Redistricting, no matter the government entity that is conducting the 10-year ritual, is frequently rife with controversy. Rarely does everyone leave the table pleased, and some elected officials and constituents nurse grudges and hurt feelings.
The Los Angeles Unified School District redistricting process does not have the same level of controversy that exists in the redrawing of City Council lines, but the release of several maps last month caused some Westside parents to believe that their current school board member was being singled out for retribution.
Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, Westchester, Venice and Del Rey on the Board of Education, was initially moved out of District 4 in a map submitted for consideration to the commission.
Map B took Hollywood, where Zimmer resides, out of District 4, while two other maps left him within his current district boundaries.
But following an amended version of a third submission at a Feb. 23 redistricting meeting – Cv1 – the school board member is back in his Hollywood/Westside district.
The new map is not the final version and some of Zimmer’s supporters feel the move to take him out of his current district was deliberate and has political overtones.
“Let’s call this what it was: it was a recall election, but no one has the nerve to run against him,” asserted Venice resident Karen Wolfe, whose son attends Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey. “This was clearly political because there is no good reason to remove him (from District 4).”
Zimmer has been outspoken about the properties that LAUSD has given charter schools and is often at odds from a policy standpoint with some of the board members who lean toward supporting charter schools.
Douglas Wance, the commission’s executive director, said there was never a plan to move Zimmer out of District 4.
“The final vote on Cv1 was 14-1,” Wance noted. “If there was an agenda against Mr. Zimmer, it would have showed itself during the vote.”
Grand View Boulevard Elementary School Principal Alfredo Ortiz says Zimmer has been an advocate of the school’s Spanish-English language immersion program that works well with the school board member’s larger plan of creating a nexus for languages between Venice and Mar Vista schools.
“(With redistricting), you’re going to disrupt positive change in pipelines that are being established,” Ortiz said. “Our dual language program has been realigned with these feeder patterns in mind and I think (moving Zimmer out of the district) would create a vacuum in our district.”
Wance said there was a Steven Zimmer in Westchester on the voter rolls. Partly based on that, Map B was drawn as it was and the commission was unaware that it was taking the school board member out of District 4. Besides, Wance pointed out, Map B was never a consideration.
“The commission did not vote on it,” the commission executive director said.
Cv1 is an amalgamation of another map and a draft submitted by the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund and National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
The entire school district is facing a number of financial and academic challenges, but District 4 has some very unique circumstances that are ongoing or are still in flux.
Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnet, formerly Westchester High School, is in the first year of converting to a full-time magnet and is dealing with a variety of growing pains.
Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester lost its popular principal, Dr. Kenneth Pride, late last year and LAUSD and Zimmer faced an angry parent community that feels that Pride was treated unfairly in the handling of an alleged sexual assault involving students.
And last spring, Zimmer’s district had more applications for colocations submitted to LAUSD than the other six districts, according to LAUSD officials.
Colocation, where charter schools share campus space, classrooms and facilities with traditional schools, became a hot-button topic during “colocation spring” where parents from charters and neighborhood schools felt pitted against each other in a battle for resources.
Under Proposition 39, a ballot initiative passed in 2000, charter schools are entitled to school facilities that are underused or unoccupied.
This led to Zimmer sponsoring a plan to allow charter schools to bid on a plot of unoccupied land at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista in an effort to alleviate tensions at District 4 schools caused during “colocation spring.”
Ocean Charter School in Mar Vista, which is colocating with Walgrove, was awarded the land. The school board will vote on the land lease arrangement later this month.
In addition, Zimmer is in the process of building the pipelines that Ortiz was referring to that would create a language feeder system from elementary school to Venice High School on the Westside.
Wolfe and others argued that Zimmer has been on the front lines of a number of changes that are still in flux and are unique to District 4. “The only constant has been Steve Zimmer,” she said. “He has had his eye on the ball from the very beginning.”
Westchester resident Kelly Kane does not speak as highly of the Westside’s LAUSD representative. She has been critical of Zimmer in the past, blaming him for how the situation with Pride was handled.
“I can’t think of one thing that he has done for community,” said Kane, whose children attend Westport Heights Elementary School in Westchester.
“I think that Steve Zimmer has become a part of the downtown bureaucracy and has lost sight of what’s important to our community.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who worked with Zimmer in helping to allow a group of Westchester homeowners to be able to attend the yet-to-be built elementary school in Playa Vista, said similar criteria should be used in LAUSD redistricting as it has been in council redistricting when considering moving boundary lines.
“Common interests in communities is important, as well as its residents having an appreciation for their elected officials that represent them,” the councilman said.
Rosendahl echoed similar themes that his constituents have been arguing regarding the redrawing of the council boundary lines. Council District 11, which includes the same Westside communities of District 4, grew in population since the last decade and must be balanced with other council districts.
In the initial redistricting proposal, Westchester east of Lincoln Boulevard was moved to Council District Eight. Following a public outcry by Westchester residents and business interests, the Los Angeles Redistricting Commission returned most of the community to Council District 11.
Wolfe noted that Map B united parents and educators from Hollywood and the Westside in a common cause, which due to many factors, typically might not have happened.
“The ironic thing is that (Map B) forced constituents from different parts of this huge district to coalesce around the same issue,” she said.
A similar occurrence has taken place during the council redistricting. Westchester residents, who typically have little to do with Council District Eight residents, have banned together in support of a plan that would keep both districts intact.
Wance reiterated that there was no attempt to inject a political agenda into the redistricting process.
“At the end of the day, (the commission) was able to sit down and work out a compromise,” he said.
Wolfe feels that politics should not play a factor in District 4 possibly losing its current representative, especially given the fact that Zimmer will be facing a reelection campaign within a year.
“Steve Zimmer is an educator,” she said. “Let’s let the voters decide if he has done a good job and not the politicians.”
Zimmer did not return calls for comment.
The City Council is slated to receive the commission’s final recommendations Thursday, March 1