-- Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/NZWPzn
July 2, 2012 | 12:39 pm :: Members of the Los Angeles Board of Education on Monday reelected Monica Garcia to her sixth consecutive one-year term as school board president.
The seven-member body voted 4 to 3, but board members seemed to know in advance what was going to happen. That impression was remarked on openly by board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who voted against Garcia.
“We should come here not knowing which way it is going,” said LaMotte, the board's longest-serving member.
Voting for Garcia were Tamar Galatzan, Nury Martinez and Steve Zimmer, as well as Garcia herself. Voting against Garcia were LaMotte, Bennett Kayser and Richard Vladovic.
The board president has no greater legal authority than the other trustees, but runs the meetings and frequently represents the district.
In her time as president, Garcia has worked to shorten marathon meetings and to cut down on committee meetings, freeing staff members for other tasks. Critics accuse her of reducing transparency and opportunities for public input.
Both supporters and critics have said Garcia wields an outsize influence on district policy and the use of district resources.
Last year the vote for president also was 4 to 3, with Garcia prevailing thanks to the support of board members endorsed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This year, one of those trustees, Vladovic, broke off to accept a nomination from LaMotte.
Vladovic, in recent times, has strayed occasionally from the mayor’s bloc. He also has sometimes been at odds with L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who has worked especially closely with Garcia.
Deasy, who presided over the election, gave Garcia a modest tactical edge by recognizing her nomination first — meaning that Garcia’s candidacy would be voted up or down before Vladovic would have a chance.
The political realignment made Zimmer the swing vote. Zimmer has been a frequent target for allies of the mayor, in particular for his opposition to evaluating individual teachers based on the state’s annual standardized tests. But Zimmer also has talked of reaching a middle ground between board factions on various issues.
Before the vote, Garcia praised the district as a positive work in progress. She said the growth of independently operated charter schools was a result of “parents telling us they want better.” She also called attention to turnaround efforts at Fremont High, Huntington Park High and Jordan High — at each school, teachers were forced to reapply for jobs and most did not return.
“My first constituent is the kid in classroom,” she said, followed by the family of that student. “We all get asked 10,000 ways every day to slow down,” she said of changes sweeping across the nation’s second-largest school system. “I ask myself every day what can we do more.”
Vladovic praised the work of Garcia, but said the leadership role needed to be more equitably distributed.
Last week, the same three-member minority sought to change the rules so Garcia could not serve again as president. LaMotte proposed term limits; Vladovic amended the motion to call for a rotation of the board presidency. That measure also failed with Zimmer once again casting the swing vote.
After being reelected, Garcia announced that she would appoint Galatzan as vice president of the board, replacing Vladovic.
Photo: L.A. Unified Board President Monica Garcia, right, attends a board meeting in March. Garcia was reelected to her sixth consecutive one-year term as school board president. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
●●smf on the “outsize influence”: The board president occupies the largest chair on the dais and the largest suite of offices in the board of ed’s enclave on the 24th floor of Beaudry. Most importantly, she sets and controls the agenda of the Board of Education – and as this board is agenda rather than policy driven, that makes most of – if not all – of the difference.
As the article implies, Ms. Garcia works closely with the mayor and the superintendent, When the mayor unsuccessfully attempted to take over LAUSD seven years ago she was his only ally on the board; if I were to be cynical I would say that that loyalty has been and continues to be supported from city hall and the forces of ®eform, Inc.
The article’s reference to the superintendent’s conducting of the election as giving Garcia “a modest tactical edge” demonstrates the power of the person conducting any meeting: Using the chair’s prerogative in recognizing speakers he demonstrated preference for Garcia's nomination by allowing Ms. Galatzan to nominate Garcia first. (My observation is that Ms. LaMotte rose to nominate first).
The fact that the vice president of the board is appointed rather than elected is interesting and provides additional authority to the president; the fact that the person who nominated the winner secured the V.P. appointment cements this. (There was a rumor in the audience that Mr Zimmer’s vote in support of Garcia was secured in a quid pro quo for his appointment as V.P.; this proved either incorrect or was re-thought.
Both Zimmer and Vladovic have proved to be swing votes in recent board actions; obviously when they both swing against their previous alignments the outcome is unchanged.
As I wrote earlier: this board majority is more agenda than policy driven - and my objection here is to process over policy. This is called politics – and yesterday’s exercise was a sloppy game of it played at progress’ – and children’s - expense. I wrote my college PoliSci thesis on Machiavelli; Niccolò would’ve been proud,.