Don't Fall For Zimmer's Flowers and Apologies

As many Speak UP members enjoy gifts of flowers and candy on Valentine’s Day today, we want to reflect on the political candy that LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer has been tossing around town in an attempt to woo back angry voters right before the March 7 election.  

Many of us have either seen or personally experienced bad boyfriends or spouses. We kick them to the curb, but they return bearing gifts and apologies, with promises to never behave badly again. Then the same pattern repeats itself over and over. Likewise, we hope parents will take Zimmer’s sweets and apologies and professions of love with a skeptical grain of salt.  

We trust that Speak UP parents will not forget that the candidate who gets elected this year will serve a 5 ½-year term. Please ask yourself before you vote if you can stand another 5 ½ years of Zimmer’s broken promises. Ask yourself if you really believe that this time things will be different.

Here’s a Whitman's Sampler of the chocolates and romantic words that Zimmer and LAUSD have used to woo back parents in recent weeks: 

·      Parents at Broadway’s and Braddock’s Mandarin Immersion programs were furious that LAUSD recently attempted to remove the sibling enrollment priority for their families. After mobilizing with letters to the district, LAUSD called a meeting last week and asked for a “reset.” LAUSD will now hold monthly meetings with a parent advisory committee.

·      Zimmer visited WISH charter last week and apologized for abstaining in the vote to expand the school to high school after his ill-fated plan to turn the school into a program at Venice High. He also promised to support the school from now on and pointed to the impending Prop 39 offer in Westchester at the high school-campus.

·      The LAUSD board approved an extension of Playa Vista Elementary School’s STEM curriculum to middle school, also to be located at the Westchester high school campus.

Of course, the expected placement of WISH Academy at Westchester High comes weeks after Zimmer said that the number of seats available at the new LMU STEM middle school could not be expanded to guarantee space for the Westchester community because of a “space crunch” on that half-empty campus. It also follows outright lies that Zimmer and LAUSD told to justify denying the space repeatedly to Westchester Secondary Charter School, which was sent packing out of town to South Los Angeles.

That total lack of transparency about the campus space available has eroded trust in Zimmer’s and the district’s honesty and fairness. And parents know that the minute they fall out of favor, they could be the next target of Zimmer’s hostility. And their kids or their program may be the next one on the chopping block.

At a recent LMU candidate forum, Zimmer tried to apologize for decisions that have infuriated the community.  “We’ve been through a lot and there have been some very hard decisions and there have been a lot of moments when a lot of things have been tried and not all of them successful,” he said. “I’m also not afraid to tell you when we haven’t always gotten it right…I see the possibility of what could be.”

But let’s not be so quick to forgive and forget some of the decisions Zimmer has made during his tenure on the board:

·      LAUSD attempted to deny a merger of WISH elementary and middle school so kids could automatically matriculate, citing the most ridiculous of reasons: the unauthorized use of a food warmer. Zimmer also tried to boot WISH off of its Orville Wright campus and send it to the Emerson adult school to make way for Playa Vista ES students. When WISH parents cried foul, Zimmer scrapped that plan but declined to give the empty Emerson space to WSCS instead. Emerson still sits mostly empty, while WSCS was shoved out of town.

·      Instead of treating the Broadway MI program as a crown jewel that actually attracts families back to the district at a time of declining enrollment, LAUSD cut the program in half, and parents have had to fight for its survival. Zimmer broke promises to build a new building for the program and then tried to escape blame and pass the responsibility onto the superintendent – even though Zimmer, as president of the school board, is ultimately the one in charge. 

·      LAUSD broke promises to PVES families last year to give families their own autonomous middle school and instead tried to fold them into Orville Wright. This drove many of the parent leaders of PVES out of district. After LAUSD tried again this year, controversial enrollment priorities created community uproar in Westchester, which could ultimately damage the school’s chances for a successful launch. Zimmer ignored a petition from more than 400 parents to increase the number of seats available and guarantee some spots for the community where the school is located.

And then there is Zimmer’s cruel treatment of City Charter Schools. Zimmer’s opponent in the Board District 4 race Nick Melvoin served on the board there until he announced his candidacy. As a result, Zimmer has treated the parents there with the scorn of a jilted lover furious that his ex dared to date another guy.

Zimmer threw City High school under the bus with a Prop 39 offer far from its middle school campus. And now Zimmer’s backers have specifically targeted City for false and vicious attacks in flyers – essentially turning City Charter kids into collateral damage, much like kids caught in the middle of a custody dispute in a nasty divorce.

Zimmer likes to play the victim and often acts like he is the one being mistreated, even though he’s actually the guy with all the power. Don’t fall for the gaslighting.

We do hope parents enjoy the sweets being delivered today. Some of these gains were hard fought and only won because of a willingness to speak up, speak out and fight back. In each case, parents were only fighting for a great education for their kids. It shouldn’t have to be a battle. We shouldn’t have to take this abuse. And neither should our kids. It’s time to kick this bad boyfriend to the curb for good and make a change. Flowers and candy and apologies are not going to cut it this time.