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New school board members face immediate challenges

Two new members will join the Los Angeles Board of Education on Wednesday amid shifting political alliances and a pressing need to choose a superintendent of schools.

The newcomers are retired Principal Scott Schmerelson, 63, and charter school co-founder Ref Rodriguez, 43.

Rodriguez will become the first board member who rose to prominence as a champion of charters, which are independently operated and exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. Most are non-union.

Schmerelson joins the board after winning the support of the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. The liberal-leaning union backed his campaign even though he is a registered Republican.

The new members will represent a political change for the areas they represent. Rodriguez replaces Bennett Kayser, an unrelenting critic of charter schools. Schmerelson replaces Tamar Galatzan, an ally of union critics.

Also being sworn in are Richard Vladovic, for a third term, and George McKenna, who won his first full term in May after winning a special election last August.

An early task for the seven-member body will be selecting a replacement for Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who recently indicated that he’d like to retire, if possible, by the end of the year.

Cortines, 82, agreed to take the job in October, when his predecessor, John Deasy, resigned under pressure. School board members said they have enjoyed working with Cortines, and they appeared to be in no hurry to replace him. They also said they wanted the incoming board members to participate in the selection process.

L.A. Unified also faces litigation, expected to be filed Wednesday, that challenges how the district chose to spend new revenue. Much of this money is supposed to provide more help to low-income students, those learning English and those in foster care.

The district's budget includes both substantial pay raises and layoffs, as the nation's second-largest school system adjusts to declining enrollment along with rising pension and benefit costs. 

The board's first duty, after swearing-in ceremonies, will be electing a president from among its ranks to preside over meetings. The president’s vote counts for no more than any other, but some past presidents have exerted key influence behind the scenes. The board president also decides which leadership roles other board members will play.

For two years, the board president has been Vladovic. Board rules stipulate that a president can serve only two consecutive years, but the body also has the power to alter the term limits. 

Board member Monica Ratliff tried to change the rule recently; she wanted Vladovic to remain as president. The measure failed to win a majority when Vladovic abstained.

Twitter: @howardblume 

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