Meet the 2017 LAUSD District 4 School Board Candidates

By Sue Pascoe

This is the last time Los Angeles school board primary elections will be held in March, so the candidates who eventually win (either outright in March or in the runoff in May) will serve 51⁄2 years, rather than four. Thus, the current election is especially important to those whose children attend public school.

There are four candidates for District 4, which encompasses Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Venice, Westchester, Mar Vista, Westwood, Hollywood, Encino, Toluca Lake, Tarzana, Woodland Hills and Topanga. Incumbent Steve Zimmer faces challengers Gregory Martayan, Nick Melvoin and Allison Holdoroff Polhill.

(Left to right): Steve Zimmer, Nick Melvoin, moderator Katie Braude, Gregory Martayan and Allison Holdoroff Polhill participated in a Jan. 9 candidate forum.
(Left to right): Steve Zimmer, Nick Melvoin, moderator Katie Braude, Gregory Martayan and Allison Holdoroff Polhill participated in a Jan. 9 candidate forum.

The four will participate in a public forum from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2, in the Paul Revere Middle School auditorium, 451 Allenford Ave. The forum is co-sponsored by the Pacific Palisades Community Council, the Palisades Charter Schools Foundation, the PTSA and PRIDE at Paul Revere and the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils.

On Jan. 9 in Venice, the candidates spoke and answered questions at a forum hosted by Speak Up, a nonprofit dedicated to helping parents find a voice in public schools. Palisadian Katie Braude, a member of the L.A. County Board of Education, was the moderator.

Each candidate was allowed a 2-1/2- minute opening statement.

Martayan said he had entered the race to ensure safe schools, transparency and accountability. “Parents deserve a space at the table.”

Melvoin said he was in the race because he wants to put “kids and parents first.”

Zimmer, who has served two terms, said, “I’m running to finish this job.” That includes making sure access to the arts is a right for every student.

Holdoroff Polhill said, “I want all kids to graduate,” noting that her three adult children, products of LAUSD education, were in the audience. (The 2016 LAUSD graduation rate was 75 percent. At Palisades High School it is 96 percent and the school is ranked 92nd statewide.)

On Jan. 24, Speak Up endorsed Melvoin and Polhill. 

Steve Zimmer, 46, was born in Manhattan; his mother taught middle school and his father taught business at Newark College. He began his career with the nonprofit Teach for America as an English teacher at Marshall High School in Los Angeles. He was elected to the LAUSD Board of Education in 2009 after 17 years working as a teacher and counselor.

Zimmer created Marshall’s public service program to encourage student volunteerism. As a school-board member, he authored a resolution in support of the Dream Act (federal legislation to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students who do well in school and attend college).

In a July 2011 Jewish Journal article, Zim- mer said: “I live in Hollywood, where fam- ilies sleep in their cars—that’s their home. Then I go to the Palisades, where families have homes for their cars, and I have to figure out how to make public education work for everyone.

“When I go to the Palisades, the reason parents are so upset about the [school] calendar is because they can’t vacation. And then I come to East Hollywood, where the idea of a vacation isn’t even in their vocabulary. But the job of public schools is to make sure that the kids who have everything, and the kids who have nothing, have the same chance to have excellence.”

Challenger Nick Melvoin was born in 1985 and raised in Brentwood. He graduated from Harvard-Westlake School (2004) and Harvard University (2008), then earned a master’s degree in urban education from Loyola Marymount.

He first worked as a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher at Markham Middle School, an LAUSD campus in Watts. In 2009, when he and two-thirds of Markham’s young teachers lost their jobs during budget cuts because they lacked seniority, Melvoin joined in supporting Reed v. California, which argued that LAUSD’s seniority-based layoffs violated the rights of students.

In 2011, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge validated a settlement, ending seniority-based layoffs in 45 low-performing LAUSD schools.

Since receiving his law degree from the New York University School of Law, Melvoin has been a teacher organizer for Teach Plus and an adjunct professor at Loyola Marymount.

Candidate Gregory Martayan was born in West L.A. and now lives in Encino. He is a graduate of Pepperdine University and, with his wife Sylva, has three young children. She is a graduate of the public-school system, and prior to the couple’s children being born, was a test and facility engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Martayan has served on numerous na- tional, state and local boards, councils and commissions. He is the founder and chief executive of Social Appetizer, a public relations and marketing firm.

He served as an ambassador with the National Crime Prevention Council, based in Washington, D.C., where he was engaged in efforts to combat school bullying.

On his Facebook page, Martayan writes: “I have been criticized heavily for having a platform which includes bringing kosher food into schools within regions that have heavily-populated Jewish Orthodox communities. I have also been criticized for wanting to introduce Hebrew as a language and for proposing a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism for faculty. I’ll be on the side of what is right over what is convenient. My opponents don’t care about the community, but rather their own personal agendas.”

The only candidate who has had children attend and graduate from the LAUSD system is Palisadian Allison Holdoroff Polhill. Other than Zimmer, she is also the only candidate who has had experience on a school board, beginning when she was a student at Yucaipa High School.

She graduated from UCLA and then earned a law degree at Loyola-Marymount. When she and husband Lucius had children, Holdoroff Polhill applied her skills to public schools, serving on the governing boards of Palisades Charter Elementary, Paul Revere Middle School and Palisades High School.

She was instrumental in helping rewrite the school charters when they came up for renewal, while also serving as president of booster clubs and working as an assistant in the classroom.

Holdoroff Polhill served for six years on the PaliHi board, which annually has a budget of $30 million, and is balanced each year. In a Jan. 4 article in the News, she said her goal on the LAUSD board would be to bring a “student-first lens” to the agenda and a balanced budget to the district.

The district has a projected $663-million deficit next school year, and according to this year’s final budget, the deficit could bal- loon to more than $1.5 billion for the 2018-19 school year, Hordoroff Polhill said.

According to a Jan. 13 story in the L.A. School Report, as of Dec. 31, Melvoin, who announced his candidacy last February, had raised the most money ($270,031) among District 4 candidates. He was followed by Zimmer ($85,392), Holdoroff Polhill, who was the last to announce her candidacy ($72,591), and Martayan ($62,225).

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