A debate was held Sunday, April 23rd at University High School for the candidates of District 4 in the LAUSD school board race. Steve Zimmer, the incumbent, faced off with Nick Melvoin. Among the most discussed topic at the debate was the issue of charter schools. Again, for the purpose of clarification, a charter school is a public school. During the primary in this school board race, I recalled the LA Times provided a great recap of a candidate forum (earlier this year) that I wanted to revisit. You can read that article here.
As I read the article, something really jumped out at me. Take a look at the exchange below (taken from the LA Times article) on the issue of charter schools:
Nick Melvoin: “They’re not supposed to play by the same rules because the rules aren’t working. The rules are too bureaucratic. They’re too restrictive. Charters move away and out from under the district and innovate — with oversight, with accountability, and I think we should be learning more from the charter model.”
Steve Zimmer: “Every time we attempt to enforce some of the these regulatory controls there is extreme backlash… There are a lot of examples that may not be on the front page of the newspaper. I want to say that I am very proud of the charter schools division and the work that’s done and the successes that happen.”
Let’s analyze this response by School Board President, Zimmer. What I am hearing, is “I can’t really do my job or what I know to be right because I get an earful from the people that supported my candidacy” I mean, look at the entire tone of his response. It’s like he is afraid to say anything positive about charter schools. What is this called in relationships? Walking on eggshells. Like a victim of emotional abuse who isn’t allowed to think, believe or do certain things.
“Extreme backlash” by who or what Steve? His whole response is so offensive. If he is too afraid of the backlash over doing the right thing, he needs to step aside. Who is controlling his decision making? If you are a parent who has a child in a school that is consistently failing and you feel nothing is being done, Steve Zimmer just told you why. Being afraid to hold traditional schools to the SAME (not more, not less) level of accountability of successful charter schools has to stop!
Okay, if that isn’t troubling enough. Let’s cut to the debate held on April 23 between Nick Melvoin and Steve Zimmer. Reading through this report had me asking more questions. In my opinion, we can no longer afford to support cowards to be in charge of our schools. Take a look at this exchange:
Zimmer, who is backed by teacher unions, answered, “If you don’t have trust, if you don’t have the ability to sit down with your labor partners, you have a major, major obstacle.”
Zimmer referenced health care, a big part of United Teachers Los Angeles’ next round of negotiations with the district. “We have to look at many different things, even as it relates to health care.
“It is possible that we, together with our labor partners, will have an agreement that will save us money and save us jobs.”
Melvoin responded, “If you had done that years ago, we would not have” such high liabilities.
Guerra pressed the candidates, saying, ”There is an incredible unfunded liability, and I don’t think of either of you have an answer. How can you handle it going forward? It could destroy the school district, and it needs to be handled.”
Correct me if I am wrong, but if anything, it appears that having “trust” and a relationship with UTLA is more a negative than a positive or at least it seems that way based on Zimmer’s responses. In fact, it sounds like Zimmer is confessing that he really is and has been controlled by UTLA. Judging by how much money UTLA has thrown into this race on behalf of Zimmer, I suspect that it will continue to be difficult for Zimmer to have his own voice if he is re-elected.
On the other hand, Nick Melvoin actually correctly states the obvious. This is not a new issue, this has been looming for years. A trusting relationship has done zero good here. Perhaps what is needed is an adversarial relationship, where what the adults want isn’t as important or more important than what students need. It’s time for change, and courage is required to do the right thing here. While Melvoin is supported by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), let’s keep one thing in mind, support from CCSA does not present a conflict of interest, the same is not true of UTLA which does have a huge conflict of interest since they will be at the negotiation table.
Finally, the LA Times endorsed Nick Melvoin for the LAUSD school board citing the need for change and his willingness to address the district’s finances. You can read the endorsement here.
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