*The Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, showed in Compton (of all places) to speak up on what we in South Los Angeles have known for the past two years, that teacher’s unions (CTA, UTLA, etc.) have been the biggest hurdle to reforming public schools.
The Mayor showed up in Compton to highlight the union’s attempt to nullify a parent vote to convert a failing public school to an independent charter school. Villaraigosa said the unions are “one unwavering roadblock to reform.”
He is right on that point. They have been and will be. But he is wrong to have waited so long to speak. It has been obvious from the outset of his whole reform movement. Teacher’s union have been “reforming busting” in the same ways they accuse private sector leaders, and some government leaders, of “union busting” on demands of livable wages for workers.
It’s interesting that Villaraigosa would show up now on this fight, after he got his schools (and cut his deal with the “big box” charter systems), after he took over the school board with a real “gang of four” that got the eastside four new charter schools out of LAUSD but ignored the Superintendent’s recommendation for one new charter schools in South L.A. earlier this year. Where the hell has he been since that fight occurred in January of this year? A fight where the black community could have used his voice, influence and bully pulpit.
You know the one. The first new school reform movement in LAUSD, where charter school opportunities were represented as viable. The one where LAUSD school board member, Marguerite LaMotte, corralled black leadership at her office under the guise of supporting “student first” education and charter school reforms while organizing in the back room with the teachers union to protect poor teachers at low performing schools. Then she opposed the Superintendent’s recommendation and the Mayor’s “gang of four,” led by School Board President, Monica Garcia, voted with LaMotte. Now, the Mayor wants to take out LaMotte with one of the community folk who was sitting in the room—and said nothing the whole time—to replace her. A person most people wouldn’t follow to the store, much less to the school board (but that’s another commentary).
The point here is that if the Mayor wants to play “Superman,” isn’t he supposed to get to the scene of the crime BEFORE the crime occurs (and what is happening to kids in South L.A. is truly a crime)? Villaraigosa’s arrival now is tantamount to coming after a victim has been robbed. The charter school ICEF bidded on, and deserved to get, is gone. In fact, ICEF got bumped in the head twice. Now they’re on life support, and charter school raider, Dick Riordan, is their doctor. Lord help em. The three elementary schools that should have been awarded to charter operators were handed back to the same teachers that caused them to fail. Where was the Mayor then? Exactly? Nowhere to be seen, while our children were jacked at gunpoint (or LAUSD “board” point). Now he wants to start a fight with union, after everybody “got theirs.” The timing couldn’t be more alarming, but that’s the Mayor.
I equate Antonio Villaraigosa to being the “Mayor of Stuffville,” because he has so much stuff on his plate-he can’t get to it all. Also, because he’s full of s…stuff. Many in the black community have determined that we can’t rely on what he says, or for him to come through on anything significant. Yet, he never loses sight of Latino, law enforcement and labor interests, which makes this new anti-labor position so interesting. Beyond those three, anything else-he may get to it or he may not. If you’re gonna wager, bet on “may not.” That’s the way he’s done the black community, the core constituency that got him elected. The other core constituency that got him elected were labor unions. In fact, he comes out of the labor movement, as does a half dozen other Latino elected officials who have used the growth of the labor movement here in Los Angeles to springboard into politics in the same way blacks once used the church or civil groups to springboard into politics. Labor unions are the main pipelines for Latino leadership development. I can’t see him rejecting his own origins. He has to know that he’ll need them again in four years when he runs for Governor. Labor has a long memory.
I can’t really see him putting his neck on the chopping block with labor unions over failing black children educational interests, but I intend to find out. Is he fronting off labor for a sincere point in the black community? Or is he fronting off the black community to make a symbolic point with labor? Standing in front of labor is like standing in front of a speeding train. Standing in front of the black community is like trying to leap a tall building in a single bound. Bottomline is, he’s gonna stand with one and get bowled over by the other. I, for one, would like to see if Antonio Villaraigosa will take a hit for the black community (hell, he takes one for everybody else). If he’s gonna take a hit, education should be the one. If he can deliver on education, he’s Superman.
Some are just glad he finally showed up. I’m still stuck on “where the hell has he been?” The robbery has already taken place. Labor is just one of the scoundrels that got away with black children’s education, but they’re main ones “road-blocking” reform.
Let’s see if Mayor Villaraigosa really is Superman, and if he can catch labor. Or will labor catch him. After all, labor is his “kryptonite.”
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.