L.A. school board member Steve Zimmer

L.A. school board member Steve Zimmer developed a plan for a vacant board seat, but it failed to win majority support. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / July 2, 2013)

A proposal to appoint a caretaker to a vacant Los Angeles Board of Education seat failed Tuesday when a majority of the remaining trustees refused to support it.

The decision means that the office formerly held by Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died in December, will remain unfilled until the results of a special election.

Balloting is scheduled for a primary in June; a runoff election, if necessary, would be held in August.

LaMotte had represented District 1, which stretches across much of South and Southwest Los Angeles. She was the board’s only African American member and held a seat that has been occupied by black elected officials since it was established.

How to handle the vacancy became the subject of intense debate within the black community, with many advocates concerned that key decisions were looming while the seat would be unfilled.

The board first decided to hold a special election rather than to appoint a replacement. At the time, board member Steve Zimmer asserted that an appointee with full voting powers should hold the office in the meantime. But a board majority sided with district legal counsel in concluding that an appointee with full powers would be illegal once the election had been scheduled.

Zimmer then came back with a proposal for an appointee who would sit with the Board of Education, make proposals, participate in public discussions and cast nonbinding votes as well as manage the District 1 office.

He also envisioned an open application process, in which people could apply and submit a statement, with the board eventually voting on a choice in early March.

But board President Richard Vladovic immediately put forward a counterproposal. He suggested that L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy should choose the caretaker and that person should report directly to Deasy. In addition, the elected successor would have six months to reopen discussions on policy decisions made since LaMotte’s death.

Joining Vladovic in voting for this alternative were Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan, Deasy’s closest allies on the board. But with a 3-3 tally, the measure failed.

Deasy remained silent except to answer a question by saying he had no one in mind as an appointee.

The board then immediately voted on Zimmer’s original proposal. It failed by the same 3-3 tally, with Monica Ratliff and Bennett Kayser siding with Zimmer.

Ratliff wanted to know why her colleagues asked Zimmer to develop a process, but then voted down his proposal without any discussion.

“I don’t think this dialogue is a good process to justify our votes,” Vladovic replied, adding that he had been a history teacher and believed in the electoral process.

Galatzan and Garcia remained silent. In previous meetings, they had made it clear that they would not necessarily support whatever plan Zimmer developed.

“We’re going to move on,” Vladovic said.

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howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume