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Zimmer Postpones His Teacher Evaluation Proposal

Hillel Aron | September 12, 2012

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A number of parents and teachers showed up to today’s jam-packed school board meeting to denounce board member Steve Zimmer’s proposal to reject Academic Growth Over Time (or AGT) as a measurement of pupil progress in teacher evaluations. About six or seven of them wore t-shirts reading, “SHAME ON YOU ZIMMER.”

They never got their chance to speak, however. Zimmer decided to postpone the item at least until the next board meeting on October 9. “There’s even a lot of stress around this,” he said “That’s appropriate. This is one of the most important things we will do.”

Debates on other school board items turned a bit tense during the rest of the meeting.  These included a turf feud between two schools over sharing space and a short video that left one board member feeling left out. The only big item over which there was no real dispute was the resolution against Proposition 32, which would prohibit unions from automatically deducting money from their members paychecks and spending that money on political contributions.

Before postponing his AGT proposal, Zimmer indicated that the ongoing negotiations with the district, the administrators union and the teachers union, as mandated by a district court judge in Doe v. Deasy, were a central reason for his decision.

“I do believe in the negotiating process,” he said. “And we are getting new information every day.”

As if to drive the point home, word spread during the meeting that the district has reached an agreement with the administrators union, AALA, for a new evaluation system. According to KPCC’s Tami Abdollah:

Principals and assistant principals will be evaluated with a variety of student data including school-wide, grade-level and departmental test data. In addition, factors such as attendance, enrollment and graduation rates, will be incorporated. The district will provide training and guidance on how to use such data, according to a district statement.

Planned Parenthood Video Causes Stir

Tensions among the fractured school board members didn’t take long to appear. A case in point was during the discussion over a resolution to support school based health clinics and oppose H.R. 6173, otherwise known as the “Pro-Life Act,” currently making its way through Congress.

The resolution seemed fairly uncontroversial until a video was shown featuring school board members speaking in support of Planned Parenthood:

The video just so happened to feature four school board members: Tamar Galatzan, Steve Zimmer, Nury Martinez, and President Monica Garcia, who just so happen to make up the voting clique that form a majority on many school board votes. After the video was shown, board member Marguerite LaMotte was furious that she hadn’t been asked to participate in it.

“It’s discriminatory!” she shouted, as other board members looked away uncomfortably.

Big Labor Shows Up For Resolution Opposing Proposition 32

Maria Elena Durazo

One vote that was always going be unanimous was the resolution opposing Proposition 32, which would prohibit unions from automatically deducting money from their members paychecks and spending that money on political contributions.

The vast majority of Democratic officials are opposed to Prop 32. UTLA President Warren Fletcher showed up to comment in favor of this item, saying, “If Prop 32 passes, working people will be silenced. We need to have the voices of working people heard in Sacramento.” Fletcher was somewhat upstaged by appearance of the most powerful and influential labor leader in the city, Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of LA County Federation of Labor (pictured). She said: “We cannot have a state in which only the very wealthy and the corporations have a voice… It’s not campaign reform when you shut down the voices of working men and women in California.”

Unsurprisingly, the motion was passed unanimously. I have written previously about Prop 32 here and here.

A Territory Dispute Between Two Schools Boils Over

The most tense moment of the meeting came during a debate over whether or not to approve a so-called “charter augmentation grant” for Monseñor Oscar Romero Charter School, a Youth Policy Institute (YPI) Charter. The $4.4 million grant would pay for a new facility built on the existing campus of Berendo Middle School in Mid City, near Vermont and Olympic.

In recent years, Oscar Romero Charter has had to apply for space through the school through Proposition 39 (a process I tried to explain here). Last year, it had students spread across two different campuses, one of which was at Berendo Middle, where students were taught in bungalows. The grant would provide money for a permanent home for Oscar Romero.

“We are very excited about this opportunity to be at one school permanently,” said Nora Sandoval, Director of Operations for Oscar Romero Charter. “If we do not have a permanent building we will have to ask for Prop 39 every year.”

Teachers and parents of Berendo were, predictably, incensed at the plan.

“We did not have a voice in this new building,” said Erika Argueta, an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher. “Any new building on our campus is a step back. We need more green and less concrete.”

A representative of the district was at pains to explain that approval of the grant would not mean construction would immediately commence, that it was only the beginning of discussions with the community to form a plan. Board President Garcia was confident that all parties could reach an agreement.

“There is a win-win available for us to support Berendo.”

Members of the community in the audience groaned. Once again, it was board member LaMotte who gave voice to the opposition:

“My concern is, Berendo has been there so long, [we were] trying to get [its class size] small. Now it’s small, and test scores are up…”

The audience erupted in applause.

“We have a commitment from both sides to keep talking,” responded Garcia.

“Not just talking, Monica!” shouted LaMotte. “Who fights for our schools?”

More applause.

“How can we hear from both sides?” asked LaMotte.

Silence filled the room. Board members studied the carpet.

Later, board member Zimmer spoke. He wore an expression of complete agony.

“I am concerned by what I heard today,” he said. “But this is not the only visit to this station we’re going to make. We’re not being asked to approve a master plan. [The] reason I’m going to support this is because of Prop 39.”

Zimmer explained that he wasn’t entirely happy with the proposal, but it was better, in his mind, than dividing up classroom space based on the formula set forth by prop 39.

“Nothing is more difficult than sharing space,” he said. “On balance, this is gonna be better than co-location. But this is hard.”

There was one last wrinkle to the process during the final vote. As board member Bennett Kayser voted no, he added that a parent in the audience had given him a question to ask, and that it was a controversial one, but he was going to ask it anyway: “Are there any board members who need to recuse themselves before voting?”

Once again, silence filled the room.

Youth Policy Institute employees have contributed over $36,000 to city races in the last 10 years, according to the LA Ethics Commission’s website. Most of that money has gone to City Council and Mayoral races, but some has gone to school board members, including Galatzan ($2,500), Martinez ($1,250), Garcia ($1,850), and Dr. Richard Vladovic ($200).

No one recused themselves, and the grant passed, 5 votes to 2. The yes votes were Galatzan, Martinez, Garcia, Vladovic, and Zimmer. LaMotte and Kayser voted no.

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