Voting for Rocio Rivas, Marvin Rodriguez, and anyone but Nick Melvoin would put parent voices back on the Los Angeles School Board.
“Dr. Rivas is a strong advocate for authentic parent participation and engagement in public education.” - Rocio Rivas’ campaign website
When Patricia Castellanos lost to Tanya Ortiz Franklin in the November 2020 general election, public school parents were denied the opportunity to be represented by one of their own on the LAUSD School Board. Like all of the other board members, Franklin does not have any school-age children. Having been backed by charter school industry support, her election gave those representing publicly funded private schools a majority on the board.
The effects of Franklin’s victory were immediate. After electing a new Board President and the Chair of the Committee of the Whole, the first action of this charter industry-backed majority was to keep the Parent Engagement and Special Education Committees from holding meetings. Not only did public school parents not have a voice on the board, but they were also shut out from participating in important forums for advocating for their students’ needs.
While parents have been silenced, the charter industry-backed majority has taken steps to weaken public education in Los Angeles. Over $281,000 of COVID funds was used to hire a consultant in an attempt to push through a Betsy DeVos spending plan that would have reduced funding in some schools. Millions of dollars in charter school debts were forgiven without any public discussion. Public schools were slated for closure with plans to turn over the campuses to charter schools. Vitaly important programs for children with severe special education needs are being eliminated with students being forced to travel greater distances to get the services they need or be forced into mainstreaming with their typical peers.
On June 7, 2022, voters in the even-numbered board districts have a chance to start repairing this damage. All three seats are currently held by board members who are loyal to the charter school industry and a loss of any of them will give public school loyalists a majority. Even better, two of the seats have candidates who are fighters that would make this majority more effective at advocating for public education. As an added bonus, two of the candidates also have children enrolled in LAUSD public schools.
The following are my endorsements in these races:
Board District 2: Dr. Rocio Rivas
There are four candidates on the ballot plus one more, Miho Murai, who qualified as a write-in candidate. Immediately cross off Maria Brenes as a charter school-supporting candidate who already orbits in Monica Garcia’s universe. In fact, rumors are circulating that she has already promised the current board member the Chief of Staff position in exchange for her support.
Miguel Angel Segura doesn’t seem to want you to know that he used to work for the convicted felon, former LAUSD Board Member Ref Rodriguez. If this is not enough for disqualification, then his answers to questions about over-allocation penalties for charter schools should be enough to dissuade any voter who cares about the future of public education in Los Angeles.
Erica Vilardi-Espinosa is an LAUSD parent but does not seem to have the experience necessary to be an effective board member. While her answers to questions about special education were encouraging, her views on how LAUSD campaigns are funded were concerning. Immersing herself in the issues facing the district could make her a stronger candidate in the future.
Even before the above candidates threw their hats in the ring, I had endorsed Dr. Rocio Rivas. She is, by far, the most qualified candidate in any of these three races. With a Ph.D. in education, she has the chops to understand the data and the effect of policies on our students. She currently works in the office of Board Member Jackie Goldberg which has given her direct access to a career public servant who is a master at understanding the legislative process. As a mother of a child enrolled in LAUSD public schools she also has first-hand knowledge of what parents face as they negotiate the vast bureaucracy of this district.
I strongly encourage those who supported me in my 2017 Board District 2 candidacy and anyone else who supports public education to vote for Dr. Rivas.
Board District 4: Anyone But Nick
I am deeply disappointed that a strong challenger did not emerge to run against incumbent Nick Melvoin. Melvoin does little to hide his blind obedience to the charter school industry, defending an oversight process that allowed a charter school to embezzle $3.1 million and voting to renew a charter school that was a complete failure. To make matters worse, he attempted to displace a Special Education Career Transition Center (CTC) to open up a vanity project on the Fairfax High School Campus. This does not even touch on Melvoin’s ethical issues.
Unfortunately, little is known about Melvoin’s two competitors, Gentille Barkhordarian and Tracey Schroeder. Neither answered any of the candidate questionnaires that I sent to them. Knowing the damage that Melvoin would continue to inflict on the district if he is re-elected, I would be willing to take a chance with either of them. I encourage a vote for one of them to keep Melvoin below the 50%+1 he needs to avoid a runoff.
Board District 6: Marvin Rodríguez
Kelly Gonez was a member of the Obama administration, which had a Republican-like record on education. She also worked in the charter school industry. This made her a favorite of the charter school industry when she first ran for her board seat. Can this leopard change her spots?
As the LAUSD Board President and member of the 4–3 majority, Kelly Gonez could have reinstated the Parent Engagement and Special Education Committees as soon as the new board was sworn in. Instead, she lied to her constituents and told them it was out of her control. Gonez may have fooled UTLA, but parents should beware. Re-electing Gonez would help to ensure that parents’ voices are diminished in the LAUSD.
Jesus Arana is a Police Seargent with the Los Angeles School Police (LASP) who appears to be running based on Gonez’s vote to “defund” his department. While the LAUSD rushed its implementation and did not plan for an appropriate transition to changing how students are protected, the need to have uniformed officers police our students should be questioned. Little else is known about Arana’s plans for the district as he did not respond to any of my candidate questionnaires.
Showing a willingness to engage with his potential constituents, Marvin Rodriguez responded to every candidate questionnaire that was sent to him and his comments showed that he has a thorough understanding of the issues facing the district. Rodriguez, who has been a teacher for 17 years, knows what changes the district needs to make in order to make students more successful. As a military veteran, Rodriguez has the leadership experience needed in this district. He is also a parent of two district students providing another possibility of getting that voice on the board. I strongly encourage voters in Board District 6 to vote for Marvin Rodriguez.
Los Angeles Controller: Kenneth Mejia
For every entrenched politician like Monica Garcia that term limits forces from office, great representatives like City Controller Ron Galperin are also lost. Galperin has opened up the Los Angeles government to the public so that data is available to anyone with an internet connection. His departure from office will be a great loss to Angelenos. Luckily, Kenneth Mejia has made himself available to continue the work.
While some candidates leave voters wondering if they are ready to hit the ground running, Mejia has already started the race. His campaign website is not based on promises, but on actual examples of the work that he will do. He is not kidding when he says that “Together, we will hold power accountable.” I am eager to place my vote for Kenneth Mejia on June 7, 2022.
Los Angeles City Council: Danielle Sandoval
I had an extensive conversation with Danielle Sandoval, an LAUSD parent, about her candidacy for District 15 City Council seat, an area that includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, and the Harbor Gateway. Sandoval would be a strong advocate for our children in city government. She will oppose any attempt by the city to take control of the district but will instead look for ways for the city government and the LAUSD to work together. This includes helping to end the teacher shortage by increasing city support for the profession including providing child care and mental health services.
Glendale Unified School District: Ingrid Gunnell
As a tireless activist within the LAUSD, Ingrid Gunnell has proven her mettle as a public education advocate. As a parent of students in Glendale, she has a thorough understanding of issues unique to that district. Her election to the Glendale Board of Education would be a great win for students in our neighboring city.
If you aren’t already registered to vote in California, you can do so at https://covr.sos.ca.gov/. Voter registration in Los Angeles County can be verified at https://lavote.gov/vrstatus. To find your LAUSD Board District or City Council district visit: https://lavote.gov/apps/precinctsmaps.
Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him “a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.