L.A. school board priority: Put students first


The memory of Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, a long-standing member of the Los Angeles Unified school board, deserves to be honored. She was a devoted educator who fought for students and teachers. There are many appropriate ways to show respect to such an accomplished and caring woman: Name a school for her. Fund a scholarship for needy students in her district. Hold a memorial service. But don’t misuse her memory to seek partisan political victories or to avoid doing work that needs to be done.

Since LaMotte died at an education conference nearly two weeks ago, the idea of honoring her has crept repeatedly into debates where it doesn’t belong — for example, whether the board should elect or appoint her successor, and whether it should delay a decision on the next phase of the iPad purchase for students. These are matters of district business; they must be decided based on what’s best for L.A. Unified, not on what might or might not honor LaMotte.

At its meeting Tuesday, which is to be mostly dedicated to memorializing LaMotte, the board will have a couple of choices before it. One is whether the board members themselves will select LaMotte’s successor or authorize a special election in her district to replace her. School board members more closely aligned with the teachers union favor appointment, probably because it would all but ensure that the new member would support the union and its policies (as LaMotte did). Civic leaders allied with Supt. John Deasy prefer an election, in which a well-funded reform candidate might win. Each side has argued that its preferred option would best honor LaMotte’s memory.


OP-ED: Two former school board members argue to replace LaMotte by appointment, not special election

But that’s disingenuous as well as off the point. The overriding question is not what LaMotte would have wanted or what does her justice but what is best for the students of Los Angeles and the constituents of District 1. In our view, a special election makes the most sense, so that the community can choose its own representative.

Another split on the board is expected over whether to delay for another month the expenditure of $115 million for the next, limited phase of the iPad rollout, as well as a small pilot program to determine whether laptops would work better for high school students. District administrators say they need to get going on the purchase to ready students for the new state tests, which must be taken on computers. Board member Steve Zimmer wants to put the vote off to January, saying it would be disrespectful to conduct non-mandatory district business before LaMotte’s funeral this weekend.

The sentiment is nice, but with the holidays coming up, the board doesn’t have time for that kind of delay. The iPad project has had a troubled rollout, and as it moves forward, its successes need to be measured and its problems addressed. This purchase, to which the board already has agreed in concept, is an important step in that process. The district can’t assess a rollout that isn’t happening, and a month’s delay would limit the time for teachers and students to learn and practice with the iPads before testing begins. The board should honor LaMotte, of course, but its first responsibility is to its students.