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Zimmer in costume — a last ditch effort to get input on superintendent

Mike Szymanski | October 29, 2015

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YourVoiceCountsLA Unified board President Steve Zimmer has announced he will be wearing a Halloween costume tomorrow when he visits schools. Oh, it’s not to join festivities planned for many of the LA Unified schools. Rather, he wants to give one last-ditch effort to push people to provide input into the superintendent search by filling out a district survey.

So far, people who have attended the meetings, including some school board members and community education groups, say they are disappointed in the turnout.

Among all 1,436,149 potential people who might care about who gets picked as the next superintendent — adding up the number of district students, employees and at least one parent or guardian for each student — only 900 people turned out for any of the community meetings last week and 4,000 took the district’s online survey.

Zimmer might have a better chance tomorrow to encounter someone with 11 fingers than someone who voiced an opinion.

“I want to emphasize how important it is for everyone to feel like they can weigh in on this decision, and we will take it very seriously,” Zimmer said this week after extending the survey and the campaign called “Your Voice Counts” until Nov. 1.

Some observers have expressed disappointment with the turnout. Sara Mooney of the United Way LA, who has pushed for community education groups to be more involved in the decision, said she attended three community forums with only a handful of people attending. “I’m also not a fan of the way the forums are being conducted, or the way they collect the data,” Mooney said. “It is clear that they don’t want the public involved.”

“That is simply not true,” according to Hank Gmitro, the president of the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates who is in charge of finding candidates. “Now, we will be compiling what was being said at all the forums we have held, and gathering information in the surveys, and we will present it to the board.”

Gmitro, who led many of the forums himself, said he has had “robust conversations and input” at all the public meetings. The largest group attending was those of principals, where about 110 people showed up.

The comments, surveys and feedback will be divided up and aggregated in multiple ways, Gmitro said, enabling school board members to learn what people said by ethnic background and district; and whether respondents were teachers, administrators, students, staff or parents. Private interviews were conducted with local business leaders and politicians, unions involved with the district and student groups. The level of participation is about normal, according to the search team.

“This is about the same as we have seen when doing searches in other districts,” Gmitro said.

While some of the board members expressed disappointment in the public input attendance, they turned down two proposals to open up the search process.

“We need to do everything we can do to get everyone to fill out those surveys and assure the public that we will hear everyone’s voice,” board member Ref Rodriguez said.

George McKenna pointed out that he was disappointed that only 10 percent of the voters in his district even bothered to show up to vote for him. “Does that mean that 90 percent doesn’t care?” he saids. “I don’t think so, but I’m sure that all these board members are unified in wanting to find the best person possible for the job.”

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