By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/keo5r9
7/01/2011 08:58:59 PM PDT - The Los Angeles Unified school board officially swore in its new and returning members Friday, but oath ceremonies quickly gave way to a power struggle as the board's president faced her first challenge in years.
Three former teachers, including new board member Bennett Kayser, tried to flex their muscle as a new pro-union minority bloc in a bid to wrest the presidency from Monica Garcia. She has held the post for four years with little challenge to her re-election and is seen as an ally of the "reform" community.
Member Marguerite LaMotte, who voiced strong opposition to the board's current leadership, nominated Steve Zimmer for the post. Ultimately, however, the three could not swing the additional vote they needed and Garcia was re-elected to a fifth term on a 4-3 vote.
LaMotte accused Garcia of being the vehicle for outside forces, like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to exert power over school district business.
"I was personally hoping you would give someone else a chance... We are giving away schools, we have taken away public input ... something has to change," LaMotte said.
She sardonically suggested that Garcia add an eighth chair to the board for the mayor, so at least his input would be publicized rather than offered behind closed doors.
Garcia did not respond directly to her remarks, but made no apologies for what she described as working with a coalition of outside partners to improve the schools, including Villaraigosa and other elected officials.
After defeating the challenge, Garcia - whose district encompasses central Los Angeles - called for working together in the interest of students.
"While there may be disagreements, I don't think any of these six other members are confused about why they are here and what their goals are... to make sure that all children in this district have the opportunity to have a great education," Garcia said.
Garcia said she is only the third Latina to be board president over 155 years, and the first to hold on to that title for five years.
Villaraigosa, who was traveling out of town Friday, issued a statement in support of Garcia's re-election. Villaraigosa was instrumental in getting Garcia elected six years ago, after he failed in his attempt to take over the school board and shifted gears toward electing a reform minded majority.
"Monica Garcia has shown tremendous leadership and I am thrilled to see her rewarded with another term at the helm of the School Board," Villaraigosa said.
The board swore in two re-elected members for second terms: Tamar Galatzan, who represents the west San Fernando Valley, and Richard Vladovic, who represents the South Bay and South Los Angeles
The only new member was Kayser. He replaced Yolie Flores, who represented much of the eastern rim of the district and became perhaps the strongest voice for change at LAUSD during her four-year term. Kayser said he intends to shift the dialogue after spending the last 14 years as a middle school science teacher.
During a swearing-in speech, Kayser laid out goals that included raising funds for magnet schools, focusing more intervention efforts on middle school students and having stricter oversight of charter schools - especially those that do not serve enough students with special needs.
Kayser also drew immediate attention to his battle with Parkinson's disease, a condition that he said was serious but "also helps me as a politician because I shake hands with so many people."