Vladovic Leadership Style Suggests Slower Pace is Best
Hillel Aron | September 12, 2013
When Richard Vladovic was elected by his colleagues as President of the LA Unified school board in July, observers predicted a much slower moving agenda. Judging by Tuesday’s board meeting, that’s exactly what’s happened.
The meeting lasted about 8 hours and wrapped up a bit after 9 pm. That’s not an unheard of duration; some meetings under the previous president, Monica Garcia, lasted that long. And prior to Garcia, they went even longer.
“When I very first got on the board in 2001, we used to have meetings that went until midnight,” said Marlene Canter, a former board president. “Board members were really tired.”
But not only was Tuesday’s meeting long; many of the day’s important agenda items, such as approval of the district’s $113 million Common Core budget and a plan to set budget priorities for the next two years were postponed. In fact, the Board spent over an hour simply debating whether or not to postpone the Common Core budget debate before scheduling a special two-hour meeting next Tuesday.
As president, Garcia made a concerted effort to speed up the meetings. She and Superintendent John Deasy stressed the urgent need to change district policies. Some were put off by the fast pace – including, according to multiple sources, Vladovic, who took special exception to Garcia doing away with most of the board’s committees.
But Vladovic wasn’t the only one.
“I was concerned during the Monica presidency that she took away the committees,” said Canter, “because the committees were where most of the policy discussion happened.”
One of Vladovic’s first actions as president was to create a slew of new committees. Most of those had not yet had a chance to meet. But if Vladovic’s intention was to siphon much of the policy discussion into the committees, he showed no sign of it on Tuesday.
“He set up this committee structure and didn’t send things to committee,” said one observer, who closely watches board developments.
Other board members played their parts as well. Bennett Kayser and Marguerite LaMotte asked district staff numerous questions throughout the meeting, which could have been asked beforehand. And Garcia offered no fewer than five symbolic resolutions, including one on “Safe and Fun Walk to School Day,” one against texting while driving, and one promoting “Latino Heritage Month,” which drew a number of public speakers.
But whereas Garcia, as president, would cut people off and call for votes, Vladovic seemed more than happy to let discussion continue unabated, on one issue soliciting opinion from all four local superintendents and UTLA President Warren Fletcher, who had to sprint over from the cafeteria to proffer his two cents worth. When discussion broke out, Vladovic largely played a hands off approach, not wanting to rush either the board members or the general public.
“The chair has to be comfortable establishing a pace and being very mindful that the public has an appropriate role,” Garcia told LA School Report. “But these are meetings of the board.”
This may be a stylistic difference – Vladovic has stated that he thinks the school board needs to be more transparent. It also may be a function of Vladovic being new to the job.
But could the slow pace of the agenda be, in part, a matter of design?
The board is dominated by three moderates – Vladovic, Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff — who were often joined Tuesday by Kayser and LaMotte in voting majorities, with Tamar Galatzan and Garcia the usual lone dissenters.
The moderates appear happy to keep Deasy around as superintendent but have no interest in giving him free reign of the district. That creates a certain amount of tension and even indecision, especially when it comes to setting priorities. If Deasy represents one extreme – reform at breakneck speed – and his opponents represent the other extreme, the middle ground suggests something no swifter than slow, ponderous reform.
Asked to comment about the meeting’s length, Vladovic sounded unconcerned, saying in an emailed: “Board meetings are for the purpose of discussing topics and hearing all points of view. I am pleased with the meaningful feedback, comments, and opinions that were shared during the robust debate over important policy and budget issues.”