Targeted by a well-funded opponent, Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer will fight for his political life today in a re-election battle that could have a major impact on the future direction of the nation’s second-largest district.
Zimmer is being challenged in the District 4 runoff by teacher/attorney Nick Melvoin. Zimmer topped the four-candidate field in March with 46.7 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent he needed to win re-election outright.
Melvoin earned his way into the runoff by collecting 32.9 percent of the vote.
Nick Melvoin Heavily Backed By Charter Schools
The Zimmer-Melvoin battle and the fight for the vacant District 6 seat
are seen as potential turning points for the LAUSD, with supporters of charter
school expansion weighing heavily in the race. Melvoin is being backed heavily
by charter school supporters hoping to unseat union-backed Zimmer, who has
opposed the rapid expansion of charters.
District 6 Race is Gonez vs. Padilla
In District 6, charter backers are supporting Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez
against teachers-union-backed Imelda Padilla. Gonez led the field in the March
primary election with 37.2 percent, with Padilla close behind at 31.1 percent.
If Melvoin and Gonez both prevail, they will join newly re-elected
Monica Garcia and incumbent Ref Rodriguez to create a majority of charter-
school supporters on the seven-member board.
Charter supporters — including former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan
and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad — contend that charters tend to
have better results for students and provide more choices for parents, but
opponents point to sometimes-questionable management practices, alleging that
some of the schools hand-pick higher-performing students to the detriment of
Critics also contend that a proliferation of charters — which are
publicly funded but often operate free of unions and some regulations that
govern traditional public schools — would be a financial hit to the LAUSD,
which receives state funding based on enrollment.
Zimmer Points to Rising LAUSD Test Scores
Zimmer points to a record of rising test scores, decreasing drop-out
rates and improving student performance during his tenure. The former teacher
and school counselor also says his efforts have led to the development of
student health clinics, supported arts education while increasing parent
involvement and helping students “graduate and move onto college and
Melvoin counters that the district is failing to meeting the needs of
students, with only 27 percent “performing at grade level in math.”
“Too many of our families are left without options,” he told City News
Service. “Instead of partnering with parents to ensure children get the best
education they can, the district bureaucracy stands in the way of parents and
impedes the progress individual schools are making.”
In District 6, Gonez — a former teacher and education adviser in
President Barack Obama’s administration — said she is in the race to fight for
educational opportunities for all students, regardless of family income.
“I will explore and invest in new, better ways to engage parents and
families not just in their schools, but also in the decisions that the school
board makes,” Gonez told CNS. “We can do that by modernizing our technology
and by making school sites a place for community input.”
In her campaign message, Padilla said she wants to advocate for the
district’s most vulnerable students and bring the district to a 100 percent
“Today, too many outside interests burden our neighborhood schools with
bureaucratic red tape, making it challenging for quality teaching to reach
the desks of students,” she said. “Rather than encouraging kids to pursue
post-secondary opportunities, the (LAUSD) has put forward an adult agenda
disconnected from classrooms.”