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LA Unified board contemplating rule changes on vote for president

Vanessa Romo | June 25, 2015

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VladovicIf Ref Rodriguez and Scott Schemerelson had any hope of a slow and easy introduction to LA Unified board politics, they’re in for a jolt. Shortly after they’re sworn in as the board’s newest members next week, they might be asked to cast votes on a rule that determines who can or can’t be board president.

As it stands now, a resolution spearheaded by Mónica Ratliff earlier this week to eliminate term-limits for the presidency failed. But immediately following the vote she and Mónica García suggested they might seek to waive the board rule enforcing the two-consecutive year cap — even before it would go into effect the first time. (Check out the video below to see the full board discussion on term limits). 

Richard Vladovic, board president since 2013, is required to step aside, by the rules as they now exist.

“So, if I wanted to, possibly on that day, I might try to waive that rule?” Ratliff asked David Holmquist, the district’s head attorney.

Garcia followed up with, “If I was to bring a motion while [Superintendent Ramon Cortines] is chairing the meeting, that says I want to consider eliminating term limits for the president, can I do that?”

The answer to both questions from Holmquist: Yes.

And here’s how: A memo sent to board members late today said members can either vote to waive the term limit rule for one year, or they could nominate Vladovic for a third term with the stipulation that the term limit rule is being suspended for one year only.

If Ratliff or Garcia follows through with her plans, it could be a big win for Vladovic, who would likely have the four votes needed to keep him in the post, even if he abstains, as he did when Ratliff’s effort came to a vote on Tuesday. 

Vladovic had voted in favor of implementing the two-year rule after six years of García at the helm. But now, Chris Torres, his chief of staff, says Vladovic would welcome a third term.

“He is not lobbying for it. He is not campaigning for it. But if his colleagues feel that he’s the right person for the presidency, then he welcomes the opportunity,” Torres told LA School Report.

Only Ratliff has made it clear that she would choose Vladovic given the chance — she said so during Tuesday’s meeting. George McKenna, is another possible Vladovic voter. While he might still hold it against Vladovic for favoring an election, rather than an appointment, to fill the District 1 seat he won after the death of Marguerite LaMotte, he does oppose term limits on principle.

“Everybody should be able to vote for whomever they want to vote for,” he said at the Tuesday meeting, an apparent reference to letting the in-coming members vote for the candidate of their choosing, including Vladovic.

The biggest loser in this scenario would likely be Steve Zimmer, the current vice president who appeared to be the heir apparent until Ratliff had other ideas. Not counting Vladovic, he and Garcia have the most experience on the board, and Garcia is not likely to have the votes to take back the center chair — if for no other reason, the term-limit rule was passed to halt her six-year run as board president that started in 2007. 

“If I am chosen by my peers, I’ll be honored to serve, but I’m honored to serve every day,” Zimmer told LA School Report, in addressing the election possibilities. “What I believe this board and this district need right now is simultaneous stability and urgency, and they’re not mutually exclusive. The enemy of stability and progress for kids is chaos and dysfunction. Whatever happens on Wednesday, we have to keep the very urgent needs of kids, families, teachers and the community at the forefront.”

Efforts to reach Rodriguez and Schmerelson were unsuccessful.

Whether the next president is Vladovic, Zimmer or someone else, the board is moving into new territory in which alliances and priorities will take time to evolve. With two new members, it remains to be seen whether major issues will pass with big majorities or will vacillate between 4-3 votes that suggest sharp divisions.

“Sometimes it’s not about who should be president or who lobbies for the job. It’s about getting someone who can keep the majority unified,” Caprice Young, former LA Unified school board president told LA School Report.

Young, who served as president from 2001 through 2003, says she was elected to succeed Genethia Hayes because “the pro-reform side was so divided.”

Despite subscribing to the same pro-reform education philosophies, she said, “The only way we could stick together is if [Hayes] wasn’t the president. So, I said, ‘Ok, I’ll do it.’”

For the most part, the position of board president is largely symbolic although it carries a high degree of prestige since the president serves as the public face of the second largest school district in the country. The job offers no extra pay or staff or additional benefits.

Nonetheless, it will fall to the new president to lead the search for the next superintendent — perhaps the most critical decision facing the new board in the months ahead. No doubt the legacy of the winner on Wednesday will be the success or failure of the superintendent chosen.

Craig Clough and Michael Janofsky contributed reporting to this story.

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