George White/EdSource
Los Angeles Unified board meeting

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday selected Mónica García as its new president, replacing Ref Rodriguez, who resigned the presidency last week.

Rodriguez and García are two of four board members who have been backed by charter school advocates. The charter-backed candidates obtained a 4-3 majority when Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez were elected to the board in May. All four voted to elect García president on Tuesday. Board members George McKenna, Scott Schmerelson and Richard Vladovic voted against her.

Rodriguez resigned from the post on Sept. 19, one week after the Los Angeles County district attorney charged him with four felonies for alleged campaign finance violations related to his election to the board in 2015. Rodriguez, who remains on the board, said he stepped down from the presidency because he did not want to be a “distraction” for fellow board members and district educators.

The arraignment for Rodriguez’s plea is scheduled for Oct. 24. If convicted, Rodriguez faces a possible maximum sentence of four years and four months in jail.

The L.A. Unified board president, who is elected annually, serves as chair at voting meetings. Beyond that, the position is largely ceremonial. However, the board president has a higher profile than other members and is often expected to be the public face for the district.

In a statement after the board meeting, García said it “is an honor and privilege to serve as chair … I welcome our energy and focus to end illiteracy, create pathways for our students to earn more and learn more and strengthen relationships with employees, parents, families, and community partners.”

In July, before the board elected Rodriguez president, García said she did not want to be a candidate for the post. She has been serving on the board part-time because she has had a job as head of services for a Los Angeles County Probation Department commission that oversees administration of juvenile delinquency laws.

However, in written statements to reporters on Friday and Monday, García said she was “willing” to serve.

“We must continue our work of ending illiteracy, creating workforce pathways and skills, closing gaps and of course increasing graduation — all while strengthening relationships with our students, families and employees,” the statement said.

Mónica García, president of Los Angeles Unified Board.

“I will be separating from my service at L.A. County to serve full time on the Board. During my time there, I have helped find alternative solutions to youth incarceration. I saw firsthand what failure in our schools can lead to and why we must do more.”

García was initially elected to the board in 2006. She was voted by her colleagues to serve as board president six consecutive terms, from 2007 through 2012. Her six elections as president are the most in district history, said Jefferson Crain, the board’s executive officer. She served as a full-time board member during her years as president. She switched status and became a part-time board member in 2013, when she joined the staff of Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

As school board president in 2008, García led that year’s campaign to pass the $7 billion Measure Q, the largest new school construction bond measure in U.S. history. She also helped lead efforts that reformed the school district’s discipline policies, championing counseling mediation practices that reduced suspension rates.

As a board member, García has been leading efforts to ease tensions between charter school advocates and supporters of district-managed schools. There are 224 independently managed charter schools in the district — more than any other district in the nation.

García and Rodriguez last year proposed that the district create a task force to help pave a path from conflict to collaboration between charter schools and district-run schools. Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Michelle King created a task force, adopted most of its recommendations and sent a memo June 30 to the district’s board of education establishing fall 2017 timelines for launching the initiatives. Among them are plans to help administrators at district-run schools and charters share “promising” educational practices and plans designed to help district-managed and charters work more closely together at school sites they share.

García, who was appointed vice president in July, had served as interim president since the resignation of Rodriguez. On Tuesday, she selected Nick Melvoin as the new vice president.

The California Charter Schools Association supported the board vote.

“Monica Garcia has been a champion for students during her decade of service on the school board,” the association statement said. “We look forward to working with Monica and supporting the board’s ‘Kids First’ agenda as she again takes on the role of president of the board.”

Superintendent King also issued a statement.

“On behalf of the L.A. Unified family, I want to congratulate Ms. García and Mr. Melvoin,” she said. “I look forward to their leadership and collaboration as we progress toward our goal of 100 percent graduation.”

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