Election Comes at a Critical Time
by T.A. Hendrickson
Every election is important. But the special election on March 5 for Los Angeles school board is especially important to Northeast L.A.
At stake is the open seat to represent Board District 5, which includes NELA. The person who fills the seat will take on the usual, complex array of school-board issues, including allocating funds, setting standards for teachers and ensuring the health and safety of students.
But in addition to all that, the winner will become the swing vote on the L.A. school board, which is currently split, 3-3, between members with predominantly charter-school backing and those with predominantly union backing.
The role of charter schools – which are publicly funded but privately run and generally non-union – emerged as a major issue in the teacher strike in January. The teachers union contends that charter schools unfairly drain needed resources from the system. Charter school advocates say that charter schools give parents options they need to get the best education for their children.
To end the strike, Austin Beutner, the superintendent of L.A. schools and a charter-school supporter, agreed to back a resolution calling on the state to put a halt to new charter schools while studying their impact. Advocates for charter schools pushed to defeat the resolution, but the school board passed it in late January.
Against that backdrop, 10 candidates are running to fill the seat for Board District 5. If no candidate wins more than half the vote on Mar. 5, a runoff will be held between the top two candidates on May 14.
Helping voters to make up their minds
To help voters make informed decisions, a nonpartisan forum featuring the candidates will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at Eagle Rock Elementary (2057 Fair Park Ave.) from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Entitled the “Northeast Candidate Forum,” the event will be sponsored in part by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles as well as the Alliance for A Better Community, a nonprofit group that adovates for laws and policies to promote the prosperity of the Latino and L.A. community. Translation, child care and food will be provided. To register, visit: lausd5.eventbrite.com.
The Boulevard Sentinel has also created a candidate forum. In January, we reached out to the candidates, asking each one the same four questions:
Why are you running?
If elected, what would be your top priority on the School Board?
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you assign yourself and why?
Please list other aspects of your candidacy that you think readers of the Boulevard Sentinel should know.
Nine candidates responded. Only one candidate, Allison Greenwood Bajracharya, a charter school executive, did not participate.
The candidates are presented here in alphabetical order with photos they provided.
Here are the answers we received:
I am running because as a Central American immigrant and poor child who didn’t speak English, my public school was a safe haven. I benefited from free school lunch, after-school programs and a caseworker who took me and my sister to medical appointments when my mom had to work. Because of my experience, I am uniquely positioned to understand the transformative power of education. I overcame many obstacles, yet graduated with highest honors from UC Berkeley, Princeton (Master’s degree) and USC (an MBA).
My top priority: I will hold the bureaucracy accountable through transparency in budget documents and processes. I will fight to empower teachers and parents to transform reading and writing in elementary grades and to increase the number of English-language learners who achieve full English proficiency. I will ensure that high schools empower students to go to college.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you give yourself and why? I am an independent candidate that will fight for what is right for children. I am too intelligent and well educated to blindly follow one ideology versus another.
More info: I will address the inequities between schools in low- and high-income areas. I will advocate for higher per-pupil spending from the State, increase after-school programs, and resources to schools most in need. [I will] empower teachers and staff through professional development and promotional opportunities.
I am running because I believe my experience and passion for helping students will be a steadying force on a Board that continues to face turmoil. My knowledge of the budget as well as my relationship with ALL stakeholders will allow me to hit the ground running.
My top priority: I will bring stability and leadership to LAUSD and will fight to keep public schools truly public and welcoming to ALL students.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you give yourself and why? Two. I am fully committed to reforming charter schools and ensuring they are held accountable. It is essential that all LAUSD schools follow the same standards of transparency and accountability when it comes to disclosing how public money is being spent. It is time for the state legislature to review and reform Charter legislation so that charter schools do not undermine public school funding.
More info: From teaching for 16 years in Compton, through my leadership on the LAUSD School Board, L.A. City Council, and California State Assembly, I have always been a champion of quality public education and a fighter to end poverty. I have led the way on landmark policies, including the Living Wage Ordinance and the City’s Targeted Local Hiring Program, working with others to fight for all our children.
I am running because because I believe that every child deserves a quality public education. I believe that we need educators and not career politicians on our board. As an educator for over 17 years in this district I know what systems need to change to improve the educational outcomes of our students.
My top priority: Protect public education / Resources to school / Equity / Autonomy over budgets, curriculum and assessment / Advocate for state funding / Focus on instruction, mental health, and community schools.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you give yourself and why? I support a moratorium (4). We need to address the inequities that charter schools have created in our educational system. Hyper competition should not exist in our schools. I am for families and communities and for ensuring that “all schools” serve “all students.”
More info: I am a product, parent and principal of LAUSD. I have two master’s degrees in education and a doctorate degree in educational leadership, all from UCLA. I have the experience and knowledge to lead and have a proven track record of success in some of our most disenfranchised communities. When it comes to social justice, I am the real deal.
Graciela “Grace” Ortiz
I am running because the next school board member must truly understand the needs of our children, our schools and the LAUSD system. I understand these needs through my experience as a LAUSD student, LAUSD school counselor and community leader within Board District 5. Every community and every school has different needs and I am ready to work hand in hand with each community to address these needs.
My top priority: I will fight to reduce class sizes, increase funding to schools, increase resources to students with special needs and ensure safety in all schools.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you give yourself and why? [Editor’s Note: Candidate declined to answer.]
More info: Growing up, I went to LAUSD schools and was the first in my family to attend college. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from UCLA and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Cal State Long Beach. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and have dedicated 12 years of my life to the amazing students of LAUSD as a Pupil Services and Attendance Counselor. I have been a politically active United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) member in those 12 years as well.
I am running because I am a proud product of public education, the daughter of a public school teacher, and an LAUSD mom. Our public schools deserve a champion who has real skin in the game and experience working in local government to get the job done for our kids and families.
My top priority: Putting more resources in schools and empowering parents, students, and school staff to create great schools in all of our neighborhoods.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you give yourself and why? All charter schools need to be held to the same high standard as district schools and underperforming charters should be shut down. I am not accepting any contributions from charter schools and will take an independent, unbiased assessment of all charters when I am on the board.
More info: I have been in the classroom and have worked in local government for over 18 years. I’m proud to be endorsed by Mayor Garcetti, LAUSD’s education workers including teaching assistants, bus drivers, and custodians, firefighters and over a hundred community leaders. If elected, I would be the only parent of an LAUSD student on the board and would bring new ideas and experience in getting things done to our School Board.
I am running because I feel a moral obligation and personal responsibility to defend our public schools from further privatization. I am running for ethical democratic public institutions, civil rights, and the regulation of the charter school network industry. I am bilingual with a plethora of knowledge, experience, skills and community activism to represent District 5.
My top priority: A moratorium on charter schools to analyze and ameliorate the impact of privatization on our public schools and neighborhoods; increase per-pupil-funding, evaluate low-performing schools to identify areas of improvement to provide required resources.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you give yourself and why? 4/5. The impetus to privatize public education finds expression in “educational/school choice,” which has come with a grave price to the health of our neighborhood public schools and institutionally debilitated LAUSD. The charter school network industry requires strong policy for strong oversight, regulation, fraud/self-dealing detection, elimination of student exclusionary practices, transparent policy on school closures, to name a few.
More info: I have a PhD. from Teachers College, Columbia University in Comparative and International Education; experience as an educational researcher and program evaluator internationally and in the states; worked for LAUSD as a researcher and community representative. I am a mother to a wonderful boy who attends Rockdale VAPA Magnet in Eagle Rock.
Salvador “Chamba” Sanchez
I am running because because I believe in the promise of public education. Because this community fulfilled that promise to me. We have a crisis in public education. Our students are not learning. Failing schools are pipelines to prisons. I believe education is the civil rights issue of our time and want to use my story to inspire immigrant and poor children in this district. I will protect public education from privatization and make decisions solely in the best interest of children.
My top priority: Per-pupil funding is inadequate. I will use the powers of the office to bring in more revenue; use the ballot box for a parcel tax and make the case in Sacramento for more investment.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you give yourself and why? Charter schools could play a role in public education. I will not support replacing all traditional schools with charters. That will not be good for our students and community.
More info: I have dedicated my life to my community, as a union organizer and a professor at community colleges. Involvement by parents must [be expanded] to give them real authority in district-level decisions. I will advocate to let non-citizen parents vote in school board elections. I will call for [district-wide] summits, with all stakeholders, to identify and engage the causes of chronic absenteeism.
I am running because of a passion for youth development and helping students achieve success through the opportunities afforded them through public education. As a product of LAUSD public schools, I am ready to lead a district that is 90% Latino and resembles the working-class families that parallel my own journey in education.
My top priority will be to protect public education as a staple of our democracy, ensuring that all students have access to quality education. In order to achieve this, I will advocate for increased funding at the State legislature through ballot measures aimed at improving our investment in California per-pupil spending.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you give yourself and why? My rating would be “2” because we need to remain in full support of public education and the labor unions that help protect our workforce. To this effect, I would be in favor of voting on a moratorium to end Charter School expansion.
More info: I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and a Master’s in Fine Arts. For three years, I served as an L.A. County Arts Commissioner and it is my background as an artist that would allow me to bring a bold perspective to the challenges facing the district. My platform is: I support our teachers /Cap classroom sizes/Increase California per pupil spending / Restore arts programs.
Nestor Enrique Valencia
I am running to represent children and parents, and to hold LAUSD and everyone accountable to the community and taxpayers. I don’t represent any special interests. I only have the best interest of the children and the communities in mind.
My top priority: My priorities are financial sustainability like I did in the city of Bell, expand access to early childhood education, invest in our classrooms, protect funding for arts and music in school, and listen to our professional teachers and educators.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “L.A. would be better off with no charter schools” and 10 being “L.A. would be better off with only charter schools,” what number would you give yourself and why? 5 [Editor’s note: The candidate did not elaborate.]
More info: I will be the best role model for our youth and an exemplary public servant. As we did in Bell, I will protect the integrity of good government and transparency. As Mayor, I implemented progressive and family focused policies. I will take my experiences in my professional career, in the classroom, in public service and as a parent elected-representative to the school board and implement best practices for public education.