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Three L.A. school board members are up for reelection: 2 Villaraigosa allies, 1 opponent

Three Board of Education members are defending their seats in Tuesday's election. Tamar Galatzan and Richard Vladovic tend to back the mayor; Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte is his staunchest opponent.

March 06, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • School board candidates Tamar Galatzan, Richard Vladovic and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte.
School board candidates Tamar Galatzan, Richard Vladovic and Marguerite… (Al Seib, Myung J. Chun / Los…)

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa knew exactly whom to alert last year when he wanted his nonprofit group to win control of a low-performing new elementary school in Watts. After all, a majority of the seven-member Board of Education was elected with the help of his substantial campaign fundraising.

L.A. school board elections: An article in the March 6 LATExtra section about Los Angeles Board of Education elections referred to Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary as a new school. The campus opened in 1925, according to district records, and was later renamed after the late track star, who grew up nearby. —

Two of those he can count on — Tamar Galatzan and Richard Vladovic — are up for reelection Tuesday, as is the mayor's staunchest opponent, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. All are heavy favorites in their campaigns.

Their actions on the February 2010 vote to run Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School were telling. Galatzan and Vladovic followed the mayor's lead and voted to overrule the recommendation of L.A. Unified schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who favored a different plan for the contested campus. LaMotte complained about the "giving away" of schools but put up no further resistance.

Time after time, on key votes, reform strategies favored by the mayor have prevailed: handing over Locke High to a charter-school organization; gradually converting all high schools into small schools; limiting seniority protections when teachers must be laid off.

LaMotte, 77, a retired L.A. Unified principal who represents parts of south and southwest L.A., has echoed the teachers union in opposing many initiatives. Typically, she's raised objections, voted "no" and lost to the board majority.

Over two terms, LaMotte has advanced few policies of her own and has had little impact, observers said, partly because she simply lacks the votes.

True to form, in August 2009 LaMotte cast the one "no" vote when the board approved the policy allowing the mayor, charter schools and other groups, including teachers, to bid for control of low-performing schools and new campuses. Charter organizations are independently operated; most are non-union.

Villaraigosa's relationship with Galatzan — a deputy city attorney and the only board member with children in the school system — has been fractious at times. Villaraigosa didn't endorse her failed City Council bid; she supports the governor's plan to send money from city redevelopment agencies to school districts.

But in the case of Griffith Joyner Elementary, Galatzan, 41, who represents the west San Fernando Valley, was solidly with the mayor. She noted that Griffith Joyner students feed into a middle school already under the mayor's control. It made sense, she said, for his nonprofit to manage the elementary school as well.

There was never much doubt regarding Vladovic, who represents Watts, district insiders said. He's been a consistent, passionate defender of initiatives also preferred by the mayor, giving them the weight of his long career in education. Vladovic, 66, rose from teacher to senior L.A. Unified administrator and later became superintendent in West Covina Unified. He retains good relations with labor unions, with the frequent exception of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Vladovic also has longstanding ties in the San Pedro area, where he has kept such campaign promises as opposing a local school construction project that was well underway, but other board members outvoted him on that issue. In the Watts area, he has consistently sided with the mayor and charter-school operators who run schools there.

Later this month, Villaraigosa is widely expected to push Vladovic, Galatzan and other allies to give control of more campuses to charter schools in the second major round of bidding to operate schools.

None of the incumbents is entirely predictable. Vladovic sometimes speaks of going with his instinct as a former school principal above all. Galatzan expresses skepticism about the central bureaucracy, asserting that middle-class schools in her district aren't getting their fair share of resources. LaMotte has softened her opposition to charter schools, especially after her grandson began attending one. And although she is an ally of the teachers union, LaMotte nonetheless raised little objection when Cortines forced teachers to reapply for their jobs at low-performing Fremont High — which is in her district. Cortines' move had infuriated the union.

Three challengers are trying to upset the current dynamic, but all are hard-pressed for the campaign funds to get their messages across; the incumbents are benefiting from big-money independent campaigns run on their behalf. LaMotte is heavily bankrolled by the teachers union; Galatzan and Vladovic by a flush political action committee for which the mayor raised money.

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