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As decision looms on reopening schools, LAUSD sticks with four-time board president

Richard Vladovic attends school board meeting.
Richard Vladovic will begin another term as L.A. school board president. He’s shown at a meeting before the pandemic, when such gatherings moved online.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Richard Vladovic on Tuesday was reelected as Los Angeles school board president for the fourth time — and as soon as Thursday, he’ll have an immediate issue to confront: whether to reopen campuses for the start of school.

July usually passes as a relatively sleepy interlude for the Board of Education, generally with no meetings other than the annual exercise of selecting a board president. But that was pre-pandemic.

“We’ve got some troubling waters ahead as board members and many decisions to make,” Vladovic said before again becoming president, by a 6-1 vote. “I’ll give it 1000%. Trust me.”

The nation’s second-largest school district is resuming classes Aug. 18. But if campuses reopen, what form will schooling take?

Vladovic suggested that reopening schools might come up in a closed session on Thursday — and that the board might also schedule a session on the topic that is open to the public before the end of the month. Since March, the school board has deferred most authority to schools Supt. Austin Beutner, who used emergency powers to close campuses and has acted on his own repeatedly since that time, with board approval after the fact.

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On Monday, Beutner said no decision had been made on whether campuses would reopen in the fall. If they do, schools would operate on a hybrid schedule — with students spending part of the week on campus in small classes and the remainder of the school week at home, working online or on work-at-home assignments.

Even in that scenario, officials also would have to prepare to serve families who are unwilling to return to campuses.

In L.A. County, 79 other school districts face similar decisions, including Long Beach Unified, which also is among the state’s largest.

The state and regional pandemic crisis has worsened with a recent surge in coronavirus infections. The local campus reopening concerns come despite exhortations Tuesday by President Trump to open the nation’s schools.

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The Los Angeles board president has no more voting authority than the other six Board of Education members, but runs the meetings and exerts some control over the agenda. The president also appoints board members to oversee committees, chooses representatives to other agencies and frequently acts as a district spokesperson.

The choice of president also reflects the district’s evolving power dynamics. The selection of Vladovic in 2013, marked the waning influence of then-Supt. John Deasy, who resigned 16 months later, during Vladovic’s second one-year term as president.

Last year, Vladovic became president again after skillfully triangulating opposing political forces. First, he won the approval of philanthropic power brokers for helping navigate Beutner into the job of district superintendent. Later, he won plaudits from the teachers union — which was critical of Beutner — for Vladovic’s role in ending the 2019 teachers’ strike.

This time he was viewed as a stabilizing force in uncertain times, an uncontested but ironic attribute for a veteran educator and politician whose trademark charm was undermined by a flashing temper. First elected in 2007, Vladovic, 75, has acknowledged and largely doused his short fuse, which his doctors had long advised him to get under control.

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Vladovic said he recognized the benefit of stability and “the need to be together as a board.” Nick Melvoin cast the one opposing vote.

Because the timing of school board elections has changed, Vladovic’s term will last just six months, coinciding with his departure from office due to term limits. At that point, Vladovic’s successor will become part of the reconfigured board that will choose the next president, said Jefferson Crain, the board’s executive officer and parliamentarian.


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