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McKenna victory gives appearance of a pro-teacher union board

Vanessa Romo | August 13, 2014

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George McKenna

George McKenna


George McKenna’s victory over Alex Johnson last night would appear to return control of the seven member LA Unified school board to teachers union-backed members.

McKenna’s win shifts the balance of the board to a majority owing their seats, in large part, to financial support by UTLA and its ability to mobilize members to get out the vote.

“Our members volunteered on behalf of McKenna and once again proved that education ‘reformers’ with deep pockets are no match for grassroots organizing,” UTLA said in a statement today.

“UTLA looks forward to working with Dr. McKenna on the key issues that impact the district’s 650,000 students.  We will engage with him around the campaign for the Schools LA Students Deserve; and our members will continue to organize with parents, students and the community.”

This is the second time in two years that a union supported candidate has defeated a well-financed candidate closely aligned to the charter school, anti-union movement. In 2012, millions of dollars poured in to the three school board races to elect pro-reformers, including $1 million from then New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Since her upset win, board member Monica Ratliff has been held up as the epitome of the David and Goliath-style triumph over big money reform candidates.  And Steve Zimmer faced the same challenges that year in his re-election bid against Kate Anderson.

“This school board is not for sale,” Zimmer told LA School Report. “It can’t be bought. You could have argued that I was an anomaly, or Monica Ratliff by herself was an anomaly, but now three. You can’t say that. That strategy does not work and it would be a great thing if people just stopped trying it.”

With McKenna taking a seat at the “horseshoe” alongside Bennett Kayser, Zimmer and Ratliff — all former teachers who endorsed McKenna — the four could conceivably defeat any measures proposed by colleagues Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia, who occupy the opposite side of the ideological aisle and endorsed Johnson over McKenna. Galatzan and Garcia are also ardent supporters of Superintendent John Deasy and are considered “reformers,” pushing an aggressively pro-charter school agenda as well as efforts to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations.

Board president Richard Vladovic, also a former teacher and school principal, has enjoyed the support of UTLA throughout his tenure on the board, but in recent months his position on issues has been less consistent, making him something of a swing vote. He was the only board member not to endorse a candidate.

“There is now a very clear majority of educators on the board of ed, and, while that doesn’t mean we’ll always agree or be in lock step, it is significant in terms of our perspective moving forward,” Zimmer said. “And the idea that this is a board of politics or training ground for higher office, that’s not what this is.” 

The new UTLA-friendly coalition could have an immediate impact in light of ongoing labor negotiations between UTLA and the district. Teachers are aiming for a 17 percent raise over two years after seven years of stagnant wages and furloughs. The same bloc might also favor less emphasis on teacher effectiveness in evaluating students’ academic performance, a hot-button issue here and across the nation.

In a late-morning statement, Vladovic said, “Congratulations to George McKenna, an educator I’ve known for decades. I look forward to having a seven member board again.” 

Ratliff, in am emailed statement, said: “The voters of District 1 have elected a highly successful and experienced educator to represent their community and their children. I look forward to working with Dr. McKenna as soon as possible to continue to lift up our students and schools.”


* Adds quotes from Zimmer, Ratliff and Vladovic.


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