The two Los Angeles mayoral candidates pledged Tuesday to make education a priority, telling radio listeners during a live debate that the city's economy depends on improving its schools.
At a mostly cordial radio debate at the Petersen Automotive Museum, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel agreed on many education issues.
Both said they'd fight for more state dollars for schools, support laws removing teachers accused of misconduct, and push for more technology tools in the classroom.
And each candidate drew a line from education to job growth.
"My number one priority is turning around this economy, and we're not going to turn around the economy without our schools," Garcetti said. "That means adult education. Putting people back to work when they are unemployed. And it means a comprehensive school system that is going to get kids ready for college, ready for careers."
"We need to prepare our kids for the jobs of the future," Greuel agreed, adding later that she would have a deputy mayor of education in her office.
The hour-long debate was hosted by KCRW-FM (89.9) and Zocalo Square. KCRW radio host Warren Olney asked questions of the two candidates, who are both seeking to replace termed-out Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The mayor has no direct power over the Los Angeles Unified School District, but Villaraigosa has used the bully pulpit to help elect school board members and create independent charter schools.
Although he has been blamed for falling short of his education goals, last month Villaraigosa criticized Greuel and Garcetti for not putting education front and center in the race.
Greuel, whose 9-year-old son attends a Los Angeles Unified School District charter school, called the topic "personal, not political."
Greuel repeatedly mentioned her son's teachers by name and cited issues -- like a lack of cleaning supplies -- needed at his Valley Village school.
She also suggested she would be better than her rival at protecting kids from "gangs, guns and child predators" and putting schools first because she is a mother.
"If you want to make sure education dollars are getting into the classroom, put a mom in charge," Greuel told the audience.
Pressed by Olney for specifics on how each candidate would improve schools, Garcetti pointed to improvements in his council district.
At Mount Washington Elementary School, a community center and new library were built with money that included $1.6 million in grant funds, dollars normally spent on anti-poverty projects.
"It's my responsibility to help the community across these divisions," Garcetti said. "We have built up walls around our schools and said you're on your own."
The candidates were asked to name who they are supporting in the LAUSD District 6 school board race in the eastern San Fernando Valley. Greuel said she is backing Antonio Sanchez over Monica Ratliff. Garcetti said he had only met with one of the candidates.
When the topic turned to funding, both candidates expressed regret that the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles opposed applying for "Race to the Top" federal funding for schools.
The UTLA has endorsed Garcetti.
At one point, a protester interrupted the debate, stating LAUSD's use of Wi-Fi in its schools causes health risks. "We're spending $1 million to microwave our children," the man shouted.
Rolling with the punches, Olney turned the debate to the topic of technology as the protester was escorted out. Garcetti said he supports LAUSD's use of iPads in classrooms, while Greuel agreed that "technology can get kids excited."
A few skirmishes punctuated the debate, particularly when Greuel brought up a new television attack ad launched by the Garcetti campaign.
The 30-second spot highlights the $3.8 million raised by a committee led by the Department of Water and Power union on Greuel, and calls her the "DWP's mayor."
"It is one of the most despicable television ads," Greuel told the audience.
Garcetti defended himself, saying he has been under attack for eight weeks by Greuel campaign.
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