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Zimmer Alienating Both Sides

Hillel Aron | September 19, 2012

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Board Member Steve Zimmer

Just about everyone who watches LAUSD is scratching their heads wondering just what board member Steve Zimmer is doing — lately more than ever.

He’s introduced two incredibly polarizing motions recently– one to reject the use of Academic Growth Over Time in teacher evaluations, and one to provide greater oversight for charter schools and, more importantly, place a moratorium on new charters. (See: Big Moves From Zimmer)

“I’ve know Steve for 20 years,” says David Tokofsky, a former LAUSD board member and current strategist for Associated Administrators Los Angeles. “He’s always trying to bring people together to discuss issues, and somehow, he’s gotten both the unions and the charters to issue fatwas against him.”

At last week’s board meeting, Zimmer sheepishly announced that he would postpone both proposals and revise them before the next meeting, which is on October 9. It’s unclear what changes he will make to them, or how he will go about satisfying two sides that are growing increasingly frustrated with him.

The ed reform community feels that Zimmer’s westside school board seat is, by all rights, their’s, made up, as it is, largely of middle class and upper middle class white voters. Education reformers are said to be searching for the perfect candidate to run against Zimmer, and are gearing up to spend a lot of money to defeat him in March.

But it’s not as if the other side – namely UTLA – is wild about Zimmer either, since he voted to elect Monica Garcia school board president, and has sided with Superintendent John Deasy on a number of issues.

With the charter school proposal it seemed like he was simply doing UTLA’s bidding. But UTLA members weren’t exactly rushing to defend the proposal.  In fact, UTLA leadership was at the same meeting to speak out against Proposition 32, and didn’t speak about Zimmer’s motion.  There were no t-shirted teachers or community members brought to speak out for the need for greater charter oversight.

“Zimmer will drive you crazy because you never know where he stands,” says Tokofsky. Indeed, at school board meetings, Zimmer looks an Atlas-ian figure, his face a locked in a permanently pained expression. “But he’s very heartfelt about it.”

That leaves UTLA with some intriguing choices. They could (a) run their own candidate against Zimmer, hoping for a more reliable supporter; (b) simply stay out of the race and not support any candidate, letting ZImmer fight it out on his own; or (c) vigorously support Zimmer, figuring that he’s better than the ed reform candidate.

Whatever they decide, it will likely to be a reaction to whatever challenger the ed reformers come up with.  (More on that to come — send contenders/recommendations to info at

In the meantime, divisions within the board may be distracting everyone from larger, more immediate issues.

“The tragedy of the whole thing,” says Tokofsky, referring to a ballot measure that LAUSD needs to avoid further cuts, “is that every single one of them should be thinking about Prop 30.”

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