Loretta A. Zimmerman

Full name: Loretta A. Zimmerman

Age: 58

Birth place: Los Angeles

How long have you lived in the Newport-Mesa district and where do you live exactly? I've lived in Newport Beach for 20 years, homeowner on Balboa Island since 1990. Married to Greg Zimmerman 31 years, five children.

Occupation (or former occupations): Parent of five recent Newport Mesa graduates, the most recent, Jennifer, graduated from Corona del Mar High School in June, and is attending college as a freshman in New York City.
Four sons have graduated from CdM: Jim 2001, Jeff 2003, Jay 2004 and Jon 2006. All have graduated from college.

Former occupation: professional career in city administration as an assistant city manager overseeing budget and human resources (city of San Juan Capistrano).  Past president Orange County Chapter of American Society of Public Administration.

Education: bachelor's degree in English and a master of public administration degree

Previously elected or appointed positions: No answer

Community organizations you belong to: Newport Beach Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteer; PTA Executive Board member for more than 12 years in Newport schools; 10 years serving as an elected member of the School Site Councils at the elementary and high school level; NMUSD committee member (Superintendent Advisory Search Council); president (two years) and board member (six years) of a nonprofit pre-school; recipient of the PTA Honorary Service Award 2010.

Why are you running (for challengers) or running again (incumbent) for office?

This is an extraordinary time that calls for leadership in our school district beyond protecting the status quo.  I am not running against the Newport-Mesa school district, but I am running against a 30-year incumbent who has been on the board since 1980. Sometimes incumbents are more intent on protecting their own job security than figuring out new ways to improve academic achievement and restructure our schools to meet the challenges today.

What do you think are the biggest issues facing Newport-Mesa right now?

These are the biggest issues I see facing the district:

Budget issues
Teacher layoffs
Struggling schools
Lack of transparency by the board

The budget shortfall, perpetuated at the state level, has the most  negative impact on the school district.  The decisions on cutbacks and layoffs that board member Judy Franco has supported today fundamentally change the way education will be provided in our district for the foreseeable future. Larger class sizes, teacher layoffs, fewer counselors, less support staff, reduced education programs, these are factors that determine the level of education we provide.  I don’t want to see the level deteriorate so that students get shortchanged. Lack of transparency by the board in its budgetary decisions, which affect so many people, is also a problem.

As a school board member I would demand transparency and openness in the business dealings and budgetary decisions that affect our students, parents, teachers and most importantly how those decisions impact classroom instruction. After all, it is taxpayer money that funds schools, and the board should be accountable to the public for every dollar it spends to ensure that it goes to benefit students.

Also, we have struggling schools in our district.  How are these budgetary cutbacks going to affect the delivery of education to the students who are already failing? The consequences of making cutbacks and wrong decisions are extreme not only in the educational realm but also the social impact on the community.

What is one decision in the last year that you feel the board voted correctly on and why?

Funds from Measure A and Measure F have provided drastically needed repairs and upgrades to the school district facilities. These upgrades were needed after years of deferred maintenance and neglect during a 30-year oversight by Franco, resulting in unsafe conditions for students and teachers on our campuses.  Only when the public and parents demanded physical upgrades and improvements to our schools, and by voting to tax themselves through two massive, hundreds of million dollar bond measures, did the board react to the community pressure.  Students have benefitted from these upgrades thanks to the citizens and taxpayers of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.  Also some hardworking district staff who have coordinated and overseen the projects deserve praise, even though some projects have come in over budget.

What is one decision in the last year that you feel the school board could have made a better decision?

There are several areas where the board could have made better decisions, or at least the process by which they make decisions could be more open.  The following are three examples:

Budget and Layoffs

With more than 100 layoffs this year and some 38 teacher layoffs in 2009, this decision will negatively impact the classroom and vital student services for years to come. It will result in larger class sizes, fewer counselors, less support staff and elimination of vital programs. It was critical that the board consult the stakeholders in these decisions and not do it behind closed doors, giving the impression that teachers are taking the brunt of the cutbacks whether it is true or not.  Maybe every layoff and cutback was necessary. But what efforts did Franco make to engage the community, parents or teachers in the decision-making process? What other areas of the budget could have been cut without hurting the classroom and dismantling student services? With community input and collaboration, maybe some of the pain could have been spared. As a board member, I would ensure that all parties are heard before making such drastic cuts that will lower the level of education in our district.

Student Safety in the Schools

I am a strong proponent of student safety, inside and outside the schools. I think the entire community was shocked by the extreme incident of cyber harassment at CdM. The only thing more disturbing was the process by which Franco as a board member handled the case. The level of punishment meted out to the male students seemed trivial in relation to the threat of bodily injury and mental distress to the female student.  Even the Daily Pilot newspaper in an editorial stated that the “Internet threat merits expulsion.”  And a formal apology was issued to the victim as part of a settlement only after the district was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union. Why didn’t Franco step up and defend the threatened student who happened to live in the district she represents? Can other students expect this type of treatment by their elected board member? CdM is a great school with terrific students, but the entire school was forced to go through sensitivity training partially as a result of the board not following its own zero tolerance policy on bullying, and this went way beyond  bullying.  As a parent of a student, I could see first hand the damage that was done to the credibility of zero tolerance itself, and the safety risk to students in any future similar case. Where was Franco during this almost yearlong ordeal?

Struggling Schools

A pressing concern for Costa Mesa parents for years has been several schools with underachieving academic levels and dismal academic statewide rankings. This problem has persisted for more than a decade during Franco’s tenure. It has resulted in failing the existing students and flight by many parents to private schools and other schools in the district. Some interventions have been tried in our troubled schools, but why haven’t they worked, and what is the next level of support to our teachers and students? There are models of many public schools in other districts that have completely turned around failing schools. They require more intensive school hours, mandatory parental participation, and buy-in from the parents on homework, rules and re-structure. It is time for new strategies to bring up the test scores and help all students succeed.

As a new school board member, I would think outside the box and bring a new perspective to this old, lingering problem that has been overlooked and minimized. Even with a budget crisis a determined board can develop new strategies to lift student academic performance and transform schools.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World