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A full plate for the LA Unified board — LaMotte seat, fixes, iPads

Michael Janofsky | December 16, 2013

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generic board meetingThe LA Unified school board is back together tomorrow, with a long agenda highlighted by several high-stakes and, very likely, contentious issues.

Foremost is the discussion and probable vote on how to fill the vacant District 1 seat. Marguerite LaMotte’s death on Dec. 4 has left the board with the options of filling the seat by board appointment or working with the city to hold a special election.

There are rational arguments for and against either choice, but with six people deciding, the prevailing side needs four votes. A 3-3 deadlock would require the board to keep voting until someone is persuaded to break.

Efforts by LA School Report last week to learn where members stand found that they appeared to be split, with President Richard Vladovic, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia favoring a special election and Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff favoring an appointment. Steve Zimmer was said to favor an appointment, but he told the LA Times he’s undecided.

A chorus of voices that includes state and federal elected officials have expressed support for an election. Rep. Maxine Waters, whose Congressional district overlaps the LaMotte district, campaigned for an election at the First AME Church of Los Angeles last night. LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is urging people to show up at district headquarters tomorrow to rally for an election.

The most persuasive argument for appointing someone, as Kayser wrote in a commentary last week, is that staging an election would leave the seat empty for months. Also, an election that might require a runoff would cost the district more than $1 million.

One plan under discussion last week among state, city and union leaders was a compromise of sorts, in which the board would appoint an interim replacement to serve until an election could be scheduled in mid-2014 or when the next regular election for District 1 is scheduled, mid-2015. One name that has surfaced in such an arrangement is George McKenna, a former administrator in LA Unified and Inglewood Unified.

He was quoted in Sunday’s LA Times saying, “If the community indicates their support for me to replace a board member with whom I had a long relationship, I would consider that strongly.”

Unions tend to favor an appoint over an election as a safeguard against outside groups spending large sums to elect a pro-reform candidate – especially for a seat held by someone as close to the union as LaMotte was. Through Friday, the local teachers union, UTLA, did not respond to several messages seeking comment.

A second big issue before the board is the start of a debate that could make iPad discussions sound like child’s play.

The board will consider how to spend $7,852,970,000 that will become available for school repairs and safety upgrades.

That’s billions, not millions.

The money will come available through voter-approved Measure Q, a bond sale passed in 2008 but wasn’t begun as a consequence of the nation’s economic downturn.

With the financial landscape improving, the district’s Bond Oversight Committee has recommended starting the sale to address what was estimated in 2008 to be “more than $60 billion of needs” among district schools.

Superintendent John Deasy and his staff have developed “guiding principles” for how the money should be spent – the bulk of it, $4.3 billion, for renovations and repairs and $1.4 billion for specific programs, such as $402 million for charter schools, $324 million for network upgrades and $212 million to renovate cafeterias.

Developing those priorities was the easy part. The real fight begins when board members start competing for the dollars.

For now, the district’s Facilities Services Division is asking the board to approve the guiding principles, after which board members would begin their lobbying.

Finally, what’s an LA Unified board meeting without an iPad debate?

This time it arises through a resolution from Galatzan and Garcia urging the board to fast-track the latest board-approved plan — to start Phase 2 with 38 more schools receiving iPads and seven high schools receiving laptops to determine whether they are a better option than iPads for high school students.

An affirmative vote would keep the program moving.

Previous Posts: Commentary: To honor LaMotte, empower her communityIn Replacing LaMotte on LAUSD Board, Zimmer is KeyMarguerite LaMotte, Long-Serving Member of LA Unified School$7 Billion for Repairs, But LA Unified to Start With Much Less.




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