When the L.A. Times editorial board weighed in on the March 7 L.A Unified school board primary election, it endorsed Brentwood’s Nick Melvoin as “the strongest candidate” running against two-term incumbent Steve Zimmer in District 4. We agree that Zimmer, the current board president, should be replaced, but the Times completely overlooked the best qualified candidate: Pacific Palisades resident Allison Holdorff Polhill, a lawyer, a mother of three children who attended L.A. public schools, and a veteran leader in the Palisades charter-school complex.
Zimmer was a school teacher and a counselor for 17 years, before his 2009 election to the school board. He is single and has no children. He has raised $93,206 for his campaign, but his opponents, largely funded by former Mayor Dick Riordan, have spent nearly $1.3 million in mailers and ads to stop his reelection.
Should he be reelected? The Times wrote on Feb 8, “If all were well with the district financially, Zimmer might be the stronger candidate. But he has been unwilling to confront serious financial problems head-on, and the board needs members who will.”
LAUSD faces a predicted $1.46 billion deficit by the end of 2019 and has $13.6 billion in unfunded lifetime health benefits, while facing a projected decrease in state and federal funding per average daily attendance.
Melvoin, who had raised $296,948 as of January 21, grew up in Brentwood and graduated from Harvard- Westlake before attending Harvard University. After graduating, he joined Teach for America, where he worked in a Los Angeles inner-city school two years before being caught in seniority-based layoffs. He joined a lawsuit which argued that seniority-based layoffs violated the rights of students. And in 2011, an L.A. County Superior Court judge validated a settlement, ending the practice in 45 low-performing schools. Instead of returning to the classroom, Melvoin earned a law degree at New York University. He has been a teacher organizer for Teach Plus since 2015. He’s also single and does not have children.
Although endorsing Melvoin, the Times noted that “Melvoin has his own weaknesses, especially a tendency to see matters in simplistic terms. He needs to remember that running a big school district is complicated.” The Times overlooked the fact that Melvoin has never dealt with a school board budget.
Why did the Times overlook Holdorff Polhill, who has received $78,766 in funding since her late entry into the race last October? She’s an intelligent, personable and experienced woman who would bring a fresh perspective to the board. Unassuming, she is a product of public schools (her father never went to college) and has degrees from UCLA and Loyola Law School. After marrying and having three children, this stay-at-home mom never stayed home. Instead, she got involved in our local schools and fought tirelessly for ALL students.
When her oldest child, Alex, started at Palisades Elementary, not only did Polhill work as a booster club co-chair, she also used her legal knowledge to help the principal navigate dictates from LAUSD regarding charter schools. When the school’s charter needed to be renewed, she helped write it—and did the same for charter renewals at Paul Revere and Palisades High School. When LAUSD sought to cut block grants at Pali Elementary and Revere, Polhill fought to find ways to keep those monies at each school.
At Palisades High she was elected and served six years on the school board, including a stint as president. The school has 3,000 students, representing 100 zip codes from all over the city, and one third of the students are at the poverty level.
At a forum for the candidates at Paul Revere, Polhill said one of the most immediate concerns had to be: address the LAUSD budget issues, now and into the future! She further explained on 89.3 KPCC, “If we don’t address the deficit, the results will be catastrophic and will lead to teacher lay-offs, increased class sizes, and cuts in instructional time.” She noted that every year during her time on the PaliHi board, “we balanced the budget,” which reached $30 million. “It is imperative we do this at LAUSD.”
Even when “disgruntled” teachers at PaliHi fought her (and during labor negotiations emotions run high) and her kids were slighted, Polhill stayed on course. She knew if she did what was best for everyone, it would eventually be good for her kids, too.
“I want to take action,” Polhill told a group of local parents who know her track record and her personality, and are supporting her campaign. “We came together at Pali—the parents, teachers, and administrators—on behalf of the kids.” Now she hopes to have a chance to help foster a “student-focused” LAUSD board where “all the members get together in a collaborative effort to fix a district that needs to be fixed.”
The News endorses Holdorff Polhill because of her experience in the schools, her perseverance and her ability to get things done