Viramontes criticized, Common Core confusion, 5K Challenge

school report buzz

Earlier this month, Arnold Viramontes, an outside expert hired by former superintendent John Deasy, issued a report to LA Unified that was a scathing indictment of the new MiSiS system, finding that “red conditions” arose early and should have signified “No Go.”

This week, in it’s weekly newsletter, the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) expressed disappointment with Viramontes’ homework, with a suggestion that he has been copying off AALA’s earlier assessments.

The newsletter reads:

What we do find disconcerting, however, is that Viramontes, who was hired by former Superintendent Deasy and who has a contract with the District through February 2015, actually comes up with little new information and regurgitates much of what we have previously written, albeit using more organizational management semantics. For example, “The Help Desk had not been tiered to handle the call load or have the level of expertise needed.” Hmmm…we said that last spring. Also, “There appeared to be a significant lack of input from the community of personnel that would eventually use the applications.” Gee, didn’t we say that too? In fact, for AALA members and those on the MiSiS Committee, there is really little new information in the seven-page report.”

Following the Board

LA Unified board meetings have always been interminably long. Now, they’re growing interminably disjointed. Take this week’s meeting on Tuesday, for example.

The members met in five different settings: open session, closed session, open session, closed session, open session. The festivities began at 10 a.m., rather sometime after 10 am because they never start on time, and they concluded at 8:30 p.m.

That’s bad enough. But the open sessions have devolved into a spaghetti plate of disorder. Simply following the agenda as written is futile.

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LAUSD board votes to add Ethnic Studies to schools’ curriculum

Supporters of Ethnic Studies rally outside LAUSD headquarters (Credit: Twitter user @ManuelCriollo)

Supporters of Ethnic Studies rally outside LAUSD headquarters (Credit: Twitter user @Manuel Criollo)

The LA Unified school board last night took the first step in making ethnic studies a required course for graduation by 2019, making it the second district in the country to adopt such a measure.

The resolution, proposed by board members Bennett Kayser, George McKenna and Steve Zimmer passed with Tamar Galatzan casting the only vote against the measure, after a lengthy and (somewhat) confusing discussion on what the addition of the new subject might entail.

It was a rousing victory for hundreds of students, teachers, and community activists who were at the board meeting supporting the resolution even as the final version of the proposal passed with little specificity.

What the board did agree on is that the curriculum will be phased in over the next three years, beginning with a pilot program in at least five high schools. It will become compulsory for the class of 2019. The board also charged Superintendent Ramon Cortines with overseeing a committee responsible for making recommendations on how to implement the curriculum, as early as next semester.

Among the questions that remained unanswered is how much it will cost to implement the course across all 124 high school campuses in the district; how it fits into the existing curriculum; which ethnic groups will be studied; and, what if any existing required courses it may displace.

“My concern is that there’s no money attached to the resolution,” Board Member Monica Garcia said before she voted in favor. “Whether it’s $3.4 million or $30 million, an action without a budget is nothing.”

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LIVESTREAM coverage of today’s LA Unified school board meeting

livestreamGrafix250Today, available by LIVESTREAM, the seven members of the LA Unified school board will gather for a triple-header meeting beginning at 10 a.m. that will include a closed session and two open sessions. 

At 10 a.m., the board is set to address two resolutions from Board Member Monica Ratliff seeking to increase student safety by reducing the cost of litigation. The agenda, including closed session items, is here.

During the board’s second session, set to begin at 1 p.m., the board will hear a motion about Good Foodpurchasing guidelines, as well as the possibility of adding ethnic studies as a curriculum requirement for graduation. The board will also consider the renewal of six charter schools as well as the approval of three new charters. The agenda is here.

Scheduled for 5 p.m. is a special board meeting that will include a closed session where the board will confer with legal counsel. The agenda is here. 

 

JUST IN: LAUSD board members favor a delay in CA testing

Steve Zimmer, Board Meeting March 4, 2014

Members of the LA Unified school board as well as several administrators suggested today that the district should delay using the results of the 2014-15 Smarter Balanced computerized test as means of measuring academic growth next year.

Their views came a day after officials from statewide educational organizations told the California Board of Education that it should postpone using the outcomes of this year’s reading and math tests to establish base scores for schools and districts. According to EdSource, the officials argued that many districts need more time to implement the state’s new Common Core curriculum while others do not posses the technological infrastructure to carry out the exam.

LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff, chair of the board’s Common Core Technology Committee, said today she agrees with them.

“I support delaying the use of [Smarter Balanced] results to make judgements not because of any lack of adoption on our part but because of the lack of experience students have had with the technology and testing platform,” she told LA School Report.

Ratliff said teachers are successfully using the Common Core standards to guide instruction and that they’ve received sufficient professional development, which she herself has attended. But, she says, the district is not yet technologically equipped for the test.

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17 in the running for four LAUSD school board seats next year

School BoardIt’s shaping up to be a furious campaign next year. With a few late additions at Saturday’s filing deadline, four incumbents plus 14 other people are now competing for the four LA Unified school board seats coming up in 2015.

The latest to enter the race are two more challengers in District 5 — James C. O’Gabhann III, a teacher, and Benjamin Luis Jimenez, a storekeeper — and one more in District 3 — Mario Burrell, a teacher — making those two districts the most populated for the March primary.

To sum up: George McKenna has one challenger in District 1 Tamar Galatzan has six in District 3; Bennett Kayser has four in District 5, and board President Richard Vladovic has two in District 7.

The complete list is available here.

Previous posts: School board races coming into view as filing deadline approaches

School board races coming into view as filing deadline approaches

LAUSD School Board Candidate George McKenna with Bernard Parks and Jan Perry

George McKenna, flanked by Bernard Parks and Jan Perry

With tomorrow’s noon deadline approaching to file for next year’s LA Unified school board elections, the races are coming into view.

Seats in four of the board’s seven districts — 1, 3, 5 and 7 — are up for grabs, making the elections hugely influential on future district policies.

All four of the incumbents are running again and facing challengers, with the primary scheduled for March 3 and the general election on May 19. Here is a district-by-district breakdown of the school board races:

District 1

District 1 includes South Los Angeles, Palms and Baldwin Hills.

For the moment, this is the only race with a head-to-head contest. The incumbent, George McKenna, is the newest board member, having won a special election in August to fill the seat vacated by the death of Marguerite LaMotte last year.

McKenna’s victory was key in determining the current balance of power on the board, as his election shifted it to a 4-3 majority owing their seats, in large part, to financial support by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). McKenna ran against a reform-backed candidate, Alex Johnson, and his victory was the latest in a string of pro-union wins against pro-charter, reformists in LA Unified school board elections.

McKenna holds a doctorate of education degree from Xavier University. He is a former LAUSD teacher and principal at George Washington Preparatory High School, where the academic turnaround he oversaw at the school was the subject of a 1986 TV movie starring Denzel Washington.

McKenna’s challenger is Daymond R., Johnson, president of the Amino Classified Employees Association, which represents the employees at Green Dot Public Schools.

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Deadline approaches for candidates to file for LAUSD school board

Monica Ratliff is sworn in to the LA Unified school board  by her mother

Monica Ratliff is sworn in by her mother

Would-be candidates for next year’s LA Unified school board elections have until noon on Saturday, Nov. 8 to file a Declaration of Intention to run with the Los Angeles City Clerk. 

Only those candidates who meet the deadline and submit a qualifying nominating petition will appear on the March 3, 2015 primary ballot. The deadline for filing nominating petitions ends at 5 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 3.

The deadlines affect any remaining candidates for school districts 1, 3, 5 and 7. Already, one challenger has filed to oppose George McKenna in 1, four are challenging Tamar Galatzan in 3, two are challenging Bennett Kayser in 5 and and two are taking on Board President Richard Vladovic in 7.

Cortines promises fixes for LAUSD’s flawed computer program

updates1In his first open address to the LA Unified school board since he was rehired as superintendent last week, Ramon Cortines promised accountability, transparency and constant communication.

“I know the buck stops here,” he told the seven members during a brief address that included an update on the district’s flawed student data software program, MiSiS.

Cortines, who got an early start on the job Monday morning and spent the day in intensive meetings with the district’s top leadership, quipped, “I’ve been here two days going on 10 years.”

Then he outlined a series of changes to MiSiS that will be effective immediately.

At the top of the list is a two-month extension to Dec. 1, from the previous deadline, Oct. 23, for schools to submit the number of students enrolled in the free and reduced meal program, which determines the allocation of federal dollars to individual campuses for low-income students.

A school is eligible for Title I money only if at least half of the student body is enrolled in the federal meals program. A school receives even more money per pupil if at least 65 percent of low-income students qualify. When a campus reaches a threshold above 85 percent combined free and reduced lunch it becomes exempt from collecting applications for four years.

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Embezzlement, Poisoning, Murder? Welcome to LAUSD, Mr. Cortines

Law_&_Order_LA_Title_CardIn case there were any chance LA Unified‘s new superintendent, Ramon Cortines, had forgotten just how bizarro school board meetings can be, his first one back today as head of the district included accusations of embezzlement, murder and sexual harassment.

Welcome back, Mr. Superintendent.

While the school board voted unanimously to approve the $300,000 a year contract Cortines was offered to shepherd the district out of its current troubled state — $50,000 less than what his predecessor earned — a handful of speakers criticized him for the sexual harassment lawsuit that followed his departure in 2011.

During the public speaking portion of the brief meeting — during which anyone can have three minutes to address the board on any topic they please — Patricia McAllister, who identified herself as a substitute teacher who was fired, took it a step further.

She hurled a litany of accusations at the board, saying former Superintendent John Deasy “embezzled” billions of dollars from the district and claiming Cortines was guilty of sexually harassing district employees. Then in a Law & Order-type twist, she accused unknown persons of poisoning or murdering the late board member, Marguerite LaMotte, and recommended that an autopsy be performed.

Another speaker, Lady Cage Barile, addressed the board to oppose the return of Cortines. She also cited the circumstances under which he left his previous tenure as superintendent and called him “a disgrace these kids are to look up to.”

The sexual harassment case against Cortines was thrown out twice by a judge, and a $250,000 settlement that was to be paid to his accuser, fell apart.

Cortines, sitting beside board President Richard Vladovic, looked on impassively as the speakers criticized him and did not comment.

 

Commentary: Please, school board, focus on our children

Hispanic children LAUSD school board

By Michelle Crames

My daughter started Kindergarten this year, and part of why I enrolled her in public school was that things were getting better, and my belief that our family’s energy and resources could contribute to bettering our community. Two months after her start, we learn that Superintendent John Deasy, who has provided leadership during this turnaround, turned in his letter of resignation to the school board.

As a parent of three young children, I know it takes at least two parties to fight. Regardless of what you think of Deasy’s resignation, we all want to minimize the impact and distraction inevitable with such a leadership change. Can we please refocus our energy on what matters most, our children’s education?

I believe Deasy achieved a lot, but he certainly made mistakes. However, during the last several months, like many parents. I am most disappointed that our focus has shifted away from what is important, which is the kids. As an outsider, I feel that more time is being spent bickering and politicking than working to provide students with the best possible education.

The parents’ voice was largely absent in the recent feud between the school board and Deasy, but now needs to be heard. Lets put this behind us and get back to work on what matters.

In a city where 80 percent of LAUSD students live around or below the poverty line, the American dream requires great schools for our children. America is a land of equal opportunity, and access to quality education is the basis of that.

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City measure would extend LAUSD school board term to 5 1/2 years

Steve Zimmer takes the oath of office for the LA Unified school board

Steve Zimmer takes the oath of office for the LA Unified school board

The Los Angeles City Council is considering a measure that would extend the terms of the next school board election winners to 5 1/2 years, from the usual 4.

The longer terms would only apply to the next two school board voting cycles, bringing the board elections into even-numbered years that correspond with other city and state elections.

The change is part of the city’s effort to enhance voter turnout by consolidating elections. Because of periodic orphan scheduling, school board seats are sometimes filled with only a small percentage of registered voters determining the outcome.

In the case of George McKenna’s runoff victory over Alex Johnson for the District 1 seat in August, just 9 percent of the district’s voters cast ballots. In 2013, only 23 percent of voters citywide participated in the mayoral election.

Several steps remain before the new schedule goes into effect. The City Council is expected to vote on Wednesday to ask the City Attorney to write an ordinance that would appear on the March 3, 2015 ballot, effectively changing the City Charter.

Then the council would have to approve the wording, probably by the end of the month, for the measure to seek final approval from voters.

The first group of school board members to be affected would be McKenna, Tamar Galatzan, Bennett Kayser and Richard Vladovic, as well as their challengers, in a primary scheduled for the same day.

Members up for election in 2017 — Monica Garcia, Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff — would also win the longer terms.

The proposed measure might give any candidate pause, considering the additional time commitment for very small renumeration: For a board member who has no other full-time job, like McKenna, the annual salary is $45,637. For a member who also works elsewhere, like Galatzan, an assistant city attorney, the reward is $26,347 annually.

LAUSD board gets a dispiriting lesson on the MiSiS program

Matt Hill, Ron Chandler appear before the LA Unified board

Matt Hill, Ron Chandler appear before the LA Unified board

MiSiS mistakes were made, and LA Unified can expect to fork over millions more dollars to fix the software system’s myriad problems and get the program functioning properly.

In all, it was another demoralizing revelation about the MiSiS rollout debacle last night, and school board members’ frustrations quickly boiled over, leading to a verbal beat down of Chief Information Officer Ron Chandler, who served as the face of a new request for $3.6 million to buy 3,343 desktop computers for the nearly 800 schools with the most difficulty accessing the computer student data software because their devices are incompatible with the system.

“This should have been readily apparent all along and it should have been one of the considerations when rolling MiSiS out,” said Tamar Galatzan, whose every statement on the subject ended with a verbal exclamation mark.

An obvious question to ask before developing the system, she said, would have been, “What kind of devices are members going to use to enter this data? Beside the fact that the system doesn’t work, if you don’t even have a computer that’s new enough to be able to run it, it’s just ludicrous!,” she said.

When Chandler tried to defend his department’s actions, noting that the district failed to invest scarce dollars in acquiring new machines as a result of the recession, Steve Zimmer went on the attack.

“That was not a choice the board got to make,” he said pointing a finger at Chandler.

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An update: Deasy is still LAUSD superintendent, for now, anyway

Superintendent John Deasy

Superintendent John Deasy

John Deasy is still the LA Unified superintendent.

The district board met for more than 13 hours yesterday, including seven in closed session, where Deasy’s employment status was on the agenda. But the members emerged after a final 30 minutes in closed session at 11 o’clock last night with no announcements.

That means that the beleaguered boss is still at the helm of the nation’s second-largest school district even if his continued association with the district remains uncertain.

Little is really known about what’s going on. The board has authorized settlement negotiations for a buyout package, but there has been no public indication that lawyers are close or even if they are still talking.

Short of a buyout or an outright resignation, the board has several choices: It could vote to fire Deasy under several scenarios, which include instant dismissal, which would leave him in charge for nor more than 30 days; or judging his performance, scheduled for Oct. 21,  less than “satisfactory,” which would mean letting him remain through the end of his “at will” contract, June 2016.

The thing about a vote to fire him is tricky. The board needs four votes to do, and the votes don’t appear to be there yet. As much as several members clearly want Deasy out, the board operates with a majority rule on votes. It seems reasonable to assume that if a majority wanted him gone, he’d be gone by now.

Anyway, Deasy returns at the end of the week from South Korea to await his fate — not to mention updates on Jefferson High School, MiSiS problems, iPads, Title I battles and all the other issues plaguing LA Unified these days.

 

Community groups press school board again on Deasy evaluation

Community Groups LAUSD school boardCommunity groups supportive of Superintendent John Deasy have sent a second letter requesting a meeting with the LA Unified school board to discuss Deasy’s annual performance review.

In a letter sent yesterday to board President Richard Vladovic, the groups chided him for being unresponsive to their concerns about the lack of transparency in the evaluation process, which they conveyed in an earlier letter.

The letters were sent by Teach Plus, the Los Angeles Urban League, Educators 4 Excellence, United Way, Inner City Struggle and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“As Board President, we call on your leadership to help restore trust and confidence during this critical time,” the letter stated. “Decisions are being made largely behind closed doors, which will affect our schools, students and communities.”

The consortium of educators and community non-profits said it wants to meet with Vladovic sometime before the Oct. 14 board meeting to learn about the parameters for evaluating the superintendent. Further, the groups say they want those metrics to be made public.

“Superintendents and board members should be evaluated and judged, first and foremost, on measurable improvements in student outcomes – especially among low-income and students of color,” they said.

The LA Civic Alliance, which includes some of the city’s most influential philanthropists, real estate developers, bankers, lawyers and non-profit leaders, sent a similar letter to the board late last month, urging the seven members to put student interests first and keep Deasy where he is.

Deasy’s performance review is scheduled for Oct. 21, but there has been growing speculation that Deasy might leave his job before the meeting. In a closed session meeting last month board members floated the idea of offering Deasy an exit package, allowing both sides to part without a formal evaluation or vote to fire the superintendent.

The board is expected to continue the conversation during a closed session that precedes the Oct. 14 open meeting.

Previous Posts: Two groups urging LAUSD board to be objective, transparent

Board emerges from private meeting with no decision on Deasy

Superintendent John Deasy

Superintendent John Deasy

John Deasy is still the LA Unified superintendent.

After four hours behind closed doors last night, the district school board emerged with nothing to say. For Deasy, who did not attend the meeting, that was a plus, because it meant that the members might have talked about his performance, but they didn’t take a vote to fire him.

“To be continued,” board president Richard Vladovic said as he left district headquarters, without being clear whether he meant the board discussions or Deasy’s employment. “We haven’t decided anything.”

He also said the members agreed not to discuss their deliberations publicly. 

This was a meeting that was only recently added to the board schedule, honoring a request from Monica Ratliff who thought the members would be well-served by a preliminary discussion about what parameters to use when Deasy’s performance review comes up on Oct. 21. 

Some metrics appear automatic, like academic performance, graduation rates and attendance. His $330,000 annual contract, which has been altered over the years, stipulates that he must increase district revenues, though it does not specify by how much; he must boost enrollment by 5 percent each year and improve daily attendance by 1 percent district-wide and 3 percent at targeted schools.

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New Item on Board Agenda: ‘Separation’ from Deasy

LAUSDlogoIf John Deasy is, indeed, stepping down as superintendent of the LA Unified School District, the district appears to be moving to protect itself against a lawsuit.

When reached by phone, Deasy would only tell LA School Report that he has “not submitted a letter of resignation” and that he can’t talk before he meets with the board members tomorrow.

But a revised agenda (click here) for tomorrow’s board meeting was posted on the school board website over the weekend, with one addition to the closed-door discussion:

“Conference With Legal Counsel – Anticipated Litigation -
Significant Exposure To Litigation Pursuant To Gov. Code
Section 54956.9(d)(2) (1 Case) – Superintendent’s Separation.”

From the California Code, here’s what the section refers to:

“(2) A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the
legislative body of the local agency on the advice of its legal
counsel, based on existing facts and circumstances, there
is a significant exposure to litigation against the local agency.”

It’s unclear whether this language reflects due diligence by LA Unified’s legal team or new concern by the board that Deasy might have cause for legal action in response to rumors that board members may have played a role in his departure by leaking it to reporters. By terms of Deasy’s contract, he can be fired with 30 days notice.

LA Unified Board Finally Gives Deasy His Common Core Budget

IMG_2665The LAUSD School Board today finally approved a $113 million budget for transitioning to the Common Core curriculum. The 6-1 vote marked the end of a tumultuous and seemingly directionless process that led to the resignation of Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Jaime Aquino, an LA Times editorial calling the Board “dysfunctional,” and finally to Mayor Eric Garcetti wading in to Board politics for the first time.

Aquino was conspicuously absent from the proceedings. As Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, he has been a chief architect of the Common Core transition. He said on Friday that he would resign at the end of the year because of what he sees as school board meddling.

“Due to the announcement of my resignation, I have decided not to do any public engagement during my transition period,” Aquino told LA School Report in an email, when asked why he wasn’t at today’s board meeting. “My focus will be to work behind the scenes to ensure a smooth transition.”

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Analysis: Aquino’s Resignation Turns a Spotlight onto Deasy

Superintendent Deasy

Superintendent Deasy

Jaime Aquino‘s surprise announcement Friday that he’ll resign from Superintendent John Deasy‘s staff at the end of the year has sent shockwaves throughout LA Unified. Tomorrow, the district school board will take up the matter in closed session.

It’s unclear what they’ll discus – but his impending departure has exposed the district and its fractured board to a number of sudden and burning questions, not least of which may be:

Is Deasy Next?

On election night in March, just as it was becoming clear that Steve Zimmer was going to hold off a tough challenge by Kate Anderson, I got an email from a semi-prominent school reformer, offering three bold pronoucements: there would be a new board president (there is), there would be a new makeup of the board (there is) and Deasy would be on his way out. My correspondent told me: “Enough board interference makes his job really unfun and he leaves for greener pastures.”

They were unusual predictions, coming as they did months before Monica Ratliff pulled off a shock upset against Antonio Sanchez. Deasy’s staff is certainly frustrated by the new makeup of the board, as evidenced by Aquino’s departure. When asked last Friday if he was thinking about resigning, Deasy declined to comment – an ominous response coming from the man who told LAUSD administrators little more than a month ago, “I and this administration are not going anywhere.”

And that’s just the first question awaiting resolution:

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Deciphering the Kayser Letter (updated)

242764260-07182006Reporters were left scrambling late Friday afternoon when they received copies of a letter sent by School Board member Bennett Kayser to Superintendent John Deasy, asking Deasy to develop a “succession plan” for the superintendent and other senior staff.

The letter was littered with typos: The date at the top read “7/19/23.” The word “therefore” was spelled “therefor.” The word “prescribed” was spelled “proscribed,” which has an altogether different meaning. And the overall tone was strangely vague, leaving some with the impression that this was the first sign of a move to fire Deasy, although Kayser insisted otherwise.

“I simply want to know who the person is that is designated to step into the superintendent’s shoes when he is out of town, as he was this week, and who he has trained and expects to step in were the unexpected to happen; no more, no less,” Kayser said in a statement given to the LA Times

Indeed, Deasy and some members of his senior staff were in Washington, D.C. last week lobbying the federal government on behalf of nine California school districts for a “No Child Left Behind” waiver. A source close the the school board told LA School Report that Kayser and his chief of staff, Sarah Bradshaw, had tried to contact Deasy last week and could not reach him. The impetus of the letter, then, was what to do when Deasy was out of town, and who was steering the ship. But use of the phrase, “succession plan” — perhaps deliberately — confused matters, making it seem like a move to replace the embattled Superintendent.

“To some degree, Sarah Bradshaw is right,” said the source, pointing to a need to clarify who’s in charge when the superintendent is away. But, he added, “to some degree Sarah Bradshaw is a trouble maker. She’s going to antagonize Deasy, through Kayser, every chance she gets.”

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Zimmer to Celebrate Re-Election at Hollywood High*

photo-300x300After an against-all-odds re-election against challenger Kate Anderson in the District 4 primary earlier this year, School Board member Steve Zimmer is celebrating at Hollywood High School on Wednesday afternoon.

“This was a very significant re-election because of the national involvement,” said a spokesperson from Zimmer’s office. “We want to celebrate the teachers, students, parents and principals who were involved.”

The open event begins at 5:30 p.m. with a reception and 250 people are expected to attend.  Those who do may get a preview of Zimmer’s thinking and priorities going forward:

“I want to celebrate our accomplishments and the share my dreams and vision for our next four years fighting together for the education our kids deserve,” said Zimmer in a letter to supporters published in the Pacific Palisades Patch.

*Correction: Quote from Zimmer’s office was misattributed.

Previous Posts: Zimmer Reversal Likely Ends Garcia Presidency, Why Zimmer *Really* Switched Sides, Stuck in the Middle: Steve Zimmer, How Steve Zimmer *Really* Won