Bill Boyarsky
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August 31, 2009

Mayor, please explain this school reform thing

If Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants parents to support his plan to convert 250 Los Angeles schools into charter schools, he needs to explain why he thinks this would be an improvement.

I sort of understand charter schools. Basically, private organizations—Green Dot is the best known—take over public schools and, using public funds and donations, run them free of many of the LAUSD rules and restrictions. But I can't tell you how they work and I have a lot of questions about them. More important, most parents do too.

The mayor has to answer these questions. He got the school board to approve the scheme. Here are some questions parents—or grandparents like me—want answered:

Why are charter schools better? Education scholar Diane Ravitch wrote in the Times that "Charter schools vary in quality from excellent to abysmal." You told Patt Morrison on KPCC that the schools would "meet a metrics driven plan" on making improvements. That's no answer.

Will parents have anything say in running the schools? Be specific, without all the clich├ęs about consultation.

What if parents like their elementary, middle or high school and don't want a high- powered operator like Green Dot to take it over?

What if some of the private operators are know-it-alls who ignore parents or are ideological or religious fanatics?

There are many other questions, and I am sure the mayor can answer them—if he devotes serious time, energy and concentration to the project. This means working many days and nights, talking to worried parents. No more time with glamour friends, no more fine meals with Brentwood foodie pals. He needs to spend his evenings in school auditoriums with parents worried about the biggest decision of their current lives, the education of their children.

The mayor has a new team. Robin Kramer, who stepped down as chief of staff, is one of the best-organized people I know. But she couldn't keep Villaraigosa on a serious path. Her successor's last job was solving the gang problem, but the gangs remain.

Villaraigosa's new media chief is a veteran of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and of all its infamous backstabbing feuds. I hope the two newcomers don't spend their time arguing and fighting for power while the mayor slips out the side door for dinner at the newest hot restaurant.

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