Galatzan a fearless vote on the LA Unified board despite her critics
Vanessa Romo | February 18, 2015
This is the next in a series of profiles on candidates running in the March 3 primary for the LA Unified school board. Today’s focus is Tamar Galatzan, who is seeking reelection for the District 3 seat.
Incumbent Tamar Galatzan is at the center of the most crowded race for an LA Unified school board seat, with five challengers vying for the District 3 spot covering the West Valley. But the 45 year-old, full-time LA city prosecutor and mother of two young boys isn’t fazed by the competition, even when they attack her for her part-time status on the board.
“I will put my record representing the district’s schools up against anybody’s,” she told LA School Report.
While a certain degree of confidence is expected from any candidate running for an elected position, it’s clear this is not merely a display of bravado by Galatzan, who can be fearless and downright confrontational when it comes to expressing her views on what’s best for the district’s student population. Her trademark move during some of the board’s most heated discussions is to shut off her microphone after her remarks, forcefully shove it away, then push her rolling chair away from the dais. It is very dramatic.
Since she was first elected to the board in 2007, Galatzan has cast several controversial votes going against the popular tide of her colleagues. And in many of these cases, she has explained, it is not that she necessarily opposes the resolution before the board, but rather the board’s attempt to weigh in on issues over which she argues it has no dominion.
Such was the case with her “first big vote,” she told LA School Report. The board was considering extending health benefits to part-time cafeteria workers. Only Galatzan and former board member Marlene Canter voted against it.
Her reason: “There are issues that are supposed to be bargained, and the board shouldn’t intervene and make a political decision to favor one side or the other in the middle of negotiations.”
And in the most recent school board meeting earlier this month, she was the only dissenting vote to allow district lawyers to do pro-bono work on student deportation cases, insisting that lawyers should do free, volunteer work “in their off time, not during work time.”
More evidence that Galatzan is not afraid to go against the grain is her vote last year banning “willful defiance” suspensions, a catch-all label for an assortment of misbehaviors. While the move was lauded by student advocates and others who believe that schools were overusing suspensions, Galatzan and Marguerite LaMotte questioned whether it would make things any better. She was also the lone voice opposing a recent motion making Ethnic Studies a mandatory graduation requirement and wrote an op-ed in the LA Daily News explaining why.
She even lead a drive to censure Board President Richard Vladovic, after district employees accused him of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. In the resolution she drafted, Galatzan wrote the harassment charges against Vladovic amount to “conduct that has brought dishonor to himself, the School Board, and the Los Angeles Unified School District.” It also demanded that Vladovic “publicly acknowledge what has taken place, take responsibility for his actions, and commit to abiding by District policies and behaving in a professional manner.”
The motion failed to get a vote because no other board member seconded the resolution.
But Galatzan has also been a team player. For several years she was part of a pro-charter voting bloc on the board that included Monica Garcia, issuing in an explosion of charter schools under first, Ramon Cortines‘s then John Deasy’s leadership. She remains a strong voice on the board for parental choice through charters.
It is her participation on Team Deasy that has led to much of the criticism from her current challengers. In recent weeks, all five of them — Elizabeth Badger, Filiberto Gonzalez, Ankur Patel, Carl Petersen, and Scott Schmerelson — have attacked Galatzan’s allegiance to Deasy, contending that her loyalty led her to become the biggest cheerleader for the district’s botched and possibly illegal iPads-for-all plan.
While she concedes the roll-out was a “frustrating process,” plagued by snafus, she says “what the board was told and what the Bond Oversight Committee was told was that this is what students and teachers wanted.”
“It turned out later that not all of that information was true,” she added. “So we slowed everything down and we’ve taken other steps to try to fix it.”
Additionally, she continues to champion the push for more technology in the classroom, an issue she says voters in her district support.
Looking ahead, Galatzan said she plans to spend the next three years ensuring the district balances its budget. “We need to see how the Local Control Funding Formula is working out and try to stabilize the funding at a number of schools that had huge budget shortfalls as a result,” she said.
District 3, a mostly middle class to affluent region of LA Unified, is one of a handful of areas within the district that could lose state funding because it enrolls fewer low-income students, foster youth, or English Language Learners, which bring extra dollars to schools. That has led to a steady flow of traditional public schools converting to affiliated charter schools.
As a result, her harshest detractors, including the teachers union, UTLA, have accused her of abandoning traditional public schools. But Galatzan says, “There’s a not a lot of control that we as a district have over schools that want to become charters. We can only deny a charter for five reasons, and if [a school] has the money to fund a charter and a well thought out plan, there’s not so much we can do.”