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Zimmer Reversal Likely Ends Garcia Presidency*

Hillel Aron | March 19, 2013



In a dramatic move that may be a sign of larger changes to come, the LAUSD School Board voted Tuesday afternoon to limit the term of the Board President to two consecutive one-year terms*.

The swing vote in the 4-3 decision was none other than recently re-elected Board member Steve Zimmer, who had supported Board member Monica Garcia’s continued Presidency just last year.

Last time, Zimmer joined a four-member majority to reelect Garcia over Dr. Richard Vladovic. This time around, Zimmer voted against her.

“I do feel [two] years is a healthy term for a Board presidency,” Zimmer told LA School Report after the meeting*.

The Board typically votes on a president each year in July.  Monica Garcia has held the post for over six years — almost as long as Antonio Villaraigosa has been Mayor and longer than any President in recent memory.

The term limits measure was originally introduced in the January Board meeting by members Marguerite LaMotte and Bennett Kayser, but wasn’t voted on at the time.

During the Tuesday meeting, LaMotte said the new rule was aimed at  promoting “geographical diversity” on the Board. She pointed out that traditionally, the Board presidency rotated among different members.

Board member Tamar Galatzan blasted the term limits proposal. “To take away my right to vote my conscience is really insulting to me,” she said. “To make that seat rotate among people who may not do a good job is shortsighted.”

As this was the first Board meeting since the March 5 election, observers were watching to see what effect, if any, the bitter primary campaign had on Zimmer. The incumbent District 4 Board member was attacked relentlessly by the Coalition for School Reform, which supported Garcia in a separate race.

Zimmer insisted that the election had no effect on him.  “I’m not changed… You’ll still see more hand-wringing from me.”

Asked to explain his change of vote, Zimmer said that, “Since the position has become so powerful, [two] years is a good time to moderate that power.”*

Then — in a classic case of middle-ground-grasping — Zimmer added that he “would consider waiving [the term limits] for the next Board election.”

While the rule is intended to take effect at the end of Garcia’s term in July, the Board can vote at any time, with a simple majority, to waive its own rule, just as it can vote to replace the President.

For her part, Garcia said she would not try to convince the Board to wave the term limits rule in July.

“That’s not the point,” she said. “The Board is always gonna do whatever the Board is gonna do.”

Garcia was already talking about her successor — whomever that might be.  “My only expectation for the next Board president is that the graduation rate goes up.”

The LA Times’ Howard Blume wrote that the vote symbolizes Villaraigosa’s “waning influence” on the School Board.

Speculation has already begun as to who — including Zimmer or Vladovic — might replace Garcia as President.

 Venice Pilot School Approved – But Without Its Location

At four and a half hours, this was a relatively tame and brief Board meeting compared to many previous outings.

There were, however, a few flashpoints, including the proposal for a new pilot school to be co-located on the campus of Venice High.

The new pilot school, called the Incubator School, was planned by a group of parents and teachers working with Green Dot founder Steve Barr. The plan for the school to share a campus with Venice High School drew a sharp outcry from a number of parents and students at Venice (as often happens with proposed charter school co-locations).

“We have been given no opportunity to know anything about it,” said Sara Roos, a Venice High parent. “We are not opposed to innovation… It’s a complaint about the process.”

“We have plenty of choices in our area,” said Kristin Duerr, another parent. “If someone would fix our water fountain, that would be great.”

Even Superintendent John Deasy was forced to admit that although “conversations did take place [about the co-location proposal]… they could have wider.”

In the face of such public comment, Zimmer, whose district includes Venice High, proposed that the Board approve the new school — but not its new location.

“I really believe that there’s a win-win to be had here,” he said. “I feel with this amendment, if we send it back to community to be placed, it will be embraced.”

Deasy reminded the board that the new school was the product of an initiative led by teachers and UTLA members.

“Any time we can see design work by UTLA teachers, we should embrace that,” he argued. And he cautioned that thanks to Proposition 39, unused space by a school can be turned over to a Charter school. Co-location of some kind, in other words, might be an inevitability.

“I would prefer to give the space to a UTLA design team” rather than a Charter school, Deasy said.

Nevertheless, the Board coalesced around Zimmer’s compromise and approved the plan, 6-1. The one dissenting vote came from LaMotte, who said she was voting no when she found out that Steve Barr was involved.

“I want to move forward but honestly and transparently,” she said. “Steve Barr’s name didn’t come up but it’s coming up now.”

According to the LA Times, there are now 49 such schools approved by the Board.

Charters

More than 20 charter schools were either granted permission to open or renewed for another five years, though not without objection. Bennett Kayser voted against some of them, insisted that many of them report back to the Board in one year with a progress report, and at one point unleashed a mini rant against charter schools in general.

“I’ve yet to see anything in them that’s a culture change,” he said. “I see creativity in terms if raising money… I haven’t seen a bright light to get our students to be better thinkers.”

“Wow,” said Garcia, disagreeing politely.

Budget

There was also some unequivocally good news. Superintendent Deasy boasted that LAUSD was the first district in California to “rescind every furlough,” but warned that federal sequestration cuts would affect next year’s budget, creating what he called a “structural hole.” He said he is hopeful that Governor Jerry Brown’s new “weighted funding” proposal will, starting in a few years, help the district balance its budget and begin to actually add services.

(For more, see the Daily News)

*Note: A previous version of this post indicated that the President’s term would be limited to two consecutive two-year terms. A President’s term is one year long. Additionally, Steve Zimmer was quoted as saying “four years is a healthy term for a Board presidency.” He was presumably misspeaking.

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