LOS ANGELES—First elected to the Los Angeles Unified School Board in 2009, Steve Zimmer has been a tireless advocate for the students in his district and throughout Los Angeles. As a School Board Member and now School Board President, Zimmer supervises among others the Armenian populated cities of Encino, Tarzana, Woodland Hills, East Hollywood, and Hollywood which he has served in a distinguished and proud manner.
Since taking office, Steve has demonstrated his ability to implement new policies that advance the interests of his Armenian students and to also uncover corrupt charter schools that are funded by tax payer dollars.
One such example has been the Fethulla Gulen associated charter school called the Magnolia Science Academy. While the Magnolia Science Academy operates 10 Turkish charter schools in Los Angeles alone, it is claimed that Turkish charter schools operate as many as 100 schools across the United States. Worse yet, critics have further claimed that these Magnolia Science Academies funnel U.S. Tax payer funds to the Gulen movement prompting State and Federal investigations into these schools.
In 2013, the Office of the Inspector General conducted an audit of two Magnolia Science Academy schools that uncovered improper practices in finance, management, and contracting where Turkish contractors were granted six figure contracts to build schools for the charter. Whether a fair and open bidding process ever took place for such contracts using public funds is still to be determined. What is known however, is that on one occasion alone, a Turkish contractor was given the contract to build a school and was paid over $600,000 to do so. Further, the audit uncovered suspect hiring practices where the charter would import teachers from Turkey and bring these Turkish nationals to the United States to teach – American students -English.
In 2015, Zimmer and his colleagues denied the charter renewal of Magnolia Science Academy based on financial and management concerns mentioned above. Though this decision was later over turned in a court ruling because there was no immediate plan to relocate pupils within the school system, it set the basis for future denials of the charter school.
Importantly, on October 18, 2016, in a contentious School Board Meeting attended by over 100 students, teachers and parent supporters of the Magnolia Science Academy, the School Board, led by Zimmer voted once again to deny renewal of 3 Magnolia Science Academy Schools, some of which are located in the San Fernando Valley. These schools are now scheduled to be closed in June 2017 once the school year concludes and pupils can be placed in other schools.
Recently, a well-funded charter school lobby called the California Charter School Association supported a failed attempt to strip Board Members with the power to request that the inspector general to initiate surprise audits of charters, like the one that first uncovered the improprieties of the Magnolia Science Academy. Zimmer opposed this bill and ultimately the legislation did not become law. Clearly, the charter schools are trying to curtail charter school accountability to the public.
Having spent seventeen years as an educator and counselor to Armenian students, Zimmer has developed a high level of understanding of the issues and concerns that are important to his Armenian students and their communities.
Acutely aware of the denial campaign Turkey and the Gulenists spread regarding the Armenian Genocide, Zimmer initiated programs in LAUSD schools for social science teachers to be trained on the Armenian Genocide. An important milestone in getting Armenian Genocide curriculum advanced and taught in public schools.
During the unprecedented March for Justice on the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, Zimmer secured the participation of LAUSD schools in his district, encouraging student leaders to join over 166,000 Americans to march in solidarity for recognition of the Armenian Genocide through the streets of Los Angeles.
In 2015, Zimmer who personally attends and participates in Armenian Genocide commemorations year after year, also secured excused days off for LAUSD teachers and students who wish to commemorate the Armenian Genocide on April 24th rather than be compelled to attend school on this National Day of Remembrance.
Zimmer’s educational interests have clearly been demonstrated to be aligned with the Armenian Community’s. He has provided highly sought after accommodations for the ACF Community Center in Encino, the development of which is in its organizing stages. He was instrumental in reducing concerns of LAUSD parents at the school adjacent to the community center.
A bridge builder, Zimmer organized meetings between the concerned LAUSD parents and the ACF to find common ground on the new project. With Zimmer’s leadership, the ACF was able to address the parents concerns and secure a reciprocal lease for the use of LAUSD’s larger parking lot in exchange for parking privileges for some teachers of the school at the ACF Community Centers parking lot in order alleviate the parking concerns.
Throughout the several years he has been elected to the LAUSD School Board, Zimmer has been a powerful and consistent advocate for his Armenian students and the Armenian communities in particular that they come from. The Armenian Community is fortunate to have a passionate and sincere elected official as Steve Zimmer working to advance common goals that benefit the Armenian American community and all others that form part of his district.