In Partnership with 74

Zimmer wins unanimous approval to serve as LAUSD board leader

Vanessa Romo | July 1, 2015

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The LAUSD school board gives Superintendent Ramon Cortines a standing ovation.

The LAUSD school board gives Superintendent Ramon Cortines a standing ovation.

One week after it appeared Richard Vladovic was destined to serve as president of the LA Unified board for a third consecutive term, the members unanimously today elected Steve Zimmer as its new leader, giving the district its most teacher union friendly president in more than a decade.

Zimmer, who began his career with the district as a teacher, has been serving as board vice president for the last two years. Even so, the ease with which he ascended to the throne was a bit surprising.

Just last week, board members Mónica Ratliff and Mónica García had suggested they might seek to waive newly-adopted term limits for the presidency to re-elect Vladovic for a third term, but neither followed through.

However, just before the members were about to entertain nominations for president, Ratliff pressed Zimmer to identify his own successor as vice president. Zimmer said he would appoint George McKenna, who had been sworn in earlier in the day for a new term, along with newly-elected Scott Schmerelson and Ref Rodgriguez and the reelected Vladovic.

McKenna gladly accepted the nomination after Zimmer was elected.

While all seven members were united in their votes for Zimmer, Ratliff was the only one to qualify hers as each member made a choice orally. “I would like nothing more than to vote for a ticket with McKenna on it,” she chirped before voting yes.

Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence for Zimmer.

Still, Zimmer’s joy could not be stifled, and he wept in thanking Vladovic for being “my friend, my mentor, my colleague.” Then Zimmer presented Vladovic with a plaque.

“I’m going to make mistakes and letting people down and disappointing people is the hardest thing about this job and we all experience it in a very public way,” he said.  That is why, he said, “I want to ask you for your openness, honesty, input, partnership.”

In recent weeks Zimmer has repeatedly spoken about the new president’s role in selecting a new superintendent for the country’s largest school district run by a board and he wasted no time today. He said the process will be undertaken in full collaboration with Superintendent Ramon Cortines, 82, who signed a year-long extension several months ago but then surprised the board last week saying he might leave by December.

“Now that the business of the budget, the elections, and today are behind us, we can move on to the next big question facing LAUSD today, who are we going to choose to lead,” Zimmer said. “Given the opportunity to have one person in the county to help guide our search, I would choose Cortines,” he added.

After Zimmer’s comments, the board gave Cortines a standing ovation.

Despite Cortines’s six-month warning — no formal notice has been delivered to the board regarding a resignation date —  Zimmer says he doesn’t expect Cortines to leave before a new superintendent is hired.

But the clock is ticking, and today the board could not agree on a meeting date for the month August. The next meeting is scheduled for September 1, which means that the district can’t issue a Request for Proposals (or any kind of help-wanted ad) until September 2, at the earliest.

“I don’t know how it will work out but we will work it out,” Zimmer said. “There might be some timeline consolidation but it will get done.”

Besides a personal triumph, Zimmer’s ascension symbolized a triumph for the teachers union, UTLA, which has been among his strongest strong supporters since he first won election to the board in 2009. He follows Vladovic, who came to the board as a reformer with help from former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, before drifting to the center as board president.

Prior to Vladovic, Garcia, a staunch reformer, served as president for six years. Before she could serve a seventh, the board passed the term limit rule.

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