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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued strong criticisms of the United Teachers of Los Angeles this morning at a conference sponsored by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, where he called the union's leadership "the most powerful defenders of the status quo."

Villaraigosa told the audience gathered at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento that the UTLA, which represents some 45,000 teachers and other school employees in Southern California, had opposed proposals to let nonprofits and other groups run new or failing schools in Los Angeles.

He also criticized the current system for teacher tenure, saying, according to a text of prepared comments, "current tenure and evaluation practices aren't just meaningless for parents and districts, they are meaningless for the dedicated teachers seeking to grow and improve."

The mayor and former Assembly speaker added that the state should amend its education code to "streamline the dismissal process."

"This isn't just about doing away with the 'Dance of the Lemons,'" Villaraigosa said. "It is about chopping down the trees that grow bad lemons. It's about changing an entire system."

UPDATE: UTLA President A.J. Duffy responded in a statement:

"Schools succeed when everyone - parents, teachers, school districts, and the community - work together. UTLA has and continues to work in collaboration with all stakeholders. Pointing fingers and laying blame does not help improve our schools. UTLA will continue our partnership with all parties to overcome the devastating effects of the budget cuts on the education program for our students."

The mayor pointed out that he had once been an organizer for UTLA and a legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association.

"I do not say this because of any animus towards unions," Villaraigosa said. "I deeply believe that teachers' unions can and must be part of our efforts to transform our schools. Regrettably, they have yet to join us as we have forged ahead with a reform agenda."

He added, straying from his prepared remarks, "You could throw out seniority, tenure completely or we could fix it, and I think it's really up to the teachers union."

In a panel of education experts that followed the mayor's speech, CTA President David Sanchez reponded that teachers were wrestling with a lack of resources and budget cuts and that government officials should work with teachers to improve schools.

"We need over the next 10 years 100,000 teachers, but with the environment we currently operate in, why would you go into the profession because there is a strong possibility you're going to lose your job," Sanchez said.


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