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School board member explains his vote on incoming superintendent

January 12, 2011 |  6:00 am

The only school board member who did not vote to hire John Deasy as L.A.'s new schools chief said he did so over procedural concerns, not because he lacks confidence in the incoming superintendent.

Steve Zimmer said he thought Deasy, who was approved Tuesday by a 6-0 vote with Zimmer's abstention, was well qualified and should do a good job. But Zimmer said he thought the board should have conducted a more thorough search.

“I was not given the chance to interview other applicants,” said Zimmer, who added that he would not have approved of anyone under similar circumstances.

“I would have abstained even if it was Gandhi,” Zimmer said.

After a news conference at the district's main office building downtown announcing Deasy’s hiring, Zimmer gave Deasy a big hug, patting his back twice.

Board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who often votes with Zimmer, said she had similar concerns about the process. Departing Supt. Ramon C. Cortines had said for months he intended to retire in the spring. And it appeared Deasy was the heir-apparent.

Deasy, who formerly led districts in Santa Monica-Malibu, Maryland and Rhode Island, has been a deputy superintendent in Los Angeles since August.

LaMotte also said she was concerned that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may have played too large a role in the hiring process but decided to vote for Deasy in an “effort to move forward,” she said.

Villaraigosa is expected to hold a rally with city business and nonprofit leaders Wednesday morning as a show of support for Deasy.

During Tuesday's news conference, every speaker praised Cortines, 78, for his leadership. He did not attend the event, however, and appeared shortly after it was over.  Cortines said he watched the press conference from his office and that he believed Deasy was a good choice.  

Deasy began his remarks by delivering a short message in Spanish, saying he wanted to acknowledge the diversity of the community. He acknowledged not speaking the language very well. Some board members behind him squirmed and grinned sheepishly; at one point, a nervously smiling board member Yolie Flores and Villaraigosa put their arms around each other, seemingly for support.

But when Deasy finished his brief Spanish remarks, all of the board members applauded.

“Bravo,” Villaraigosa said.

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--Jason Song

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