Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Guest Post: The Tide Shifting in LAUSD Board Politics

It seems like only yesterday that Mayor Villaraigosa was trying to take control of the Los Angeles public schools. Now there is a new mayor, and he clearly had little influence over the choice of a new school board president. The vote for Dr. Richard Vladovic was a decisive 5-2. — Professor Diane Ravitch

District 6 LAUSD Board Member Mónica RatliffLike many people I was invited to the big LAUSD event Tuesday, but wasn't able to get in because the district overbooked. However, a longtime activist who worked on several recent LAUSD School Board campaigns was at the installment of the newly elected board members and the election of the new LAUSD President. She provided this cogent analysis and commentary.

The Tide Shifting in LAUSD Board Politics

There were many headlines about yesterday's LAUSD historic board meeting from the LA Times' "Mini-dramas at L.A. Unified" to the Daily News' "Divided LAUSD board elects Richard Vladovic as president" as Monica Ratliff, Steve Zimmer and Monica Garcia were sworn into office and Richard Vladovic was elected as the new LAUSD board president. The mainstream media, in a desperate attempt to reframe the discourse from the loosing educational "deform" perspective unwittingly highlighted the fact that the billionaire cronies no longer have the uncontested control of the LAUSD board.

What has solidified the shifting tide, contrary to popular opinion, was not the re-election of Steve Zimmer, but the election of Monica Ratliff, a former lawyer and an LAUSD teacher who won the election by running a people's campaign against the billionaire supported candidate Antonio Sanchez. Monica's victory was not due to UTLA's support, as the union also endorsed her opponent and the union president was spotted at the presumptuous "victory party" of her opponent, but it was due to hardworking teachers (many adult-education teachers) and community members who supported her candidacy with their time and limited resources.

Prior to Ratliff's election, UTLA was held hostage by Zimmer who at best, was an unreliable ally and more often than not the fourth vote for the "deformers." He was culprit in pushing forward the "deform" agenda that decimated many educational programs within the district. What was interesting was that even after Zimmer sold out to the deformers, he still wasn't good enough for them. He found himself opposed by an even worse, billionaire backed opponent and was able to hold on to his seat only because of UTLA's support. In an attempt to make peace with the union, and punish his former BFF's, he voted for term limits for the board presidency, which ultimately dethroned Monica Garcia from her seat of power. However, let's not be quick to praise Zimmer's efforts and think that he's finally seen the light. He is a true politician and only made that move because he read the signs of the times (i.e. Villaraigosa's crumbling power and influence) and wanted to align himself with the winners.

During the July 2nd board meeting, the shift in tide was palpable as Monica Ratliff was sworn into office. The boardroom was filled with teachers and community members who cheered Ratliff and gave her a standing ovation as she talked about things that were important for the community such as arts education, adult education and early childhood education.

After a brief reception for the newly elected board members, the board returned to its scheduled meeting. The first item on the agenda was the election of the new board president. In a pleasantly unexpected, yet swift move, Marguerite LaMotte came through for the people once more by nominating Richard Vladovic as the new board president. Vladovic's recent investigations about his alleged misconduct had made his support for presidency more tenuous and had seemingly made Zimmer into a more likely candidate. LaMotte's nomination was immediately followed by Monica Garcia's panicky nomination of Tamar Galatzan as the board president, which was seconded by Galatzan herself.

What was most surprising was the discussion that followed. As the board was ready to vote, Monica Ratliff stopped the process by making a motion and asking that both candidates state why they wanted the board presidency. This unprecedented, yet ingenious move pushed the candidates to state their political positioning. Although Vladovic was caught off guard, he was able to articulate his moderate, yet reasonably pro-public education stance. However, the best Galatzan could do was state that she wanted to improve the wait time for speakers at board meetings and also make the board meetings shorter, because longer meetings weren't necessarily effective. In a desperate attempt Galatzan even mentioned the importance of adult-education (which was met with no claps and cheers from the audience as the mention of "Adult Ed" had done before) and tried to make "friends" with Ratliff by stating that she connected with her on the basis that they were both "lawyers" and "valley girls." As the board was ready to vote, Ratliff stopped the process once again by asking if elected, who would the candidates appoint as their vice president and why. Vladovic stated that he would pick Zimmer and Galatzan in her politically astute last attempt said she would appoint Ratliff. After Galatzan's move, one could feel the teachers and community members in the audience holding their breath and crossing their fingers as they had seen prior board members lured with much less. However, when roll was called, Ratliff stood her ground and voted for Vladovic. Ratliff's vote was followed by the loud and boisterous cheering of the audience who celebrated their victory, even before the fifth vote by Bennett Kayser.

After this vote, Monica Garcia seemed uncomfortable in her new seat to the left of LaMotte, as she shifted restlessly and got up a number of times to whisper at Galatzan's and Deasy's ears, called for Jefferson Crain, and even left the dais and voted from the audience. Garcia made a few empty speeches about her care and commitment to the community and tried to sabotage LaMotte's attempt to advocate for a successful school program that needed funding for a year. The LA Times' terminology "mini-dramas" perhaps most accurately describes the mini tantrums by Monica Garcia. Also, contrary to the assertion of the Daily News, the board was more united than before with 5 to 2 votes in favor of public education.

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