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Board of Education officially cancels community elections over school-reform plans

May 24, 2011 |  3:41 pm

In a largely symbolic but intensely debated move, the Board of Education narrowly voted Tuesday to end elections that allowed parents, high school students, school employees and community members to choose among different reform plans for schools.

These elections were part of the controversial “public school choice” process, by which groups inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District have bid for control of dozens of low-achieving schools and newly built campuses. The school-control process was about to enter its third year.

The nonbinding elections were meant to provide input for top district officials. The school board makes the final choice on which bidder takes control of a school.

These advisory elections “didn’t work,” said board member Tamar Galatzan, who represents the west San Fernando Valley. Galatzan listed a string of reported election abuses, including intimidation tactics and incentives such as gifts, parties or course credit.

The results were a measure only of which “campaign team did a better job organizing,” Galatzan said.

Galatzan’s district had been the scene of intense politicking this year over a new high school. Granada Hills Charter High School and a team of district teachers and administrators were bidding for the campus. The teachers' bid won out, even though the school board mostly favored charters in other cases. The nonbinding school elections were almost uniformly won by internal district teams of teachers, which were typically supported by the teachers union.

Galatzan’s resolution won strong support from board member Yolie Flores, a charter school ally who had accused union members of distributing misinformation about charter schools. Most charters are non-union.

Board member Steve Zimmer said the resolution was unnecessary because the board already had voted to have the superintendent bring forward a new process for community input. He called the resolution gratuitous and insulting.

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said the new resolution was necessary only for clarity. He blamed the district communications office for sending out conflicting releases on whether these elections had been cancelled by the earlier board action. But board members themselves were making conflicting claims after the earlier vote, and both sides cited Deasy as supporting their interpretation.

Several speakers defended the election process, saying that it was the first opportunity many immigrants had to vote, and that they were better informed than officials gave them credit for.

“Don’t take away anybody’s voice,” said Crenshaw parent Eunice Grigsby.

“We didn’t rescind the presidential election of 2000 because Florida screwed up,” said retired teacher and Echo Park community activist Cheryl Ortega.

A representative from the United Way supported the board’s action. The United Way is among the civic organizations that has aligned with the education platform of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who helped elect the school-board majority.

During the public testimony, board member Nury Martinez appeared to accuse a tearful Echo Park parent of being racist after the parent, Windy O’Malley, accused Martinez and other board members of ignoring community voices.

O’Malley angrily noted her own Latino heritage, and Martinez said she was referring to racist emails, not necessarily those sent by O’Malley.

The votes in favor were cast by Martinez, Flores, Galatzan and school board president Monica Garcia. Those opposing were Zimmer, Richard Vladovic and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte.

-- Howard Blume