Board members offer vision of what’s expected of LAUSD president
Mike Szymanski | July 6, 2015
Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for the LA School Report newsletter.
Steve Zimmer may think that being elected as the new LA Unified board president was the tough part. But now he has to live up to the expectations of his fellow members of the board.
Even before he was voted in unanimously last week, the board members laid out their expectations of the future president.
Among the specifics requested: a monthly report on the search for the new superintendent and a reading of the school board’s goals at the beginning of each meeting.
The wish list came about after Mónica Ratliff interrupted Superintendent Ramon Cortines as he was asking for nominations for president. Before voting, she said, she wanted everyone to articulate their expectations of the position because “we have a rare opportunity to discuss what we would like the board president to do.”
Cortines honored the request, and she began.
“We have to have a very transparent superintendent search,” Ratliff said. That includes an update on a monthly basis “so people know where we are at in terms of that search.”
She said the president must be “somebody who is being transparent about what is going on and not making alliances behind the scenes.”
Former president Richard Vladovic joked, “I’d like to see the new president do exactly what I did.”
He pointed out, “I tried to not use it as a bully pulpit, and I tried to bring us all together.”
He admitted he faced scrutiny because, as president, he was the last one to vote on any issue. “In many cases, I got criticism for going along with the majority, but I tried to build consensus,” Vladovic said. “This board functions best when they do it in unanimity the best they can.”
Mónica García said she wanted the new president to reiterate the goals at the start of every meeting.
“We have to recognize the goals we have today, including 100 percent graduation, 100 percent student and staff attendance, 100 percent proficiency for all, safe schools and engaged families and I think that is really important,” she said.
Also a past president, Garcia said she is beginning her 10th year in office and was happy at the swearing-in ceremony that the new board members made a call for unity.
She also cautioned the new president. “The president must understand that that role is a spokesperson and that role reflects not just the seven of us as board members, but this organization. So when we make comments about our beliefs that position does get picked up at national, state and local levels that individual voices do not,” she said.
Newly-elected member Scott Schmerelson recalled that as principal of a school “at times of crisis everyone looks at you. They see if the principal is panicking, is the principal nervous or is he or she calm?”
He said, “The board president has to be the face to public and has to be open, sincere even-tempered and willing to listen, and has to represent me.”
The other new voice on the board, Ref Rodriguez, suggested that the new president get a better handle on the long board meetings.
“People don’t have enough time to wait seven hours to be heard,” he said. He also called for transparency and a lot of public input into the search for a new superintendent.
George McKenna said, “I think the board president needs to understand what the presidency is and what it is not. It is one vote. It is not—as some would like to believe—it is not the voice of the board. The president of the board speaks for themselves (sic). I would hope the president of the board is not predetermined by influences that put them on the board.”
He emphasized that the president may need to “vote for children that may not be in their neighborhood” and that the person should not be catering to the media.
“The media has its place, but we should not pander to the media for personal attention,” McKenna said. “Media has to be held accountable for accuracy and not just a sound bite. [The president] shouldn’t shoot from the hip and have to explain why you said that.”
Zimmer, before he was even elected, ticked off five qualities he thought the board president should have, including cooperation with the superintendent’s office, communication and listening.
He admitted that the new president “will have to do some healing and bringing together, and that requires honesty and integrity in our interactions. The board president has to be the broadcaster of urgency, the hopes and dreams of the children that need public education the most rest in our hands.”
Zimmer said the new president must “understand that the seven of us have to work together and the children of this city are watching us and how we treat each other.”
After he was elected unanimously, Zimmer said, “I’m going to make mistakes. We all experience it in very public way sometimes. I ask for your openness and honest input and partnership.”
Zimmer added, “When I have to get on my knees, or fall on my knees, you need to help us all get up together.”