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Exclusive: Mónica García is likely pick for next school board president

Mike Szymanski | September 22, 2017

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Mónica García — a staunch education reformer and a favorite of the district’s Latino majority — will likely become LA Unified’s new school board president next Tuesday. She has served as president twice before, for a total of six years, and she is already the longest-serving school board president in district history.

The District 2 board member who represents most of the downtown area and East Los Angeles would replace Ref Rodriguez, who remains on the board but stepped down Tuesday as board president after being charged with criminal election fraud. At a special meeting this coming Tuesday, the school board plans to vote in a new president.

In a text Friday afternoon, García swept away the two factors that had seemed to stand in the way of a third round as president: her previous statements saying she didn’t want the position, and her part-time position at the county.

García said she is “open and willing” to serve in any capacity and she plans to leave her job at the Los Angeles County Probation Department. García is currently the only part-time member of the school board. In her previous two times as president, she was a full-time board member. She first switched to part time in 2013 when she took the county job working under Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

“I will be separating from my service at LA County to serve full time on the board,” said García, who was first elected in 2006 and now faces term limits which will prevent her from running again. “During my time there, I have helped find alternative solutions to youth incarceration. I saw firsthand what failure in our schools can lead to and why we must do more.”

The other six school board members serve full-time. School board members recently received a hefty raise from the independent Board of Education Compensation Review Committee, which meets every five years, boosting their annual full-time pay to $125,000 from $45,000.

García had been making $26,347 as a part-time board member, which recently was increased to $50,000, plus $110,892 from her county probation job.

Until Friday, García had maintained she didn’t want to be president again, allowing “new blood” to lead the board. She served in a frustrating position in the past with Tamar Galatzan when they were at the losing end of a 5-2 split on the board. But with last spring’s election, the new board tilts 4-3 in favor of those in the “pro-reform” camp, and García sees a new energy on the board.

“Yes, I am open and willing to do what I can to serve the board and our district,” García said in the text Friday. “We must continue our work of ending illiteracy, creating workforce pathways and skills, closing gaps, and of course increasing graduation, all while strengthening relationships with our students, families, and employees.”

Rodriguez resigned from the top spot after running only two meetings. He had appointed García as his vice president, and she ran the Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, when Rodriguez announced on social media that he was stepping down from the presidency.

Board rules state, “Each year, the newly elected President of the Board of Education shall appoint a Vice President to the Board to serve as President Pro Tempore,” and “The President Pro Tempore shall possess the powers and perform the duties of the President at that meeting.” The board has to decide the next step and has scheduled a special meeting on Tuesday.

Before Rodriguez’s election in June, García and newly elected board member Nick Melvoin had indicated that they would serve if the majority of the board wanted them to but said someone else should take the role.  Melvoin recently said, “While it would be a privilege to serve as the president of the Board of Education, my focus right now is on Board District 4 and implementing some of the district-wide reforms I campaigned on.”

But with the criminal charges against Rodriguez, the landscape quickly changed.

The other board members haven’t responded specifically to questions about their interest in the position or who they would be supporting. But here’s a quick look at the other board members and reasons why they either would or would not be likely winners of a vote for president:

GEORGE McKENNA. At 77, the District 1 board member is the oldest school board member and commands a lot of respect among the rest of the board because of his past history as a celebrated school principal.

PROS: He has run the Committee of the Whole for years as chairman and served as vice president of the school board under Steve Zimmer, who lost to Melvoin in May’s election.

CONS: He is known for long and opinionated speeches during meetings that have been more combative rather than collaborative, and he is in the minority of board members who have had union backing.

SCOTT SCHMERELSON. A former principal who represents a majority of the San Fernando Valley, he unseated a pro-reform candidate and has been a vocal critic of charter schools.

PROS: He has strong teacher support, speaks Spanish fluently, and has remained supportive of the district’s staff and their decisions.

CONS: He strongly supported the opponents of the two newest board members, and he has criticized the entire board in the past as being “a mean group of people.” He has also never expressed interest in the top spot.

NICK MELVOIN. Personable, young, and a former teacher, Melvoin beat a popular past president, Steve Zimmer, for his West Los Angeles seat.

PROS: He isn’t afraid to greet and negotiate with those who may disagree with him, and he has tirelessly visited schools.

CONS: He has been a vocal critic of the district, turning off teachers and labor leaders. And he is the first to admit that he has a huge learning curve to be on the school board, much less being president of it.

KELLY GONEZ. Another newcomer to the board, she is establishing herself as a board member who isn’t afraid to get into the weeds over policy issues.

PROS: A teacher and a Latina, she can parlay her east San Fernando Valley support to the entire district.

CONS: She has yet to ignite much of a spark in her short time on the board, and recently couldn’t even get a second to allow for discussion of one of her amendments that she offered as a compromise.

RICHARD VLADOVIC. Celebrating his 50th year in education this year, Vladovic has served in the past as the board president. He has a very different philosophy of how a board should work with a superintendent and has stressed that he would discourage board members from making too many resolutions that dictate her job.

PROS: It is his last term and he has little to gain from grandstanding in the position. He has had experience dealing with labor negotiations, and his top priority is lobbying the federal and state governments for the district’s fair share of money.

CONS: He is at the short end of the bloc vote when it comes to being skeptical of the proliferation of charter schools in the district.

The vote for the next board president must be decided on by the full school board and will allow for public comment. The meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday and will be broadcast live.

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