L.A. Unified board picks Richard Vladovic as new president

New school board member Monica Ratliff hugs supporters at her inauguration.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

In a conscious shift of power and priorities, the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday selected Richard Vladovic as its new president, replacing Monica Garcia, who lacked support to extend a string of six one-year terms.

The choice has symbolic importance, signaling that the board majority intends to exert more control over Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy. The ascendancy of Vladovic also marks the decline in influence of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Garcia was Villaraigosa’s most loyal ally on the seven-member body; he left office Sunday.


The school board also ushered in newly elected member Monica Ratliff, who immediately played a key role. First, she successfully proposed that each candidate describe what he or she would do with the presidency — something not done in recent years. Then, she asked each to announce whom they would choose to serve as vice president. Finally, she was the swing vote to elect Vladovic.

The board president has no greater legal authority than other members but runs the meetings and frequently represents the L.A. Unified School District. Garcia has used the position to wield outsized influence over district resources and policies, according to supporters and critics.

For the first time in several years, the board won’t have to face substantial budget cuts. But there are tough decisions ahead about how to spend surplus funds that aren’t sufficient to redress all the recent cuts. The school system also faces mounting legal fees from the Miramonte Elementary School child-abuse litigation and other such cases. Academically, the district is preparing for new state curriculum standards and planning to put an iPad in the hands of every student. Teachers and principals face new, detailed job evaluations based in part on standardized test scores.

Vladovic and Deasy have a sometimes stormy behind-the-scenes relationship, although they interact cordially in public.

An internal review, authorized by Deasy, is looking into whether Vladovic verbally abused employees. A separate review examined whether Vladovic had any role in alleged missteps in the handling of sexual-abuse allegations against a teacher at De La Torre Elementary in Wilmington.

Vladovic has denied any wrongdoing, although he acknowledges having a bad temper at times.

No findings have been released indicating that Vladovic did anything illegal or unethical.

In Tuesday’s moves, Vladovic was nominated by Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. The nomination was seconded by Bennett Kayser. Both had been outside the majority bloc controlled by Garcia, and both have been critical of Deasy.

Garcia then nominated Tamar Galatzan, a surprise move because conventional wisdom had the contest between Vladovic and Steve Zimmer.

In his remarks, Vladovic, 68, focused on big-picture issues — his passion for doing the best for every child, and the imperative to treat parents and employees with respect and to hear their voices in the affairs of the nation’s second-largest school system.

Vladovic announced Zimmer as his choice for vice president — which may have helped secure Zimmer’s vote. (Galatzan said she would ask Ratliff to fill that role.)

The board voted first on Vladovic’s nomination because LaMotte had made sure to get his name in first.

When her turn came, Ratliff hesitated, then cast the key swing vote. The tally was 5 to 2, with Garcia and Galatzan dissenting.

Ratliff, who took the oath of office from her mother, was a fifth-grade teacher at San Pedro Elementary. She was elected to her first four-year term last spring in an upset — securing more votes than a much better-funded opponent supported by Villaraigosa, wealthy donors and major labor unions.

“It’s really interesting how often people tell you things can’t be done,” she said, alluding to her election victory. “Actually, that’s not true.”

In public education too, “people again say it can’t be done,” she said before a packed boardroom. “Everyone wants children to succeed. Everyone wants this system to work.... Together, we can figure it out.”