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LAUSD officials file potential conflict of interest forms

Form 700
Form 700
Tami Abdollah / KPCC

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California public officials had to file potential economic conflict of interest forms this week. More than 4,000 L.A. Unified employees filed the state form required by the Fair Political Practices Commission. Form 700 is a public document. 

"The purpose was to let the public know, and also to let the official know what conflicts of interest there might be," Bob Stern said. Almost 40 years ago, the longtime California ethics watchdog Stern helped draft the law that created the form, "and to make sure that the public official did not engage in those conflict of interests, and if the public official did, the public would know because they had disclosed those assets on their statement of economic interest, which would be on file with the agency and also with the state."

The form doesn’t list a person’s entire income and assets — just what might cause potential conflicts of interest. In the case of a public school official, that might be money from textbook companies, but Stern said that’s not the only lapse.

"The most common violation would be non-filing, where the official just doesn’t file," Stern said. "The next most common violation would be not listing everything that was supposed to be listed. But most officials, 99 percent of the officials comply with the law, list their relevant assets, fill out the forms properly and file them on time."

To see the forms, you need to make an appointment at L.A. Unified headquarters, show identification at the lobby and follow an escort to the district’s ethics office. It’s on the 20th floor, past rows of cubicles budget cuts have emptied of people, and around the corridor from the general counsel’s office.

All seven L.A. Unified board members and Superintendent John Deasy filed their statement of economic interests forms on time. 

Deasy and board members Richard Vladovic and Marguerite LaMotte listed nothing that signals financial conflict with their duties helping to manage the nation’s second-largest school district.

Board member Tamar Galatzan’s form was six pages long. She and board member Bennett Kayser were the only ones to list investments.

Galatzan holds stock in Sara Lee, The Gap, Northrop Grumman, Microsoft, Safeway, Wells Fargo and Conoco Phillips. Kayser owns stock in Toyota, Apple computers, CVS Pharmacy and four health care product companies.

Being an L.A. Unified board member is a lot of work, and it doesn’t pay a lot of money. Board members can earn $26,000 a year or $46,000. If they choose the larger payment, they can’t accept money from non-government agencies.

Board member Steve Zimmer zooms about town working three jobs outside L.A. Unified. He teaches urban and environmental policy at Occidental College and Cal State Los Angeles, and he’s a director of the L.A. group Elysian Valley United. He disclosed earning between $1,001 and  $10,000 for each of his jobs. 

Board member Nury Martinez is executive director of the environmental nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful. She reported a salary between $10,001 and $100,000.

Among the seven board members and the superintendent, three listed income from gifts or travel. Board member Zimmer listed three $20 lunches with a law firm that does business with the teachers union. In December, board member Monica Garcia took a $4,200 trip to Israel paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation.

Bennett Kayser listed two conferences: one organized by United Teachers Los Angeles and the Buffett Early Education Fund, as in billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Ethics watchdog Stern said these may seem like tiny details.

"It’s more of a device to let the public official know of the potential conflicts and also let the public know that there are no potential conflicts in most cases," Stern said.

The superintendent and board members' statements of economic interest go next to L.A. County for double-checking. The rest stay with LAUSD. School district officials say they have no staff to make the forms available online.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that all LAUSD statements of economic interest head to L.A. County. Only those of the superintendent and board members go to the county for review.