Viewpoint: Nick Melvoin’s Election Boosts LAUSD Charter Schools

By Joe Halper
Special to the Palisades News

The May 16 runoff election for the L.A. Unified School District Board seat between Nick Melvoin and Steve Zimmer gained unexpected national attention, as the central issue of the campaign focused on the role of charter schools within the LAUSD structure.

Zimmer, the current board president and part of a four-member majority on the seven-member board, supported three state legislative initiatives that were crafted to diminish the charter school movement. The five public schools in Pacific Palisades are all highly rated charter schools and the community responded by supporting Melvoin, providing his campaign with 75.6% of the Palisades votes. He easily defeated Zimmer with 57.23% of the total vote (38,673 to 28,897).

Credit: Nick Melvoin for School Board Facebook page.
Credit: Nick Melvoin for School Board Facebook page.

After an expenditure of $5.2 million, primarily by the UTLA union, Zimmer received just 24.3% of the votes in the Palisades and 42.77% district-wide. Melvoin’s support came from the California Charter Schools Association, the Parent Teachers Alliance, Speak UP and major donors, enabling him to spend $9.6 million on his campaign.

Pacific Palisades precincts voted 56.7% by mail and 42.3% at the polls. With only the LAUSD election and Measure C (the police civilian discipline board measure) on the local ballot, the turnout was low as expected, with only 21.8% voting in the Palisades (and 11.3% district-wide). The Palisades precincts represented only 4% of the district 4 voting power, but provided 10.8% of the total votes cast for Melvoin.

Achieving the win in a campaign to break the hold on the LAUSD Board by the teachers union was an uphill climb for Melvoin, an attorney and former teacher. He was endorsed by the L.A. Times, but his opponent was supported by most of the local office holders, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, and all of Democratic clubs in the district with the exception of the Palisades Democratic Club. Our board members have seen first-hand the effectiveness of well-run public charter schools in our community.

In a rare display of bipartisan agreement, the Pacific Palisades Republican Club also endorsed Melvoin’s candidacy, which helps explain why he received such an unusually high level of local support. He also benefited from a strong endorsement by Palisadian Allison Holdorff Polhill, one of his opponents in the primary election.

With the election of both Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, the charter school candidate in District 6, the LAUSD Board majority is now in a position to support the preservation and growth of public charter schools. This will provide an opportunity to address the diversity of the multicultural communities making up the LAUSD, allowing for greater local community control and the creativity necessary for effective educational experiences for the diverse student body of the L.A. public schools.

(Halper is president emeritus of the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club.)

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