Thursday, July 02, 2015


…the clock is ticking, yet they take July+August off!

Los Angeles Unified: new board members, new president, soon new superintendent

By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News  |

Scott Mark Schmerelson joins the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, July 2, 2015. (File photo by Hans...

Scott Mark Schmerelson joins the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, July 2, 2015. (File photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)


Ref Rodriguez joins the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, July 2, 2015. (Courtesy photo)

Ref Rodriguez joins the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, July 2, 2015. (Courtesy photo)

Posted: 07/01/15, 7:40 AM PDT | Updated: 9PM  ::  The Los Angeles Unified school board seated two members, elected a president and discussed the upcoming search for a superintendent Wednesday.

The superintendent replacement, newly installed board President Steven Zimmer said, will be guided by current Supt. Ramon Cortines.

“If I was given the opportunity to have any one person in the country guide a superintendent search, I would choose Ray Cortines,” said Zimmer, who was elected president Wednesday in a 7-0 vote.

One of his first jobs will be coordinating the outreach for a successor to Cortines, who has announced he would leave in six months.

The process takes about seven months from the time a recruiter begins soliciting candidates. The school board, however, has yet to decide on an employment recruiter to tackle the search.

Zimmer said he hopes to call a meeting between now and the board’s next scheduled session on Sept. 1, but even if those plans fall through, he still expects a transparent process with plenty of community input.

Earlier Wednesday, the school board welcomed two members, Scott Schmerelson and Ref Rodriguez. Both won runoff elections in May, with the teachers’ union backing Schmerelson and its adversary — charter school advocates — supporting Rodriguez.

Schmerelson, a retired LAUSD principal who has worked at more than a half dozen campuses across the city, handily beat incumbent Tamar Galatzan for the District 3 seat, elected by voters in the western San Fernando Valley.

“After working at all of these different places, I know that I am responsible for all of our students, no matter what district they live in,” Schmerelson said.

Rodriguez ousted incumbent Bennett Kayser for the District 5 seat with the confidence of voters in areas including South Los Angeles and Echo Park. “We are unified in one thing,” Rodriguez said. “We are here to educate all kids — they come first.”

Two board members had their terms renewed Wednesday.

George McKenna ran unopposed this year after winning an election last year to finish out the term of late board member Marguerite Lamotte, who passed away in December while at a California School Boards Association convention.

Board member Richard Vladovic won his May runoff to retain the District 7 seat, which represents the South Bay.

All four members elected this year will serve longer board terms — five and a half years — because a ballot measure passed in May that consolidates their re-election bids with statewide ballots in 2020.


Vowing unity, new LA Unified board members sworn into office

Posted on LA School Report by Mike Szymanski|

July 1, 2015 3:15 pm    ::  Two new LA Unified board members and two former board members took their oath of office today during a ceremony in which they vowed to bring unity and collaboration to the district and with each other.

For each member, it was the start of a five-and-a-half year term, following a change in the city’s voting schedule to get more people to the polls.

The other three board members -  new president Steve Zimmer, Mónica Ratliff and Mónica García — watched from the stage, along with lame-duck Superintendent Ramon Cortines, as newly-elected Ref Rodriguez and Scott Schmerelson, along with Richard Vladovic and George McKenna were given the oath of office.

In brief remarks after the oath, each member spoke with passion about  hoped-for unity on the new board and their dedication to serving. They also had kind words for Cortines.

Rodriguez, a charter school executive who won a contentious election campaign against Bennett Kayser, angering other board members, said he wanted to talk about the “U” in LAUSD.

“Unified means that we all are welcome, there’s a place for you in our district,” said Rodriguez, who also gave part of his speech in Spanish. “I want to make sure that we put love at the center of everything we do in this district.”

Rodriguez named each fellow board member by name and said, “I know that we will be unified in our quest to make Los Angeles excellent.” He even had a bro-hug for Zimmer, who had criticized him for the ugliness of his campaign.

McKenna, who ran unopposed after serving out the term of the late Marguerite LaMotte, said, “We must work together, but we don’t always have to agree.”

McKenna pointed out: “Our most important constituents didn’t vote for me because they aren’t old enough to vote, and they don’t know our names.”

He said, “If anyone knows anything more precious than children, you tell me.”

He praised Cortines and teachers, saying, “We know our teachers are more valuable than entertainers, more valuable than athletes, more valuable than politicians.”

Schmerelson, who described himself as “a plain old guy from the school,” was sworn in by representatives of the two unions who supported him in his victory over Tamar Galatzan: Colleen Schwab, a vice president of the teachers union, UTLA; and Judy Perez, the newly-retired president of the principals union, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.

“I am the right person for the job,” he said. He pointed to all the union support he received in his election and said that “unions can united to work together.” Unlike Galatzan, who also worked in the city attorney’s office, Schmerelson said, “I will be a full-time board member.”

Schmerelson also promised a “bully-free” environment and promised that “parents get the attention and respect they deserve.”

Vladovic, the out-going board president who defeated Lydia Gutierrez in his bid for a third term, was given the oath by his son-in-law, Merrill T. Sparago. In his brief remarks, Vladovic conceded, “We have our problems as any family, but LA as a district works.”

He also praised Cortines, recalling a 6 a.m. telephone call from Cortines years ago when Cortines served in an earlier term as superintendent and Vladovic was an area supervisor.

“He pushes us hard, and that’s good,” Vladovic said. “There is not a person here who I question their motives. They all care about our children.”

The ceremony was held at the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center and was followed by a meeting at LA Unified headquarters, where Zimmer was voted in unanimously as board president.

With the addition of Schmerelson and Rodriguez, LA Unified now has a school board that has no member with a child in an LA Unified school.

New L.A. school board members are sworn in, but old challenges remain

By Howard Blume | LA Times |

Ref Rodriguez, a new member of the Los Angeles Board of Education, greets Supt. Ramon Cortines before the board's meeting Wednesday. (Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times)


2 July 2015  ::  Before choosing Steve Zimmer as their new president, L.A. school board members gave him a lecture: He would need to build consensus, welcome those with differing politics and varying approaches to education, and speak for them as a whole.

Their admonishments made it clear that the seven-member board remained split by sharp differences on how to confront an array of challenges — particularly as two new members were sworn in Wednesday.

The new board includes charter school co-founder Ref Rodriguez, who replaces teachers union ally Bennett Kayser, the board's most unrelenting critic of charter schools. And Scott Schmerelson, a teachers union-backed retired principal, defeated incumbent Tamar Galatzan, an opponent of the union on key issues.

LAUSD board


Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times | LAUSD board members and staff give a standing ovation to outgoing LAUSD Supt. Ramon C. Cortines during the annual meeting at LAUSD headquarters.

The board faces pressing issues in the nation's second-largest school system — chief among them, the selection of a new superintendent. But first the board members acknowledged personal and policy disparities.

"I do believe the board president will have to do some healing and bringing together," Zimmer said.

The divides on the Board of Education reflect differences and doubts in the wider community, said Charles Kerchner, a professor in the school of educational studies at Claremont Graduate University.

The Los Angeles Unified School District "faces an existential problem that people have lost confidence in the district's ability to solve its problems and create a sense of excitement about the many good things that are going on," Kerchner said. "If this continues, there will be increasingly forceful calls to break up the district or radically alter its governance."

In coming months, the board will deal with an improved but limited budget, one that includes long-awaited pay raises but also layoffs. Sweeping academic challenges also persist, including the need to revamp the college prep program so that more students graduate. The district also has yet to resolve two technology debacles: a faulty student records system and an aborted plan to provide every student, teacher and campus administrator with an iPad.

Some analysts say the two incumbents lost their seats in large measure because opponents associated them with the costly iPad project, which became the target of an FBI investigation. Galatzan was an early supporter and Kayser, though a frequent critic, took a similar beating in campaign materials. The iPad effort had been a major initiative of former Supt. John Deasy, who resigned under pressure in October.

The new board represents an ideological shuffling, especially concerning charter schools, which are independently operated and exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses. Most charters are nonunion, and the teachers union has sought to limit their growth.

The effect and oversight of charters could be a point of conflict.

But Rodriguez indicated he would collaborate with his colleagues.

"I will do everything in my power to ensure that we are unified," he said at the swearing-in ceremony at the Roybal Learning Center.

He implied that it was time to move beyond a vitriolic campaign that left bitter feelings between his supporters and those of Kayser, who included Zimmer.

George McKenna, who won his first full term in May after winning a special election in August, and Richard Vladovic, who won a third term, also took the oath of office.

The task of choosing a superintendent has become especially pressing since Ramon Cortines, who came out of retirement after Deasy's resignation, said he would prefer to leave by the end of the year. The previous board, pleased with Cortines' work, had put off any moves until the new members were seated.

The choice is about more than finding a capable administrator. By choosing Deasy, for example, the board had, in effect, opted for a particular direction in reforms, one that included the controversial use of test scores as one element in a teacher's evaluation.

The selection of the next superintendent is as much about philosophy as managerial competence. On that, the previous board — and five of seven members are returning — often struggled to find common ground on policy. The two new members are championed by vastly different constituencies, even though they all said they shared the same priority — the best interests of students.

Vladovic could not continue as board president because of a rule barring more than two consecutive one-year terms. Some board members had tried to change the rule — and thwart Zimmer — but failed.

So board members lectured Zimmer instead. Although the formal vote for Zimmer was unanimous, insiders said his appointment was based on a 4-3 majority, which included his own vote.

Monica Ratliff said she wanted the president to speak for the entire board but without getting ahead of it, while also acting transparently, without making alliances behind the scenes.

Monica Garcia reminded him that the position was "an opportunity to say out loud what we're trying to do," adding that "when we make comments about our beliefs," the views of the board president "get picked up at national and local levels in the way that individual voices do not."

Schmerelson talked about the need to be "open, sincere, even-tempered."

In an interview, Vladovic said he tried to bring the board together around important issues, such as support for Cortines and the successful resolution of contract negotiations with teachers.

Critics have questioned whether that deal is affordable, but Vladovic insisted it is — provided that all sides commit to solving long-term problems, such as how to keep paying for retiree health benefits.

"I tried to tone down the animus on the board even when there were strong feelings," he said. "I'm not an ideologue."

During his time in office, Zimmer has become more closely associated with the teachers union, especially after he relied on union backing to win reelection two years ago. One of his first moves Wednesday was to appoint a liaison between the board and labor groups. He asked Vladovic to serve in that role.

Schmerelson supporter Brent Smiley, who taught at a school where the new board member was principal, said he was hopeful.

"My sense was the school board members didn't like each other very much, and bringing people together is Scott's strength," Smiley said.



Zimmer wins unanimous approval to serve as LAUSD board leader

Posted on  LA Schoool Report  by Vanessa Romo |

The LAUSD school board gives Superintendent Ramon Cortines a standing ovation.

The LAUSD school board gives Superintendent Ramon Cortines a standing ovation.

July 1, 2015 4:28 pm  ::  One week after it appeared Richard Vladovic was destined to serve as president of the LA Unified board for a third consecutive term, the members unanimously today elected Steve Zimmer as its new leader, giving the district its most teacher union friendly president in more than a decade.

Zimmer, who began his career with the district as a teacher, has been serving as board vice president for the last two years. Even so, the ease with which he ascended to the throne was a bit surprising.

Just last week, board members Mónica Ratliff and Mónica García had suggested they might seek to waive newly-adopted term limits for the presidency to re-elect Vladovic for a third term, but neither followed through.

However, just before the members were about to entertain nominations for president, Ratliff pressed Zimmer to identify his own successor as vice president. Zimmer said he would appoint George McKenna, who had been sworn in earlier in the day for a new term, along with newly-elected Scott Schmerelson and Ref Rodgriguez and the reelected Vladovic.

McKenna gladly accepted the nomination after Zimmer was elected.

While all seven members were united in their votes for Zimmer, Ratliff was the only one to qualify hers as each member made a choice orally. “I would like nothing more than to vote for a ticket with McKenna on it,” she chirped before voting yes.

Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence for Zimmer.

Still, Zimmer’s joy could not be stifled, and he wept in thanking Vladovic for being “my friend, my mentor, my colleague.” Then Zimmer presented Vladovic with a plaque.

“I’m going to make mistakes and letting people down and disappointing people is the hardest thing about this job and we all experience it in a very public way,” he said.  That is why, he said, “I want to ask you for your openness, honesty, input, partnership.”

In recent weeks Zimmer has repeatedly spoken about the new president’s role in selecting a new superintendent for the country’s largest school district run by a board and he wasted no time today. He said the process will be undertaken in full collaboration with Superintendent Ramon Cortines, 82, who signed a year-long extension several months ago but then surprised the board last week saying he might leave by December.

“Now that the business of the budget, the elections, and today are behind us, we can move on to the next big question facing LAUSD today, who are we going to choose to lead,” Zimmer said. “Given the opportunity to have one person in the county to help guide our search, I would choose Cortines,” he added.

After Zimmer’s comments, the board gave Cortines a standing ovation.

Despite Cortines’s six-month warning — no formal notice has been delivered to the board regarding a resignation date —  Zimmer says he doesn’t expect Cortines to leave before a new superintendent is hired.

But the clock is ticking, and today the board could not agree on a meeting date for the month August. The next meeting is scheduled for September 1, which means that the district can’t issue a Request for Proposals (or any kind of help-wanted ad) until September 2, at the earliest.

“I don’t know how it will work out but we will work it out,” Zimmer said. “There might be some timeline consolidation but it will get done.”

Besides a personal triumph, Zimmer’s ascension symbolized a triumph for the teachers union, UTLA, which has been among his strongest strong supporters since he first won election to the board in 2009. He follows Vladovic, who came to the board as a reformer with help from former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, before drifting to the center as board president.

Prior to Vladovic, Garcia, a staunch reformer, served as president for six years. Before she could serve a seventh, the board passed the term limit rule.


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