. In that round, Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs tossed out the statute just days before it was to take effect.

The law would give Villaraigosa direct control of three high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed into them. It also would give him power, through a council of area mayors, to ratify or veto the hiring and firing of the district superintendent, the school system's top administrator. Currently, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest, is overseen by an elected seven-member board.

The trial court threw out the law, citing the state's Constitution, which Janavs said specifically forbids transferring authority over schools to entities outside the public school system.

As it has throughout the long-running battle, the mayor's legal team argued that the Legislature has broad authority over education, including the right to invest Villaraigosa with the power to run L.A. Unified schools.

At Monday's hearing, the justices asked pointed questions about that reasoning.

"So that is the premise of the your argument?" asked Justice Joan Dempsey Klein. "That because the Legislature says the mayor is part of the public school system, he is part of it?"

Justice Patti S. Kitching took up that point: "Is there any limit? If the mayor is part of the school system, can the Department of Transportation be made part of it?"

Daniel P. Collins, a private attorney who represented the mayor's team in defending Assembly Bill 1381, responded that he expected the Legislature to act reasonably. He also noted that mayors in other states have gained authority over local schools without legal problems.

"I understand that," said Kitching, "but they don't have the constitutional provisions that we do."

Frequently during the hearing, Collins argued strenuously that the law, which would strip significant authority from the school board, is legal because neither the state's Constitution nor the Los Angeles City Charter prohibits the Legislature from redefining duties granted to elected school boards.

Besides, said co-counsel Susan Leach, "The school board will still be elected, and they will still have important and essential duties." Leach defended the law on behalf of state government agencies.

But the justices did not concede the point. "Governing boards control school districts, according to the Constitution," said Justice H. Walter Croskey. "It seems to me that is a limitation I have trouble understanding how you get by."

Justice Klein asked that the issue of voter rights be addressed: "The [city's] charter provides that the people of Los Angeles elect a school board," she said. "Speak to me about the elimination of the right of the people to have a voice in this new structure."

The justices had far fewer questions for attorneys representing L.A. Unified and its legal allies, including the California School Boards Assn. and the League of Women Voters.

At several points, justices cited constitutional provisions that buttressed the school district's arguments before its own attorneys could do so.

Afterward, L.A. Unified general counsel Kevin Reed, who took part in the oral arguments, said he was "cautiously optimistic."

"The judges did their homework," Reed said, "and in that sense I feel good about our chances."

School board member David Tokofsky was more blunt. "They've tried five different dresses," he said referring to the mayor's legal arguments, "but it still looks like a pig underneath."

The mayor's top legal advisor said he had hoped for a different focus.

"There was no discussion about the rights of kids," said Thomas Saenz. "There was no discussion about the rights of parents. There was more focus in the courtroom on the rights of school boards."

Despite the aggressive questioning, the court gave no direct indication about its upcoming decision. It could uphold all, part or none of the law.

A ruling is widely anticipated within a few weeks. The losing side is then expected to appeal to the California Supreme Court. The state's highest court, however, would be under no obligation to hear the case.

Even if the mayor's legal team prevails, Villaraigosa probably wouldn't be able to assert authority over his group of schools until next year because of the lengthy litigation, Saenz said.

For the moment, Villaraigosa has turned his attention to achieving influence through electing allies to the school board. In last month's election, in which four board seats were contested, the mayor and his allies funneled well over $2 million to favored candidates. One won her race, and two others face May runoffs.

"This is all about making changes in a district that needs to change," Saenz said, "both the legislation and efforts to elect a school board that's committed to the mayor's plan."


by Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer, LA Daily News

April 3, 2007 - The fate of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's education-reform bill rests in the hands of a state appellate court panel, which heard arguments from both sides Monday.

The state Court of Appeals panel is expected to rule late this month on whether the Legislature has the authority to give Villaraigosa control over Los Angeles Unified - the key to the success of Assembly Bill 1381. The ruling can be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The bill was authored by the mayor, in collaboration with the district's teachers union, and ultimately signed into law last September. It would shift much of the school board's authority to the district's superintendent and grant Villaraigosa direct oversight of three clusters of low-performing schools.

But the school board successfully challenged the law, touching off a series of legal maneuvers that led to Monday's hearing. The LAUSD argued that the Legislature overstepped its authority in granting Villaraigosa a role in running the district.

General Counsel Kevin Reed said a ruling in the appellants' favor would have some "fairly serious unintended consequences down the road."

"It does open the door for really any entity that the Legislature decides is - like the mayor, a decent guy with a lot of charisma and a lot of passion for what he wants to do - to put that individual in charge of schools," said Kevin Reed, the district's general counsel. "It's a pretty dangerous argument."

But Thomas Saenz, the chief counsel for Villaraigosa, said lawmakers need to be able to change school governance in order to ensure student success.

"All of those reform efforts designed to improve education for kids are imperiled if you end up with a constitutional right of school board members to retain all of the authority they've always had, and that's essentially what's being argued," Saenz said.


by Bill Hetherman, City News Service | from the Whittier Daily News

April 3, 2007 - LOS ANGELES - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to assume partial control of the Los Angeles school district came under close scrutiny Monday by members of a state appellate court panel who questioned its impact on voters' rights and asked whether sufficient alternatives had been explored.

The justices from the 2nd District Court of Appeal heard two hours of oral arguments from attorneys for the mayor and the board of education, with Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Parents Union attempting to convince the justices to overturn a judge's Dec. 21 ruling that the law creating the mayor's plan is unconstitutional.

The most pointed questions came from Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, who noted the Legislation, AB 1381, is scheduled to expire in six years if it is eventually enacted into law.

"There are only `X' number of years to this scheme and then it's all over," Klein said. "Does that coincide with the two terms of the mayor?"

Attorneys for the Los Angeles Unified School District argued that the mayor's plan runs afoul of the Constitution and that the Legislature, by making it law, intended to give him powers beyond those he is granted in his elected job as the city's chief executive.

"It is unabashed that their purpose is to take away power and to give it to somebody else they think would do a better job at it," said Fredric D. Woocher, one of the attorneys representing the Board of Education.

The Office of Legislative Counsel twice concluded that the bill was unconstitutional, Woocher said.

AB 1381 would have shifted some of the decision-making authority from the seven-member board to the district superintendent.

Happy Holidays!

• If you are lucky enough to have (or be) a student at - or be a faculty member at a traditional calendared school, have a happy spring break!

• If you work at an office that supports year 'round schools, work hard to get yourself and the children you support this week off in the future!

• If you are working or studying this week, you are God's chosen people.


“A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to it's true principles. It is true that in the mean time we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war & long oppressions of enormous public debtIf the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake. Better luck, therefore, to us all; and health, happiness, & friendly salutations to yourself.”

- Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, June 4, 1798 – on the passage of the Sedition Act

What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member:
Marlene.Canter@lausd.net • 213-241-6387
Monica.Garcia@lausd.net • 213-241-6180
Julie.Korenstein@lausd.net • 213-241-6388
Marguerite.LaMotte@lausd.net • 213-241-6382
Mike.Lansing@lausd.net • 213-241-6385
Jon.Lauritzen@lausd.net • 213-241-6386
David.Tokofsky@lausd.net • 213-241-6383

...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at mayor@lacity.org • 213.978.0600
• Call or e-mail Governor Schwarzenegger: 213-897-0322 e-mail: http://www.govmail.ca.gov/
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• Register.
• Vote.

Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent and parent leader in LAUSD. He is President of Los Angeles 10th District PTSA and represents PTA as Vice-chair the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and is a PTA officer and/or governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is also the elected Youth & Education boardmember on the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council.
• In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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