Latino Voters Play Key Role in LAUSD School Board Race

On Tuesday, May 16, the city of Los Angeles will hold a runoff election to determine who is to occupy two significant seats on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Latinos will play an important role in determining the future of the board and its policies. These two races are critical because the candidates elected will bear heavily on the development and implementation of education policy agendas that will impact the classroom on all levels for decades to come.

There are two seats—representing Districts 4 and 6—on the ballot that voters should know about. District 4 is currently represented by school board president Steve Zimmer. His challenger, Nick Melvoin, is a former school teacher and college professor. The successful candidate in that contest will speak for a district that includes the neighborhoods of Brentwood, Del Rey, East Hollywood, Encino, Hollywood, Mar Vista, Marina Del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Playa Del Rey, Playa Vista, Tarzana, Topanga, Westchester, West Hollywood, Westwood, Woodland Hills and Venice.

District 6 is an open seat and one over which two Latinas are facing off. Imelda Padilla is a community organizer, and her opponent, Kelly Gonez, currently works as a math and science teacher. Gonez previously held a post at the U.S. Department of Education. District 6 includes the communities of Arleta, Lake Balboa, Lakeview Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hollywood, North Hills, Pacoima, Panorama City, Reseda, San Fernando, Sun Valley, Sunland/Tujunga, Sylmar and Van Nuys.

LAUSD has become the second largest school board district in the country with an enrollment of approximately 665,000 k-12 students. Almost a full three-quarters, or 74% of the children enrolled in LAUSD schools, are Latino. This demographic reality, should not be overlooked or diminished.

Of those k-12 students, close to 558,000 attend public schools while another 107,000 attend independent charter schools. Roughly 141,000 students are enrolled in English as a Second Language courses and close to 76% of all students qualify for free or reduced meals. Additionally, there are nearly 69,000 students enrolled in Adult Education Schools, bringing the combined total of k-12 and adult students to an estimated 734,000.

What does all this mean? While a school board race may not appear—on the surface—as exciting as a presidential election, the budgetary considerations tell a drastically different story. In just the 2016-2017 school year alone, the LAUSD school board will oversee an annual budget of around $7.6 billion, total tally for wages, benefits, supplies, operations and other expenses.

How this money is allocated, what policy directives are implemented, as well as the overall direction of the board, are determined by the seven people who comprise this governing body. It is not an exaggeration to say that the destiny of our children is dependent on their ideas, their management concerns and their educational priorities.

Based on the numbers, we know the majority of k-12 LAUSD students come from low-income Latino households. We believe the direction of the school board must reflect the needs of those who attend school in the district. Some of those needs include a broader range of available educational opportunities, programs and models like: access to technology; coding; STEM; college-prep courses; improved teacher-student ratios; test score enhancement and cultural and language competency.

Recently, the board voted unanimously to make LAUSD schools “safe zones” against Immigration Customs Enforcement, passing a resolution that would not allow ICE to enter school grounds or ask for student data. According to data from the Pew Research Center, Los Angeles County and Orange County is home to close to one million undocumented people, of which an estimated 375,000 live in the City of Los Angeles.

The record low-voter turnout in the City of Los Angeles notwithstanding, the Latino community has an important task ahead in electing two members of the board who they believe will best represent their values and who they perceive to be their strongest advocate. The ideal candidate for school board should understand that it isn’t just about meeting the needs of the largely Latino student population, parents and teachers but also about anticipating them.

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