Vladovic on 4 more years: ‘Now it’s time to dream’
Craig Clough | February 17, 2015
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This is the next in a series of profiles on candidates running in the March 3 primary for the LA Unified school board. Today’s focus is board President Richard Vladovic, who is seeking reelection for the District 7 seat.
In many ways, LA Unified school board President Richard Vladovic sees himself as captain of a ship that made it through the storm of the century.
“Now it’s time to dream,” he told LA School Report when asked why voters in District 7 should give him four more years when they vote on March 3.
Vladovic was first elected to the board in 2007 and became president in 2013. Over his seven years, the board cut almost $2.5 billion from the district budget — angering parents, teachers and just about everybody else affiliated with LA Unified.
While anger may linger, the future looks better. With more money coming in from the state for the first time in years, Vladovic says he wants now to focus on leading the district into more prosperous and efficient times through priorities that include proper distribution of money to schools that need it most, a MiSiS system that works, a teacher evaluation system that’s fair and a better use of best practices districtwide.
All that requires experience, he said, making his case for voters to choose him over challengers Euna Anderson and Lydia Gutierrez.
“I think now is the time they need somebody with the experience and who is willing to compromise and isn’t pushing an ideological agenda and is willing to do what is best for kids,” he said. “And we don’t have to take a step back to figure out how to do something. I think I understand this better than my two colleagues.”
“I have the knowledge and I’ve got to tell you, I’m not doing it with any political agenda,” he added.
Vladovic was elected to the presidency under a cloud of controversy as he faced a series of harassment complaints. A district report on them was never publicly released, but Vladovic denied the majority of the complaints, confessing only that he had a tendency to yell at and intimidate people. Since becoming president, he has appeared to keep his temper in check.
“I’m such a passionate person, a lot of what I did was misinterpreted,” he said. “See, I know what you can do for kids, and I know when a bureaucracy becomes reluctant. I’m so impatient about children … what I don’t tolerate is when I know we’re not doing a service for kids and we could. But I also learned in going through the metamorphosis that I went through, is that perception is reality, and if they see it as me just trying to show my Rahm Emanuel side, I can get more done the other way.”
Although he was initially elected as a reformer closely associated with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Vladovic has drifted toward the center and is seen as a bit of a wild card in voting on divisive issues. He insists he is an independent, beholden to no particular ideology even as he has been endorsed by the California Charter Schools Association and not by the teachers union, UTLA.
“We have some great charters, and some great non-charters, and we still haven’t found a way to share these great ideas,” he said. “We need to get people to cross-fertilize a lot better.”
As board president he has endured a healthy share of criticism, for both style and substance.
Leading debates, for example, he rarely attempts to sway opinion and almost never flashes any “passion” for his position. He issues few press releases and generally avoids media interviews. In essence, he does not see the role of board president as board spokesman.
This was never more evident than when former Superintendent John Deasy resigned in October, an historic event in that so many issues were defined as pro- or anti-Deasy. In the aftermath of his departure, Vladovic had nothing to say publicly. At the only District 7 debate, he avoided commenting on Deasy, at all.
“I don’t say anything, because that’s history,” he explained. “I tried to make it work, and he and I tried to lead this district. And we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. I respected him as an educator, and we maybe disagreed on style, but I just didn’t want to talk about him [at the debate]. We’ve got so many things going ahead. I’m a history teacher, you learn from the past, but I don’t dwell on it.”
Vladovic gets less credit for how his style of leadership helps minimize acrimony among members — at least during meetings.
“The biggest complaint about me is, ‘You’re not out there enough, Vladovic,'” he said. “But I say, ‘I’m getting the job done. The board is less rancorous.'”
The other major criticism of Vladovic — and the entire board — is the approval of the iPads-for-all and MiSiS technology initiatives. Vladovic insisted he asked all the right questions but ultimately was betrayed by the experts.
“I’m going to say, ‘Hey, it was on my watch.’ It was on every board member’s watch,” he said. “Were were thoroughly knowledgable? We depended on the experts. But I also raised questions at every board meeting, and was assured.”
Vladovic’s leadership is now facing another challenge: a possible strike by a disgruntled teachers union, fighting with the district over salary and various working conditions.
Vladovic insists he has a good relationship with the union.
“Ultimately,” he said,. “we need compromise on both sides. I believe we will settle it before it [come to a strike].”