LAUSD board President Steve Zimmer forced into runoff election

Steve Zimmer

By City News Service | POSTED: 03/08/17, 11:17 PM PSTLos Angeles Daily 

Los Angeles school board President Steve Zimmer, the target of a well-financed opposition campaign funded largely by charter-school backers, is heading for a May runoff election.

Zimmer, who represents Westchester and other Westside communities, led a field of four candidates in the District 4 race Tuesday, but at 47.5 percent of the vote fell just shy of the majority needed to win re-election outright. He will square off with Nick Melvoin, a teacher/attorney, who placed second in the race with 32.2 percent of the vote, ahead of Allison Polhill, a former president of the Palisades Charter High School board, and public relations executive Gregory Martayan.

Backers of charter schools, hoping to gain a majority of supporters on the seven-member LAUSD board, threw their financial might behind Melvoin and Polhill in hopes of unseating Zimmer.

Meanwhile, incumbent board member Monica Garcia was celebrating her re-election Wednesday. Garcia, a supporter of charter schools, fended off challenges for her District 2 seat from teacher Lisa Alva and businessman Carl Petersen.

The District 6 seat, vacant because of the departure of Monica Ratliff, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, will be decided in a runoff between charter-school-backed teacher Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez and activist Imelda Padilla, who was supported by United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing LAUSD teachers. Rounding out the field were former Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, parents/activists Gwendolyn Posey and Araz Parseghian, and animal-rights activist Jose Sandoval.

If charter-backed candidates prevail in the two pending races, the winners would team with Garcia and board member Ref Rodriguez to create a majority on the seven-member board.

Charter supporters, including former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and 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 others.

Critics also contend 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.