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L.A. school board member can't join union in lawsuit against school district, attorneys say

May 26, 2011 |  1:15 pm

Marguerite Poinndexter LaMotte

A school board member’s attention-getting vow to join the teachers union in suing the Los Angeles Unified School District is likely to go nowhere, attorneys said Thursday.

Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte said Tuesday that she wanted to take part in litigation against the nation’s second-largest school system over the handover of low-performing Clay Middle School, in South Angeles, to a charter-school operator.

But attorneys for both the union and the school district said it would be a conflict of interest for LaMotte to, in effect, join with the union in a suit against the entity she represents, which employs members of that union.

She could still testify as a witness. And it's possible LaMotte could take part with community members or taxpayers in a legal challenge, said union attorney Jesus Quinonez.

The district's decision about Clay was made by a majority on the seven-member board, which outvoted LaMotte, who represents the Clay area. The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, subsequently sued, saying L.A. Unified had violated state laws in how it converted Clay to a charter school.

Most charters, which are independently operated, are non-union; Green Dot, the charter selected for Clay, is unionized but not represented by UTLA.

LaMotte’s unusual tack came during a televised board meeting, as she raised her latest round of objections over the Clay decision.

She said the current Clay principal had not been in place long enough to have a fair shot at improving the school academically. She also called attention to Green Dot’s own test scores, which frequently have been below the district average but higher than nearby traditional schools.

“Any vote for Green Dot is a vote for deform” rather than reform, she said. “You are playing with the lives of children -- not cars, not bicycles.”

Calling the district’s action illegal, she said she wanted to disassociate herself from the school board majority’s decision and join the union’s suit.

“Are you looking to be a party to the lawsuit against the district?” asked general counsel David Holmquist.

“Yes I am,” said LaMotte.

“I’d like to discuss that with you outside this setting,” Holmquist said.

Board member Richard Vladovic, who represents a different portion of South Los Angeles, defended the charter conversion.

“By God, I’ve got to do something different,” he said. “Those kids deserve better.” He added that he intended to hold Green Dot accountable for its performance.

Board member Steve Zimmer, who is sometimes the only board member to support LaMotte’s perspective, disagreed with her criticisms of Green Dot. He praised the charter operator for being willing to take on long-struggling, low-performing schools. Other charter operators have opted instead to bid for newly constructed, yet-to-open campuses, he said.


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-- Howard Blume

Photo: After taking the oath of office for the L.A. Board of Education, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte addresses the audience, July 3, 2007. Credit: Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times