The Business Journal solicited these commentaries on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's campaign to take control of L.A.'s schools.


United Teachers Los Angeles applauds the mayor's passion and concern for the plight of many of our schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. In particular, we wholeheartedly agree with him that teachers and parents must be empowered and given the resources for LAUSD students to receive the quality education they so richly deserve.


But UTLA believes that the mayor would be making a mistake on many levels to attempt to take over the district, thereby denying voters the right to elect members of the school board. Given the mayor's proud record as a fighter for civil rights and civil liberties, we are certain he does not want to be seen as someone who would roll back rights that so many have struggled to achieve.


Of course, if it could be clearly demonstrated that mayoral control in other urban school districts had any significant effect on student achievement, perhaps an argument could be made for disenfranchising voters. But no study of mayoral control bears out such a claim.


Without that clear evidence, subjecting our city to a costly and divisive turf battle over district governance would be counterproductive.


We do think, however, that there is an alternative to mayoral control that clearly addresses the issues of low student achievement, school dropouts, and school safety the public is so rightly concerned about.


Along with the mayor, UTLA wants resources to go directly to the classroom, rather than to the district bureaucracy. Toward this end, UTLA has formed an alliance with parent groups, community-based organizations, educational collaboratives, other unions, and university professors to transform district schools, especially in low-income communities, into quality institutions of learning for all students that prepare them for college, a career, and responsible citizenship.


This alliance wants what the mayor wants:
-Putting quality teachers in every classroom and the best teachers in the schools of greatest need.
-Raising the professional level of teaching by providing teachers with the necessary training, assistance, resources, and autonomy to make a difference in every student's life.
-Welcoming and involving parents as an essential component of the educational process.
-Fostering a collaborative culture in every school in which administrators, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders work closely together to meet the needs of all students.


With the mayor's assistance and powers of persuasion, we believe that the district will continue to make significant moves in this direction.


But much more is needed. Rather than fight one another or operate in isolation, the district and the city must form the closest possible partnership to ensure that students come to school safe, healthy, and ready to learn. After-school programs, mentoring, safe passages to school, tutoring, joint use plans all require collaboration and resources that must be set in motion without delay.


With such collaboration and a clear division of labor, the mayor and the city will be able to give the highest priority to addressing the issues of poverty, health care, homelessness, housing, transportation, crime, violence, and gangs that directly influence so many of our students' capacity and motivation to be successful in school and in life.


Collaboration, not confrontation, between the district and the city is an essential key to a quality education. Let us all work from within and alongside the district to make our schools the best that they can be.


*A. J. Duffy is president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a union representing 48,000 teachers, counselors, librarians and health science professional employees of the L.A. Unified School District.

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