Having presented the Los Angeles School Board election races as a referendum on Superintendent John Deasy’s future, the club of six- and seven-figure donors in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Coalition for School Reform may have succeeded in making Deasy’s life more complicated.

Steve Zimmer won a second term in Tuesday's election despite being outspent more than 4 to 1. Photo courtesy of LA School Report (click to enlarge).

Steve Zimmer won a second term in Tuesday’s election despite being outspent more than 4 to 1. Photo courtesy of LA School Report. (Click to enlarge)

For the $3.6 million it spent, the Coalition did end up helping to elect one candidate it supported, Board President Monica Garcia. A second, Antonio Sanchez, is the leader heading into the runoff election later this month. But in the race into which it threw the most money, the Coalition failed to unseat incumbent Steve Zimmer.  If a polarized election pushes Zimmer closer to those responsible for helping to get him re-elected – chiefly United Teachers Los Angeles – there may be more uncertainty and new challenges for Deasy.

Zimmer’s 4 percentage point victory over civil rights attorney Kate Anderson left Zimmer feeling “validated” to keep challenging Deasy on some of the superintendent’s priorities: teacher evaluations that use value-added student test scores, reform of the teacher seniority system and receptivity to charter schools and the “parent trigger” law of parent empowerment. Having survived an onslaught of what he dismissed as unfair and inaccurate mailers and ads, Zimmer said he’s “not about to break bread tomorrow with those who opposed me.”

“The lies and distortions backfired,” Zimmer said in an interview Wednesday, referring to two mailers in particular. One blamed him for budget cuts that led to “packing students in like sardines,” and another, “Waste King,” blamed him for extravagant spending for a new school six years before he was elected, he said. (Not to be outdone, UTLA, which spent $1 million on the election, also went negative with mailers against Anderson.)

“The Coalition became very brazen and willing to buy a board seat by any means necessary. Voters did not respond positively to that,” Zimmer said. “Even if voters disagreed with me, they could see I was trying the best I could to do right by kids in a budget crisis.”

The election in the nation’s second largest district drew national attention because it turned into a showdown between the teachers union and the Coalition’s funders – New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad and the California Charter Schools Association – with potentially the future of a hard-charging superintendent in the balance. Though Zimmer, a former LAUSD high school teacher and counselor, has mostly supported Deasy’s agenda, he opposed the use of Deasy’s method of using student test scores that take into account student demographics, called Academic Growth over Time, in teacher evaluations, and he proposed a moratorium, later withdrawn, on charter schools. With two and perhaps three members of the seven-member school board already in favor of firing Deasy, the Coalition viewed Zimmer as an unreliable swing vote, even though Zimmer has never called for Deasy’s ouster.

In the run-up to the election, Zimmer told the Los Angeles Times, “With a leader as powerful, urgent and brilliant as John Deasy, a moderating influence becomes more important. He could become a little bit dangerous in terms of any one person wielding that much power.” On Wednesday, he reiterated his commitment to work with Deasy. “I support and believe he is the best person to run the district, but I reserve the right to disagree with the superintendent,” he said. “A unilateral implementation of initiatives rarely produces actual changes kids need.”

Zimmer, never the UTLA’s favorite school board member before the Coalition set out to defeat him, said he would continue to be an independent voice on the board, “and move ahead guided by the same principles of solving some of the most vexing issues facing public education with solutions that are balanced, weighed and debated.”

That means working with UTLA while sometimes challenging its positions, he said. “What’s the alternative – hand-to-hand combat over every change we want to implement?”

“I want folks to come together around stabilizing funding for our schools,” he said. “We can disagree about ways to implement change and do accountability better, etc., but we must be willing to work together to end the (funding) crisis and not see crisis as an opportunity.”


Filed under: 2012 Election, Featured, Reporting & Analysis, School Boards · Tags: , ,

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  1. Stephen Towne says:

    I would guess that after the school board debacle of a couple weeks ago, in which the board (most definitely including Zimmer–look at public statements of his the day before, such as at: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-deasy-lausd-zimmer-20131028,0,4297839.story , voted to extend the contract for three years (at $330k per year!)of a disaster of a superintendent, who teachers have overwhelmingly shown their lack of confidence in, most LAUSD teachers strongly regret having helped to re-elect Steve Zimmer earlier this year. I don’t know if school board members can run for a third term, but if Steve Zimmer does, he should start collecting from Gates and Broad now, because he certainly will not receive any support nor votes from teachers.

    Zimmer, along with Vladovic (who changed a lot recently too, but was not elected by teachers) clearly voted with Garcia and Galatzan, to make the new pro-Deasy majority. Being in closed session, I don’t know if we will ever find the results of the actual vote. I would like to think that Ratliff, LaMotte, and Kayser voted against it, although we don’t know that, and may never know. But Zimmer certainly totally turned his back on those who elected him, and on the children of LA, selling out to the big money.

    Perhaps a recall Steve Zimmer movement is in order.

  2. Jane says:

    Where on earth did you get that Kate Anderson is a “civil rights” attorney? She ran the most racially polarizing campaign I’ve seen in my lifetime! With all white kids on her mailers, none of her media was representative of the children we serve in Los Angeles. There is nothing civil or righteous about this kind of person wanting to serve on our school board!

  3. I have long been a Steve Zimmer skeptic, but given the current mainstream version of reform’s obsession with testing, and especially with using tests designed for other purposes to produce spurious teacher evaluations and harmful backwash effects on the classroom, and given also the indecency of trying to blame Mr. Zimmer for the Robert F. Kennedy education complex, which was voted for before he entered office, I ended up feeling sympathetic towards him. Perhaps enough voters in District 4 felt the same way so as to give him four more years. And he’s right, John Deasy is energetic, and nobody has held that office with a greater sense of urgency on behalf of students, but simply rubber stamping his every idea is a bad way to serve the people of Los Angeles.

  4. Martha Infante says:

    I’m all for a teacher on the school board. Congrats, Steve!

  5. CarolineSF says:

    Regarding the “counterweight,” I haven’t paid close enough attention to know how much of the funding directed to Garcia and the other “reform”-supported candidates came from WITHIN the community.

    UTLA is of course within the community. So in the sense of money from within the community vs. outside the community, money coming in from outside sources such as Bloomberg and Rhee isn’t equivalent to the union’s contributions.

    Some voices have argued that money from outside the community is more legitimate than money from within the community because forces within the community are affected by the election. Discuss among yourselves.

  6. Planck says:

    Or what is those millions of dollars had actually been spent to improve the educational opportunities for the students in LAUSD?

  7. CarolineSF says:

    I’m curious to know what would have happened if the outside “reform” money had not been spent on the race. I’m not in LA, but watching from afar, it appears that Garcia (the one whose endorsement by the L.A. Times characterized her very negatively) was opposed by three or four far-lesser-known, underfunded candidates. Would one have beat her given the advantage of incumbency and the vote-splitting situation? Presumably, Zimmer would have won more decisively.

    In other parts of the country, protests are surfacing targeting the “reform” sector over school closings in low-income communities of color and perceived excessive testing. Those protests don’t seem to have surfaced in LAUSD yet. They’re interesting issues to watch.

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      One can also speculate that Monica Garcia would be in a runoff election, in which the UTLA would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on its candidate without a counterweight …

      1. David Tokofsky says:

        Zimmer helped Monica Garcia get elected. In short UTLA spent 95% of its effort on Zimmer when a few dollars in the Garcia race would have put her in a run off where she would have had more trouble than she experienced in the primary. UTLA, the teacher’s union, did not have nearly 1/4 the monies the other parties had and so they did not know to spend a bit less on Zimmer and a bit more on Garcia. A simple tracking poll could have given more info but it costs money.