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Administrators challenge L.A. Unified layoff vote

April 23, 2009 | 11:20 am

Alleging a conflict of interest, the union representing Los Angeles school administrators has demanded a reconsideration of last week's vote approving $596.1 million in budget cuts, The Times has learned. The union, in an April 21 letter from its attorneys, claims that Board of Education member Richard Vladovic improperly voted on the budget plan. Vladovic cast the tie-breaking April 14 vote that approved massive cost-cutting measures by a 4-3 margin.

As a result of the vote, about 3,500 less-experienced, non-tenured teachers could be laid off as well as about 2,000 other employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Many others could lose their current, higher-paying jobs in the nation's second-largest school system.

Vladovic voted after recusing himself from deliberating and voting on budget cuts at an earlier meeting because his son, a teacher, was among those facing a possible layoff. But at last week's meeting, Vladovic said he was able to consider the budget package because earlier in the meeting, the school board decided to rescind layoffs notices sent to all tenured teachers, including Vladovic's son. (Vladovic did not participate in the unanimous vote to rescind those layoffs notices.)

But Associated Administrators of Los Angeles contends that Vladovic still should have remained on the sidelines. When Vladovic entered the fray, it created the impression of a "quid pro quo," suggesting that Vladovic's son -- as well as 1,995 other teachers -- were spared at that moment partly to make sure Vladovic would be able to vote on the contentious budget plan. If the motions had been considered in a different order, that is, if the budget package had been considered before the rescinding of layoff notices, Vladovic would not have been able to cast the tie-breaking vote. 

Vladovic actually missed the initial roll call. He later explained he was suffering the after-effects of recent food poisoning.

If not for the fact that his vote was needed to break the tie, one union leader later quipped, "Dick would have stayed in the bathroom."

The union declined to release a copy of its letter pending advice from its attorneys, but confirmed its contents this morning. The letter, addressed to L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, threatens legal action if the district does not cancel the earlier vote.

Separately, the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, consulted with its attorneys regarding possible legal objections but has opted not to take action. Both unions have denounced the budget package as well as Vladovic's role in its passage. Vladovic's district career includes many years as a teacher and administrator.

Vladovic has insisted throughout that he has simply followed the advice of L.A. Unified attorneys regarding any potential conflict of interest. Before casting his vote, he also asked attorneys whether they could offer legal support for setting aside more funds to prevent layoffs. When they could not, Vladovic cast the tiebreaker.

The employment status of Vladovic's son is complicated.

John Vladovic became a probationary elementary teacher in 2005 and earned his permanent status as an elementary teacher July 1, 2007, according to information provided by the school district. During that period, he taught at City of Angels, an alternative program with many non-traditional locations that serves mostly secondary students. (The younger Vladovic has credentials that allow him to teach both elementary and secondary students, said David Kooper, chief of staff to Richard Vladovic.)  

Currently, John Vladovic is taking part in an administrative training program, through which he is serving as an assistant principal at Wilmington Middle School. Richard Vladovic's budget vote in effect demoted many administrators with little seniority, but John Vladovic is classified as an out-of-classroom teacher rather than an administrator despite his current duties.

The elder Vladovic's vote is likely to result in his son returning to the classroom, putting on hold his potential career as a district administrator.

Contacted last week, district general counsel Roberta Fesler declined to state what specific advice board member Vladovic has received. But she added: "I'm confident that there are no legal problems with Dr. Vladovic's actions in abstaining and voting on the matters you reference."

-- Howard Blume

Howard Blume is twittering about the LAUSD budgeting process. Follow his updates @howardblume.