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Villaraigosa joins rally in support of schools resolution

August 25, 2009 |  2:12 pm

[UPDATE at 5:35 p.m.: The Board of Education voted 6-1 for the proposal after nearly four hours of debate.]

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa added his voice to a rally in support of a plan to give charter schools access to 50 new schools scheduled to open over the next four years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Villaraigosa spoke outside district headquarters before a crowd of at least 2,000 charter-school parents and supporters who drove or were bused in for the occasion. Most wore light blue shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “My Child, My Choice.”

“We’re here today to stand up for our children,” Villaraigosa told a cheering crowd while standing with about 25 students called up to appear with him. He stood under a banner proclaiming a “Parent Revolution,” which is the name of a parent-organizing campaign supported by leading charter school companies.

Third Street was blocked off in the area to accommodate the rally, causing traffic and parking snarls.

The resolution affecting the new schools will be debated starting at 2 p.m. in the district’s packed boardroom.

Outside the meeting room, waiting to get in, were both supporters and opponents of the resolution, which was authored by board member Yolie Flores Aguilar. Labor unions, especially United Teachers Los Angeles, have opposed the measure, which Villaraigosa addressed in remarks that lasted about seven minutes.

“I am pro-union but I am pro-parent as well,” the mayor said. “If workers have rights, then parents ought to have rights too.” He added: “This school board understands that parents are going to have a voice.”

Baldwin Hills parent Ennis Cooper and his wife took the day off from work to attend the rally.

“We are here to support parents’ ability to make choices,” Cooper said.

The crowd outside also included many opponents of the measure, which has been expanded to include persistently low-performing schools. About 200 schools could be affected, although the district already has the authority under federal law to restructure such schools.

 “We don’t think it’s right for the schools to be given to people who just want to make money,” said Robert Hutchins, a volunteer at Crestwood Elementary School in San Pedro. He was reflecting a common sentiment among critics of charter schools, which must be nonprofit in California. Charter schools are independently managed and exempt from district union contracts.

“There’s no question schools need change,” said first-grade teacher Melissa Wiley, who also opposes the resolution. “But local control is the real issue. UTLA has been asking for it all along.”

-- Jason Song and Howard Blume