There were roughly 100 audience members at Thursday night’s School Board candidate forum in District 4, which featured incumbent Steve Zimmer and challenger Kate Anderson.
Over all, the event was polite and informative, showing off both candidates’ strengths, stylistic and substantive differences, and their support for Superintendent John Deasy.
Anderson, with her twin daughters sitting in the back row, made the case that as a mother she would bring an important perspective to the Board. She criticized Zimmer for his proposals on teacher evaluations and charter schools, lashed out at teachers union UTLA — twice — and pointed out that the union has attacked Deasy and endorsed Zimmer.
Zimmer demonstrated how passionate he is — articulating his thoughts more clearly and completely than he often does at School Board meetings — and defending his proposals and his record. He claimed that many of his ideas were misunderstood, and described himself as an independent voice on a fractured School Board who is often supportive of Deasy.
When asked about the new teacher evaluation agreement that was recently ratified by UTLA, Anderson called it “a huge step forward” but added that some of the measures of student outcome that will be used like raw California Standardized Test scores are “too mushy to be effective,” She also wondered what school-wide Academic Growth Over Time (AGT) numbers had to do with judging individual teachers.
Zimmer defended the new deal, reminding audience members how difficult it was to find common ground and arguing that the next step would be to use the evaluations to train teachers and help them improve. As to school-wide AGT, he said, “Teaching is a team sport.”
Last year, Zimmer proposed a resolution rejecting the use of individual AGT scores as a sole measure of pupil progress. At tonight’s debate, Anderson recalled a conversation she had with Zimmer back then, and said that hearing Zimmer defend his proposal was when she decided she wanted to run for School Board.
“It’s interesting that a huge misunderstanding can create a huge school board race,” replied Zimmer. The audience laughed. This has been a common refrain from Zimmer – that his proposals have been misconstrued.
Anderson stressed teacher quality throughout the forum, and said she opposed seniority-based firing (when newer teachers are let go first, regardless of how well they perform.
The candidates agreed on a number of things. Both highlighted their support for funding early education, called for more funding for schools and lauded Governor Jerry Brown for his recent proposal to change the way school money is divvied up within the state (see: California Governor wants to shift funding to schools with poorer students). Both agreed that the district needs to do a better job of incorporating the innovations of charter schools into district schools.
But the topic of charter schools received two different emphases.
“This is a topic that creates a lot of controversy, but it shouldn’t,” Zimmer said. “This Board of education has approved more charters than any school in the nation, and I’m proud if that.” But, he added, “We don’t have a strategic plan… ensuring access and quality.”
Zimmer cited recent battles over co-location, when charter schools and district schools share a campus, often giving rise to conflict, as a reason for the need for a strategy.
Anderson agreed that the district needs a strategy, but criticized Zimmer’s initial proposal to temporarily halt all new charter schools. She added that her experience on Mar Vista Neighborhood Council would help her to be a mediator in co-location battles.
SUPPORT FOR DEASY
Twice Anderson hit out at UTLA — first for its opposition to State Senator Alex Padilla’s bill, SB 1530, which would make it easier to fire teachers suspected of harming students, and second for its battles against Superintendent John Deasy.
“UTLA leaders are talking about how they wanted to win three seats so they can get rid of this man,” said Anderson, referring to Deasy and reminding the audience that the union has endorsed Zimmer.
“I’ve been an independent voice on this board,” responded Zimmer. “No matter who endorses or doesn’t endorse me, I’ve put children first… That’s one if the reasons we’re in this fight right now, because there’s not a lot of tolerance for independent voices on the School Board.”
“There’s a great fiction out there that I don’t support Dr.John Deasy, when time and time again I’ve been the deciding vote,” said Zimmer.
“The Superintendent does not get the support from the current Board that he deserves,” said Anderson.
The Westside forum was sponsored by United Way of Greater Los Angeles, along with more than 10 other non-profits including the Urban League and the Chamber of Commerce. The same coalition is sponsoring next week’s District 6 forum on January 31 at the Boys and Girls Club of San Fernando Valley (see flyer here).
Jeneen Robinson, who’s registered as a write-in candidate after failing to qualify for the ballot, was not invited to the forum and was none too pleased, issuing an angry press release on Tuesday (read it here).