My Impressions of the Candidates for LAUSD Board District 5, After Attending 6 Candidate Forums

In November, I wrote a blog about the upcoming Board District 5 election called “Even Though I’m Not a Board District 5 Parent, Why I Showed Up to District 5’s Special School Board Election Candidate Forum.” I wrote about the first forum that I went to and the board meeting where a resolution to appoint a former board member failed to pass. That former board member is now a candidate in the election along with eight other candidates, many of whom, have a lot of hands on experience in the community. Since that first forum last November, I have attended five more Board District 5 candidate forums, making that a total of six. And during the last three months, I have discovered that there are three different types of forums taking place in Board District 5.

The first one is a pro-teacher/anti-charter forum, the second is a pro school choice/charter forum, and the last one is neutral, where the candidates actually get to focus on the real issues. The forums I attended that were neutral were typically led by students and were very productive. The most unproductive forums are ones where the questions focus solely on which candidates support charters and which ones don’t. And I have been amazed by all of the contradicting responses I have heard on this topic from certain candidates throughout these forums. There is also a distinct difference in forums that took place before the strike and after the strike. I will talk about which candidates have changed their platforms and where they stand on charter schools.

The six forums I have attended are:

  • Magnolia Science Academy in the City of Bell, hosted by CCSA (California Charter School Association), questions asked by parent-led panel in November 2018.
  • Catholic Charities House in Boyle Heights, hosted by Speak Up Parents, questions asked by parent-led panel in December 2018.
  • SIJCC in Silverlake, hosted by the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, moderated by The League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, and sponsored by Friends of Franklin in January 2019.
  • One City All Kids Parent Summit at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Hosted by Great Public Schools Now, questions asked by parent-led panel in February 2019.
  • South Gate High School produced by Alliance for a Better Community and United Way of Greater Los Angeles and supported by Latino Equality Alliance & Mi Centro. Questions asked by student-led panel and SELA LGBTQ Youth Council in February 2019.
  • The Autry Museum in Los Feliz, hosted by the Los Feliz Improvement Association in February 2019.

As a charter school parent, one of the most frustrating things to hear is how charter schools are all grouped together as the same. If someone’s child has one bad experience at one charter school, that is simply one experience. That does not mean that there aren’t great experiences happening at other charter schools all over the city and state or that there are no charter schools that accept specials needs students with IEPs. That is not true. The generalizing really needs to stop. At the same time, I am sure there are some not so good charter schools out there that are not serving their students as well as they should or who are mismanaging funds. And if so, these charter schools should be held accountable. But that does not mean that suddenly ALL charter schools are operated the same way.

Rocio Rivas is one of the candidates that I have heard consistently generalize charter schools throughout the campaign. However, at the first forum at Magnolia Science Academy in the City of Bell, her comments were much more diplomatic and fair. She talked about the positive things she saw taking place in charter schools, and she also pointed out the negative things taking place. At this forum, she said, “My experience is that I saw great charter schools who were doing wonderful work, and I was very motivated and inspired. But at the same time, I went to charter schools that sent me home crying.” She also ended her comments by saying, “And that’s what I will do, improve our charter schools that are not performing well.” I couldn’t agree more that low-performing charter schools need to improve, but at the same time, she acknowledges that there are inspiring charters doing great work. Unfortunately, if you were to hear her now, you would only hear negative comments that put all charter schools in one group. Comments like, “There’s a lot of improprieties with the charter school network system that it’s fraud,” which she claimed at the Silverlake forum that took place the last day of the teacher’s strike. As an “Education Researcher,” I think her experience could be very useful and offer many innovative ideas if she were willing to collaborate and bring schools together. Sadly, all I have seen her do is point fingers and create more division. We need a board member who will bring us together, we have enough people pulling us apart. I would also like to mention that Rocio Rivas reported zero funds raised and no endorsements, as recently reported by Esmeralda Fabian of La School Report.

Another candidate that has disappointed me is Ana Cubas. In my first piece, she was one of the candidates that I was impressed with and wrote about. I said that she seemed very passionate and strong willed, but when push came to shove, she caved. At the CCSA forum in the City of Bell, she was very supportive of charters. She said that she supported co-located charters being granted long-term facility contracts. She also said in Spanish that she did not like that people said that charter schools are taking money and resources away and she said that charter schools were public schools too. This is why I was surprised to hear her start to change her stance towards charter schools right after the strike. At a parent-led forum two weeks ago, at Eagle Rock Elementary School, Cubas referred to the charter schools that are underperforming and said they, “should be shut down, because they were given flexibility and autonomy for a lot of accountability, and if they’re not cutting it, then we shouldn’t help them.” To say “we shouldn’t help them” is extremely concerning! So if there are students in charter schools in her district that are struggling, she is not going to help them? She’s just going to close their schools? I also find it interesting that she added a 6th point on her 5 point platform, that I mentioned in my first piece.  At the Silverlake forum, she mentioned that she added another point called, “Accountability and Transparency.” Does that mean accountability and transparency for charter schools only or does that apply to district schools too? Throughout this election, I heard several parents call for accountability, similar to a five-year renewal that charter schools have to adhere to, for low-performing district schools.

David Valdez is an Arts major and community advocate who is running for school board. Although I do love and support the arts, I do not think David has what is needed to be on the school board. He is not an educator or a parent, but he has two sisters who are teachers. He has said this many times, along with the fact that he supports a moratorium on new charter schools. He has also said that he does not support co-located schools and as the Board Member of BD5, he would change that. How I don’t know. I do think it would be best if every school had its own campus, but I don’t think it’s realistic to say that you will make sure every school has their own campus when Sotomayor in North BD5 has four schools on one campus. I think it would be best for a board member to assess their schools first, become familiar with their district, and then make suggestions because I don’t think it’s wise to make say things that you can’t guarantee.

Dr. Cynthia Gonzalez has definitely become a more powerful candidate post-strike, especially since receiving a very flattering endorsement from the LA Times. She has been very clear about the fact that she stood in solidarity with the teachers during the strike. As a principal, that is pretty surprising, especially since principals are supposed to be neutral during a strike. Principals are not UTLA members, they are members of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) union. During the strike, the AALA wrote an open letter to the district asking them to not take away local control from principals, which was being discussed in the contract negotiations. It also seems like Dr. Gonzalez’s platform has also become stronger, as her platform has become more charter intolerant. At the Silverlake forum, each of the candidates was asked very pointed questions about where they stand on charter schools. Out of all of the forums I’ve been to, this was the most decisive, which is why I refer to it often in this piece. Dr. Gonzalez has said several times that she supports a charter moratorium. I would also like to mention that she is a Principal at a pilot school, which is considered by most, a school model that falls into the category of school choice.

Heather Repenning has also emerged a powerful candidate with her union endorsement from SEIU Local 99. The union for cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and other school support staff has spent over $400,000 on her campaign. Heather has been pretty clear about where she stands on charter schools. At the Silverlake forum all of the candidates were asked, “If you win the primary, will you take money from pro-charter groups or individuals?” Her response to this question was, “I have been very clear on I’m not going to take charter money. I would be probably most of the time with the group of school board members that was elected by the UTLA. I don’t have the UTLA endorsement. I did ask for it.” However, at this same forum, Ana Cubas made accusations towards some of her running mates by saying, “Some of these candidates are lying to you they’re telling you they’re not going to take charter money, but they’re meeting with charter leaders. Pay attention to that.” Many have people have said that they believe Heather is one of the candidates she was referring to. Because Heather is endorsed by Mayor Garcetti, I have also heard a lot of people say that Heather is just the mayor’s way of having a spot on the board. She does have some good ideas on how to improve our facilities, but for a parent, she lacks passion. I’m not saying she doesn’t care, I’m just saying I can’t feel it. If you’re a parent running for school board, I would hope that your voice would be a powerful voice, a voice that could open up the door to all parents and bring all us together.  

At the Silverlake forum, there were only three candidates who truly stood up for students and that was Allison Bajracharya, Graciela Ortiz, and Nestor Valencia, who pointed out the division taking place when he answered the question.” One of the audience questions that I can’t believe the moderators allowed to be asked was, “The current school board is divided into two groups, one that aligns with UTLA and the other that is pro-charter. Where do you fall in the split?” There were three of the candidates who clearly said that they side with the board members that were supported by UTLA. These candidates were David Valdez, Salvador “Chamba” Sanchez, and Heather Repenning. Dr. Gonzalez responded by saying, “I’m for a moratorium on charter schools, I support a moratorium on charter schools. If this goes on Facebook Live, make sure you push that out there.”

Graciela Ortiz was very firm in response by saying that she was pro-student and “I make my decisions based on what’s best for children & what’s best for our community.” After someone from the crowd shouted out, “Where do you stand?” she said, “ It depends on what we’re voting on. Anything I vote for will be what’s best for children.” I have seen her stay consistent with these statements from the beginning. No matter what pressure or hostility comes from the crowd, she has stayed strong in her stance for all students.

Allison Bajracharya has also stood up for students at every forum I have attended. She has been under attack for being a charter school leader, even though the schools she ran are successfully serving Latino students in their communities. At Camino Nuevo Academy, where Allison has been the Chief Operations and Strategy Officer, 96% of the students are low-income Latinos, and 100% of them graduate eligible to apply to college! One thing I have heard Allison say numerous times on the campaign trail is that all high schools should be meeting A-G requirements. She does not believe that a D should be a passing grade because it doesn’t set students up to have the opportunity to apply to state universities. In order to apply to a public university, students need a C or higher. This belief is probably why SFER Action Network endorsed Allison as their candidate of choice. SFER believes that all students should be set-up for success and given every opportunity possible to be college ready. This is the type of leadership I believe Allison would bring to the school board if elected on March 5th.

And finally, we get to Jackie Goldberg. I didn’t want to spend too much talking about Jackie because I think we all know where she stands on charter schools. She is the one leading the conversation, hand in hand with the union, that charter schools are to blame for all of the district’s failures and problems. However, I have become very curious about what she actually did when she was on the school board back in the ‘80s. I have read comments online about how angry parents were protesting outside of her office. But I wasn’t sure what they were protesting about. So I started to do research and I found a lot. I found an LA Times Archive article from December 30, 1986, that said, “More than 2,000 persons marched through Pacoima on Monday night in a protest organized by members of a Roman Catholic parish against the establishment of a health clinic authorized to distribute contraceptives at San Fernando High School.” As I read this I thought, wow this happened in my community, this happened in the district I live in now. Parents and the community were upset that then School Board Members Jackie Goldberg (BD5) and Roberta Weintraub (BD6), who authored the proposal and wouldn’t budge when the community collected signed petitions that rejected the clinics. At the time, teen pregnancy was at a high, but in this very Catholic community of mine, the people didn’t think this was the right solution. Jackie Goldberg’s response to their concerns was, “I’m sorry some people are upset,” but added that she expected that “people in San Fernando would kick up a fuss.”

“We just have to weather the storm,” Goldberg said. “The vast majority of people who understand the purpose of the clinics are supportive of them. The protesters are a minority who don’t understand the clinics.” It’s very easy to see that she really doesn’t care to understand our Latino communities and completely disregards our concerns.

Lately, I have not been the only one doing research on Jackie Goldberg. Heather Reppening’s endorsers, SEIU has put out several different flyers that attack Jackie and her political career. One of the flyers entitled “High School Dropouts Everywhere” lists numerous stats and data about graduation rates during her tenure on the school board, which was from 1983-1991. Stats like, in 1990 only 44% of African Americans graduated, in 1986 only 42% of the senior class graduated from high school, and during her tenure on the board the highest graduation rate was only 60%. In 1989, 74% of Latinos dropped out of middle school, in response, Jackie Goldberg said the reason was “cultural”. She also has a record of cutting education budgets as a school board member and as an Assemblywoman. When she was the leader of the school board, she cut $425,000 from education and as an Assemblywoman, she cut $9.8 billion. These state cuts resulted in $1 billion in cuts to LAUSD, the district she claims to care about so much. I’m sorry, but the way you vote when you are in office does not lie, it tells the people you represent, where you really stand.

Another thing my research has revealed is that she is also partly responsible for promoting and profiting off of the school to prison pipeline. The low graduation rates that persisted under her leadership led to student dropouts, which led to gang violence, crime, and incarceration for so many of our youth. As Jackie made cuts to education as an Assemblywoman, at the same time she was increasing prison spending by 67%. One of the SEIU’s flyers claims that Jackie voted Yes on a $500,000 contract for California State Prison Guards and received a $5,000 donation from the California State Prison Guard Union, just weeks before. She also has a history of voting for salary increases for herself, twice while on the school board, once on the City Council, and once in State Assembly. I think it’s safe to say that we cannot afford to have Jackie Goldberg back on the LAUSD school board. And to steal the tagline from Graciela Ortiz’ campaign for a moment, “It’s time to move forward, not backward,” is extremely appropriate. When Graciela Ortiz was a teenager in high school in Huntington Park, where only 50% of her high school class graduated, Jackie Goldberg was her school board member. Why would we take two steps back and put Jackie Goldberg back on the school board? Why would we want to hurt our students who already hurting? Because of who she is endorsed by? That’s not enough. We need to raise the bar, not lower it.

Last updated 3/5/19

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Roxann Nazario

Roxann Nazario

Roxann Nazario is a charter parent living in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Born and mostly raised in the Valley, Roxann experienced her own struggles as a student in LAUSD. In order to ensure that her daughter would receive the education she deserved, Roxann made sure she was an active parent volunteer at her daughter's charter school. From field trips, to book fairs, to her daughter's charter school renewal, Roxann has made a point not only to advocate for her daughter's education, but she advocates for all children attending LAUSD schools. She campaigned for Kelly Gonez during her campaign for school board member of board district 6. She fought against SB 808, a proposed bill that would deny charter schools the right to appeal if their charter was denied by their local school board. Even though Roxann's daughter attends an amazing and well-known charter school, the school did not have an active parent group. So Roxann teamed up with one of her fellow charter moms from the same school, and with the school's blessing, they started a parent group called, "Parent Voice." Most recently, she was involved in a "Teach-In"/Rally in front of the California Democratic Party Convention that took place in San Diego in February of this year to advocate against the California Democratic Party passing a moratorium resolution on charter schools. Roxann and five fellow charter school mothers, all from board district 6, are being awarded with the Hart Vision Award for Parent Volunteer of the Year at the 25th Annual California Charter Schools Conference taking place on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

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