Commentary: More study needed on LAUSD ethnic studies


By Tamar Galatzan | Via Los Angeles Daily News

At first glance, the proposal to increase the number of ethnic studies classes in Los Angeles Unified schools sounds like a good idea. After all, students would undoubtedly benefit from a deeper understanding of their neighbors and themselves.

However, the resolution scheduled for a school board vote on Tuesday would also make Los Angeles Unified only the second district in the state — after tiny El Rancho Unified in Pico Rivera — to require ethnic studies for high school graduation. While this would be a big deal for students, the district has yet to study its impact on schedules, hiring or even its always-precarious finances.

Two years ago, the school board reduced the number of credits needed to graduate to 210, a change that ramped up the difficulty of academic courses and slashed the number of electives. With 150 credits now required for academic courses, 20 credits for physical education and five credits for health, there’s room in a typical schedule for just a handful of electives — the kinds of classes that many kids say are the main reason they stay in school.

Read the full commentary here.

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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Galatzan volunteers to lead panel on email retention policy


LA Unified board member Tamar Galatzan speaks at a board meeting on Jan. 14, 2014. (Credit: file photo)

Board member Tamar Galatzan volunteered yesterday to lead a task force examining LA Unified’s email deletion and retention policy, which is intended to eliminate unnecessary emails even as some some board members fear it could lead to the destruction of important records.

“It is critical that the public have confidence in the district’s commitment to transparency,” said Galatzan, who represents the most of the West San Fernando Valley and several East Valley neighborhoods, including Sherman Oaks and Studio City.

“We want to make sure we have a system that safeguards critical emails and lets us easily access them when and if they are needed,” she added. “We also want employees to be able to work efficiently, and to have clear guidelines for the types of emails they should be retaining.”

The current policy, established in 2012, mandates that all district emails be destroyed after one year or be automatically deleted. The only way to save emails for more than a calendar year is by saving or archiving them onto a hard drive.

The panel, which will include district administrators, representatives of district labor unions and members of open-government groups, will consider whether some types of communications should be automatically archived.

“At the September 9 board meeting, I raised concerns that the District’s records policy provided for the destruction of emails that could have value to the public as historical records,” said Monica Ratliff, who co-sponsored the resolution to form the task force alongside Bennett Kayser and Galatzan.

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LAUSD outlines backup plans as MiSiS work continues

LAUSD School Board meeting 9-9-2014LA Unified is still scrambling to troubleshoot technical issues as the deadline for staffing schools approaches, the school board learned at its latest meeting yesterday.

Norm” day,” as it’s called, is set for Friday but problems with the new student data management system, MiSiS, have forced the district to devise a new plan: “The process will be a rolling process over a course of three weeks,” Deputy Superintendent Michelle King told the board.

Final student counts will be taken manually in a “double verification process,” and principals will get follow up visits from district staff to confirm numbers before any displacements occur, King told the board.

Schools experiencing the most severe problems are those enrolling kindergarten through eighth grade students, magnet schools and special education programs.

Chief Strategic Officer Matt Hill was contrite and optimistic addressing the board in the latest MiSiS update. “We rolled out the system with confidence that we can continue to improve it but there should have been a lot more testing,” he admitted to the board, echoing what many educators said in the months leading up to the disastrous launch of the program.

Another hurdle for the glitch-plagued system is printing student transcripts, a problem distressing to high school seniors who are now applying to colleges.

“Kids get one shot to apply to college … we can’t let our transition on this hurt a kid in their application process,” board member Steve Zimmer said.

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iPad report shared only with LAUSD officials in secrecy

iPad Report LAUSDA draft report on LA Unified’s handling of the controversial iPad contract that was leaked to media outlets last week was made available to board members and district administrators only if they agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement, barring them from sharing the report with anyone.

While some signed, others, including Superintendent John Deasy, did not, leading one board member to raise questions about the legality of such a demand. Deasy said today he has still not been given a copy of the draft report.

The request for non-disclosure agreements came from board member Monica Ratliff, chair of the Common Core Technology Project Committee and author of the report, who has led the 10-month long effort to evaluate the program and recommend changes.

The draft report was supposed to remain confidential while participants provided feedback. The report was believed to have been given only to members of Ratliff’s committee, a group that included board member Tamar Galatzan; Quynh Nguyen, a member of the LA Unified Bond Oversight Committee; Ron Chandler, the district’s chief information officer; and Gerardo Loera, executive director of curriculum instruction.

Galatzan, a deputy city attorney, had assigned a staffer to represent her on the committee. She told LA School Report today she declined to sign the non-disclosure and, thus, did not receive a copy of the draft from Ratliff, who is also a lawyer.

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Galatzan calling for probe into computer system snafus

LAUSD-computer-system-glitch-prevails* UPDATED

Concerned by a slew of problems with the district’s new student management computer system, board member Tamar Galatzan said today she is asking the district’s Inspector General to conduct an audit of the defective rollout.

“I demand to know what happened and how this got so messed up,” she told LA School Report. “Because until it happened, the board had no inkling that the system wasn’t ready to go live.”

Galtazan, who made her request in writing to Ken Bramlett this afternoon, added, “After the payroll fiasco of a number of years ago, the board tried to put safeguards in place so we wouldn’t go live with a system that didn’t work. Clearly, that didn’t happen here, and we need to know who’s responsible for it.”

She says the board received little information about the progress and development of the comprehensive system over the last year.

“I can’t remember the last time we got an update on the program . . . and we don’t supervise anyone who works for the superintendent, which is who was running it,” Galatzan said.

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Galatzan endorses Johnson, leaving Vladovic as lone neutral

Tamar Galatzan LAUSD School Board Member

Tamar Galatzan LAUSD School Board Member

For those keeping score, it’s now 3-2.

A second member of the LA Unified school board, Tamar Galatzan, is endorsing Alex Johnson for the open District 1 seat.

She joins Monica Garcia as the board backers for Johnson. Three others — Monica Ratliff, Steve Zimmer and Bennett Kayser — have endorsed George McKenna.

That leaves board President Richard Vladovic as the lone neutral in the Aug. 12 runoff election. He does not intend to endorse in the race, said Chris Torres, his chief of staff.

“As a parent with children attending LAUSD schools and as a criminal prosecutor, Tamar Galatzan understands the critical importance of keeping our children safe at school,” Johnson said in a statement. “Tamar knows I will be a voice for change on the school board to ensure that our L.A. schools do a better job of providing a quality education for our children. I look forward to working closely with (her) on important issues, such as early childhood education, school-based health centers and student safety.”

None of the board endorsements is a surprise. Galatzan and Garcia, the board’s most reform-minded members, are backing the candidate most favorable to reform; the other three, known as  more friendly to union interests, are backing the candidate supported by UTLA, the teachers union.

Previous Posts: Zimmer, Kayser back McKenna; Villaraigosa in for Johnson; Ratliff forgoes neutrality, endorsing McKenna in board race; McKenna, Johnson re-launch campaigns for school board seat

Galatzan raises new concerns about LA Unified bond committee

Tamar Galatzan critical of bond committee LAUSDFor the second time in recent weeks, Tamar Galatzan has turned a critical eye toward LA Unified’s Bond Oversight Committee and the role it plays in monitoring district spending on bond-funded projects.

At the board meeting on Tuesday, she objected to the BOC’s wholesale approval of a library project that earmarked $116,000 to move library equipment and materials from one school to another. Using Measure R bond money to pay for it would have been a misappropriation of funds because it does not involve construction of a new building or modernizing an existing one.

In May, she led an effort to block the reappointment of Stuart Magruder to the 15-member panel.

Her concern on the library project arose from an error caught by Galatzan’s staff and apparently, overlooked by everyone else, including the Integrated Library and Textbook Support Services office, which mistakenly sent it to the BOC for review.

“I am very frustrated that it went to the BOC,” Galatzan told her colleagues on the board. “I am also very disappointed that the BOC exercised absolutely no oversight — did not ask one question about this project — because it wasn’t appropriate to be there in the first place.”

She continued, “This is a perfect example of, sometimes, the total lack of oversight by the Bond Oversight Committee when they are reviewing projects because this one should never have gone to them and should never have been approved.”

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JUST IN: Richard Vladovic re-elected LAUSD board president

Richard Vladovic elected as LAUSD board president for 2014-2015 year


The LA Unified School Board today re-elected Richard Vladovic to serve as president for the 2014-15 school year.

Rather than postpone the vote until after the August runoff to fill the vacant District 1 seat, the six member board voted and by a 5-1 margin supported Vladovic’s continued leadership.

Tamar Galatzan was the lone dissenting vote. Barbara Jones, her chief of staff, said the dissent was not directed toward Vladovic as much as the board’s proceeding with the vote instead of waiting until after the new board member is sworn in.

After the vote Vladovic took his seat without comment, and the discussion turned to consideration of meeting dates for the coming school year. An intense debate ensued, followed by the members voting to start the monthly meetings at 4 pm to allow more parents and teachers to attend. The new time would also suit member Monica Ratliff, who told her colleagues she would like to resume her job as a teacher.

This is Vladovic’s second and final term. Last year the board imposed term limits, precluding a board president from seeking a third consecutive term. Vladovic could return to the presidency but only after another member has served after next year.

The change was proposed by the late board member Marguerite LaMotte who argued, “Traditionally, the Board President’s position rotated annually among Board Members, with the vice-president training then ascending to the Board President’s position… Prior to 2007 the average term for the Board President was 1.9 years.”

The new rule also ended six consecutive years as president for Monica Garcia with whom LaMotte was often philosophically at odds.

As one of his first appointments, Vladovic named Steve Zimmer to continue his roles as board vice president and as chairman of the Committee of the Whole.

*Includes explanation of Galatzan’s vote.


Vergara ruling gets mixed reaction from school board

LAUSD School board members Vergara ruling reactionsPredictably, the historic superior court decision yesterday in the Vergara case elicited mixed reactions from members of the LA Unified school board.

The ruling, which found California laws dictating teacher tenure, seniority rights and dismissal practices unconstitutional, is seen as huge blow to teacher unions and a boost to education reformers. Here is what a handful of board members had to say:

Monica Garcia, LAUSD Board Member, District 2

“California is a state in transformation! Today, California must act to support our students’ civil rights as directed by Judge Rolf Treu in Vergara v. California. By striking down all five laws, California must focus corrective action that will ensure students are served adequately, and teachers are treated fairly. I applaud the nine student plaintiffs, and the Students Matter team for creating this opportunity to radically change our educational system.”

“On behalf of those I represent, I call on all parties to come together, propose new laws and lead the nation in creating conditions that best serve our youth.”

Tamar Galatzan, LAUSD Board Member, District 3

“The Vergara ruling is the first step toward being able to guarantee that we have great teachers in every LAUSD classroom and classrooms around the state. It is now up to the Legislature to pass laws that provide equal opportunity and provide equal access to a high-quality education.”

Steve Zimmer, LAUSD Board Member, District 4

“Basically yesterday you had a completely antithetical moment. You had the verdict read at the courthouse that identifies teacher tenure and other protection statutes as the reasons why kids have suffered disproportionately in public education. And then, not half a day later, you actually had the incoming president of the teachers union standing with a civil rights leader saying, No no no there are many factors that impact children and their access to education, and these factors are so strong that we believe that you have to take them into consideration when we are distributing funding.”

“As I’ve always said, there are parts of the statute that I would change. The problem with Vergara has always been that in saying one part of the problem is the problem, is a reckless theory. And now I worry that it could be a very reckless implementation.”

Bennett Kayser, LAUSD Board Member, District 5

“On behalf of my former colleagues, public school teachers, I am deeply saddened that our profession has been so attacked in the in the courts. It is shameful when billionaires use children to mask their efforts to eliminate employees’ hard-won rights. I do believe however that, we shall prevail on the Vergara appeal.”

Richard Vladovic, the board president, and Monica Ratliff, did not respond to requests for reaction to the Vergara case.

Previous posts: Vergara decision: Big win for students, big loss for teachers union; Analysis: The long wait for the impact — if any — of Vergara; Vergara trial ends, with CA teacher laws hanging in the balance


Galatzan doubles down in effort to block nominee to bond panel

Stuart Magruder, Architect on LAUSD Bond Oversight Committee

Stuart Magruder, Architect on LAUSD Bond Oversight Committee

LA Unified school board member Tamar Galatzan is not going down quietly when it comes to Stuart Magruder, a staunch opponent of the district’s $1 billion iPad program whom the board removed from the Bond Oversight Committee last month.

Magruder was the representative of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Galatzan had opposed his renomination to the committee, and now that board member Bennett Kayser is introducing a resolution next week to reappoint him to another two-year term, Galatzan is not backing down.

“Nothing has changed,” she told LA School Report. “I talked with General Counsel, I looked at the Memorandum of Understanding and the state law, and it’s very clear that the appointment is with the Board of Education.”

While the committee’s legal counsel has said the board agreed in 2002 not to interfere with committee appointments, LA Unified’s chief lawyer, David Holmquist, has sided with Galatzan, saying the board has the right to intercede.

The board effectively blocked Magruder’s reappointment through an effort led by Galatzan, leaving an empty seat on the 15 member BOC, an independent panel that oversees bond money spending for school construction and repairs — and iPads.

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School board blocks appointee critical of iPads

Stuart Magruder LAUSD ipads

Stuart Magruder, Los Angeles Architect

What is normally a routine, no-questions-asked formality for the LA Unified School Board hit a snag today.

Board Member Tamar Galatzan opposed the reappointment of Stuart Magruder, an outspoken critic of the use of bond money for iPads, from the School Construction Bond Oversight Committee (BOC).

The board effectively blocked Magruder’s reappointment by removing him from a resolution. That will leave the 15 member BOC, an independent body formed to oversee bond money used to build and repair schools, with an empty seat.

“It’s not unprecedented but this doesn’t usually happen,” Jefferson Crain, LA Unified Board Secretariat, said of the board’s move.

An architect, Magruder has served one term as an appointee nominated by the American Institute of Architects Association. Throughout his tenure, he has strongly opposed the use of bond funds for buying instructional materials including the district’s controversial and expensive iPad program.

Speaking out against Magruder, Galatzan said, “I just don’t think he’s the right person for that role. I think he’s overstepped his bounds…I think he’s overstepped his expertise on the Bond Oversight Committee.”

She told the board, who had just minutes earlier approved the reappointment, that Magruder often used his time during BOC meetings to expound on curriculum and instruction matters, and she urged her colleagues to rescind their support.

“I’m not going to be supporting him and I think we can find other people in our vast community who are a little more open-minded,” Galatzan said.

At a BOC meeting in March Magruder said, “We are spending roughly a $100 million on software for the iPads, which I guess is supposed to be a text book, which is actually not really being used very much as far as I can tell with my daughter’s experience at Palms Middle School.”

“That to me is really problematic,” he continued. “We’re throwing away $100 million on something that is not being used and is certainly not something we’re supposed to be paying for with construction bond funds.” (see video here)

Magruder’s term expired on May 8. However, a lawyer for the group suggested they are seeking alternatives for resubmitting Magruder for consideration.

In a 4-1 vote, the board agreed to reappoint Barry Waite, of the California Tax Reform Association to the BOC. Board member Monica Ratliff abstained while Board member Steve Zimmer was the only dissenting vote.

The board did not take any other actions during the board meeting.

Tamar Galatzan: Plotting a course for LAUSD’s future

imgresVia LA Daily News | By Tamar Galatzan, LA Unified’s board member for District 3

It’s budget time again in Los Angeles Unified, a process that for the last five years meant agonizing decisions to cut programs, scale back services and lay off employees because of the crippling financial crisis.

This year, thankfully, the board doesn’t have to deal with these gut-wrenching alternatives. A boost in state funding — the result of an improving economy and higher taxes — and a new way of disbursing the money means LAUSD can start restoring popular programs and services and investing in new ones. Despite the infusion of revenue, the budget process is going to be tough again this year because of the competing demands, requests and proposals for how the money should be spent.

LAUSD employees who haven’t had a pay hike for seven years say it’s time for them to get a raise. Overworked principals want assistant principals, office staff and maintenance crews assigned back to their campuses. Teachers say they need training in technology and the new Common Core curriculum. Parents are calling for smaller classes for their kids, along with the return of arts teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors. Community groups want more of all of these resources for students living in poverty.

Each of these options is badly needed — especially when you consider that the district made more than $5 billion in cuts during the recession. The problem is, the additional money simply isn’t going to be enough to make these goals a reality — at least, not all at once.

Read the full commentary here.

JUST IN: Board Member Galatzan announces bid for third term

 Tamar Galatzan LAUSD School Board Member

Tamar Galatzan LA Unified School Board Member

LA Unified school board member Tamar Galatzan, a strong supporter of Superintendent John Deasy and his efforts to reform public education, said today she plans to run for another term next year.

“I plan to seek a third term in order to continue the work I’ve been doing since voters in Board District 3 first chose me to represent them in 2007,” she said in a statement.

“As the only board member with kids in Los Angeles Unified, I want to build on my efforts to guarantee that all district students have access to effective teachers, safe campuses, cutting-edge technology and the other resources they need to thrive academically,” she added. “I also remain committed to increasing transparency and accountability in the nation’s second-largest school district.”

Representing a Valley district that has experienced an explosion of affiliated charter schools since she was first elected, Galatzan says she has “worked tirelessly” on behalf of students in the West San Fernando Valley.

Among her board achievements, she cites funding shade structures and air-conditioning projects for campuses in the some of the hottest areas of the Valley, equipping other schools with devices for their computer labs and holding community meetings on critical topics like the Common Core State Standards, school funding and teacher evaluations.

Her announcement means that District 3 will have at least three candidates running. Two others, Carl Petersen and Elizabeth Badger, have filed with the LA City Ethics Commission to oppose her.

In addition to serving on the LA Unified board, Galatzan, 44, is a prosecutor with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.


Abandoned LA Unified schools coming back to life — but how?

dilapidated schoolsAfter more than 30 years, the West Valley may be closer to having four more schools.

What kind of schools remains to be seen.

Community members are invited tomorrow night to a meeting at Woodlake Elementary School to learn more about the the future of the elementary schools — Oso, Collins, Highlander and Platt Ranch Elementary — that were abandoned in the 1980s due to a massive loss of student attendance.

Those who attend the meeting will be among the first to hear recommendations from LA Unified’s Facilities Division, which has reviewed multiple bids to renovate the properties at a cost of up to $80 million. The division has narrowed the bids to one per campus and has so far declined to reveal details about any of the bids that were passed on.

Tom Rubin, consultant to the district’s School Construction Bond Citizens’ Oversight Committee, said the bidding process is done in utter secrecy, but the board has given charter schools affiliated with the district top priority.

“It’s a safe bet, that’s who the district is going to go with,” he told LA School Report.

But it won’t be cheap.

“These schools need work,” Rubin said. “The charters were very clearly told, go out, we’ll give you the tour, we’ll help you figure out what’s needed. We’ll tell you everything we know but these will need work.”

School board members Tamar Galatzan and Steve Zimmer will attend the meeting. Each has two of the shuttered schools in their district.

The full school board will take up the decision to proceed with the proposals at the board’s next meeting, on Tuesday.


Typical LA Unified school board meeting: pique and confusion

Tamar Galatzan: She was not happy

Tamar Galatzan: She was not happy

Today’s LA Unified school board meeting may have been brief, but it was just as acrimonious and confusing as some of the longer ones.

While problems contributing to the appearance of dysfunction usually focus on content or process. This one focused on both.

The big issue was over Bennett Kayser’s resolution to expand Title I funding to schools with only 40 percent low-income student population, rather than the current threshold, 50 percent.

As it appeared on the meeting agenda, it was virtually the same as a measure that came before the board two months ago from Tamar Galatzan and Monica Ratliff that was defeated in a 3-3 deadlock, with Kayser abstaining.

“Maybe this is the lawyer in me,” said Galatzan, who was clearly piqued. “But this seems substantially similar to me.”

Other members seemed confused about how the item ended up on the agenda, to start with. The board’s Rule 73 blocks members from initiating a motion that is “substantially similar” to one that has been voted on within the previous six months. That’s meant to promote stability and also prevent the board from repeatedly dealing with the same issues.

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LA Unified board OKs more iPads, caretaker for vacancy

images-2The LA Unified School Board made two major decisions today that will go a long way toward shaping the months ahead.

The six members green-lighted Phase 2 of the iPad plan, ensuring enough tablets for standardized testing in the Spring, and they approved the appointment of a non-voting representative to serve District 1 until later in the year.

In a unanimous vote on the iPads, the board put into action essentially the same plan that was before them two months ago. This next phase will bring the tablets to 38 new campuses, provide high school students at seven schools with a laptop, acquire keyboards for Phase 1 and 2 schools and equip all schools with enough iPads for all students to take the Smarter Balanced field test in the spring. The cost is estimated to be $115 million.

The decision went against the advice of the Bond Oversight Committee, which recommended that the board limit the number of devices it procures through the end of the year.

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Delay on iPads shows deep division on LA Unified board

TamarDec_17It’s the other delay yesterday that portends long-term consequences for LA Unified students.

In the latest sign of the deep divide on the district school board, the members voted to hold off the next phase of the iPad program, rather than approve a carefully crafted compromise that the board had hammered out, and passed, at the last meeting.

An agenda item yesterday to approve distribution of iPads to 38 schools and laptops to seven high schools was pushed off to the board’s next scheduled meeting, Jan. 14.

Then, later in the meeting, a resolution from Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia to act upon the November action – in other words, to bypass the item postponed – was defeated.

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LA Unified board delays action on LaMotte vacancy to January

LA Unified Board Meeting

The LA Unified school board today postponed until next month any consideration of how to fill the board seat left vacant by the death of Marguerite LaMotte, bowing to a wave of pleas from speakers asking the board to wait until after her funeral.

A 3-3 vote on a motion to allow discussion to begin effectively killed the effort. A six-member board requires four votes for any measure to pass.

President Richard Vladovic, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia voted in favor of consideration; Steve Zimmer, Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff voted to wait. The board then voted unanimously to schedule a special meeting Jan. 7, when a debate will begin over whether to fill the seat through a special election or a board appointment.

The funeral for LaMotte, who died Dec. 5, is scheduled for Saturday.

The board’s first vote was preceded by a parade of speakers, a majority of whom urged the members to defer action out of respect for LaMotte’s family and legacy.

Typical of the passion was that from Patricia Sanders, vice president of the New Frontier Democratic Club, who argued that it was “time to memorialize and funeralize” LaMotte, who, she said, “would be pissed off to the highest point of pissivisity,” were the board to act so quickly after the death of another member.

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BREAKING NEWS: Board postpones vote on LaMotte seat

20131217-SteveZimmer3The LA Unified school board voted today to delay a decision on how to fill the board seat held by the late Marguerite LaMotte until Jan.7 to allow her family to hold a funeral service and interment.

A 3-3 vote to consider the options effectively killed the motion to take up the matter four votes were required for passage. President Richard Vladovic, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia voted to waive a rule that would have opened the door to immediate consideration, while Bennett Kayser, Monica Ratliff and Steve Zimmer voted against the waiver.

The board then voted unanimously to take up the issue at a special meeting on Jan. 7.