As a special education and parent advocate who has run twice in LAUSD elections under the rallying cry of “Change The LAUSD”, my first inclination is to recommend against a vote for the incumbent in the District 4 Board race. However, as the election of Trump has shown, voting with a “throw the bums out” mentality can be disastrous if the people who fill these voids are less interested in fixing what is broken than burning the whole thing down. Nick Melvoin and his supporters’ plans to push even more students into charters falls into the latter category and will only serve to bankrupt the District, taking away opportunities for those left behind.
In some ways, Melvoin represents the Status Quo for the District. After all, the LAUSD “already has the highest number of charters - more than 200 - of any school system in the country”. These privately run organizations are largely unregulated by a Charter School Division that is headed by a former employee of one of the groups pushing to elect Melvoin. While tagged as anti-charter by the CCSA, this Board has only rejected nine charter renewals during the last five years. This includes the several from Celerity charters, whose offices were raided by the FBI. This inadequate scrutiny of charters would be lessened even further by a Board with a pro-charter majority.
With financial backing by former Superintendent John Deasy, the election of Melvoin would also represent a giant step backward. Deasy was responsible for numerous scandals within the District, including the $1.3 billion iPad boondoggle and the MiSiS crisis. Under Deasy’s leadership, employee relations reached a low when he tolerated rampant bullying of teachers and other staff members. Allowing him any influence on the District would threaten to disrupt the relative calm that returned after his departure and would once again threaten the distribution of our children's education.
Zimmer is by no means the perfect candidate and Melvoin’s campaign has correctly pointed out that he bears some responsibility for not properly supervising Deasy. What they ignore is the fact that Zimmer himself has already taken personal responsibility for the iPad scandal stating that “never have I failed more.” As the Los Angeles Times has pointed out, “a number of others never did” take responsibility for their part in this massive boondoggle. While accepting blame is a sign of a successful leader, Dick Riordan and Melvoin’s other supporters have tried to use it against Zimmer. What they conveniently forget is that Zimmer was the only Board member who did not vote to promote Deasy to the role of Superintendent. This oversight should not be surprising since Melvoin’s supporters spent $500,000 protecting Monica Garcia’s seat, even though she was the Board President during Zimmer’s tenure. Since they were willing to give Garcia a free pass, it is clear that their concern is not accountability but pushing their agenda of privatizing our public education system.
I do have a concern with Zimmer’s vote last year to continue litigation with the parents of children with special education needs who are fighting to keep the District’s special education centers open. However, the alternative is to let Melvoin pass Eli Broad’s plan “to reach 50 percent charter market share” in Los Angeles. Because the District has a history of allowing charters to cherry-pick students, this will result in a ghettoized District where charter executives are given oversized salaries and where more difficult-to-educate students, including those with special needs, languish in underfunded public schools. The choice is clear that Zimmer is the better choice to defend students with special needs.
I have had the opportunity to hear Steve Zimmer speak on several occasions outside the confines of the LAUSD Board Room. In these environments, he is quite inspiring and makes it clear that he knows what has to be done to improve public education. Hopefully, in his final term on the Board, he can find that voice on the Board’s dais and become the leader that our students need.