The achievement gap in public schools is “the civil rights issue of our time,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told a group of students and community members at a recent discussion hosted by LMU’s Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles.
Villaraigosa sat down with Professor Fernando Guerra, director of the center, in the William H. Hannon Library for the first of what is hoped to be a series of discussions about his legacy and the state of Los Angeles now and into the future.
The first topic was education, and the mayor spoke openly about the challenges he faced early into his first term when he decided to take on the local school system, which his office has no jurisdiction over.
The struggles were “battles royale,” Villaraigosa said of his fights in the state Legislature, the court system, and in the press. At first, he attempted to gain control of the Los Angeles Unified School District through legislation that was later ruled unconstitutional.
Eventually, he formed a nonprofit that now manages 22 LAUSD schools. But that came only after bruising fights with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the union he worked for as an organizer in the 1980s.
Guerra pointed out that seeming contradiction and asked the mayor: “What would Antonio Villaraigosa in 1984 think of Antonio Villaraigosa in 2009?"
“He’d probably be upset,” the mayor allowed. “But let me clarify. I don’t think the teachers union is the problem. We’re all the problem. Universities are the problem when they don’t teach future teachers how best to teach. Political leaders are the problem when they say, ‘Not my job.’ Unions are just the most powerful defenders of a broken system.”
Villaraigosa’s second term in office will end in 2013. Though coy about his future plans in the political arena - he is chairing this year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. - the mayor did say he is considering writing a memoir and finding work on the public speaking circuit.