To the Editor:
It has been interesting to watch this year’s three Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school board races unfold. The local media has consistently reported the growing campaign expenditures and the play-by-play power struggle between the mighty teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, and a group of influential, wealthy individuals lead by Mayor Villaraigosa’s Coalition for School Reform.
It has been framed as the status-quo entrenched union versus the wealthy, meddling education outsiders. But I am a member of yet another very important and potentially powerful group that the media has failed to cover. I am an LAUSD parent.
With 600,000+ students, you can estimate that LAUSD has somewhere in the
area of 1 million parents and guardians. In 2009, when three of the seven LAUSD board seats were up for election, the Office of the City Clerk reports that only about 300,000 ballots were cast citywide in the primary election (when many school board seats are decided). In 2011 with four pending school board seats, voter turnout was closer to 250,000 in the primary. While I consistently find that parents want change in our school system, the challenges in getting reform-minded candidates elected suggest that parents have not brought this frustration to the polls. I understand the difficulties in turning out the parent vote, but given the overall size of this stakeholder group, even a small increase in ballots cast by LAUSD parents would ensure that changes are made and sustained in our LA public school system.
This parent has a relatively short list of wants for our public schools: solid leaders and teachers, sufficient funding, strong accountability, a variety of educational options, local decision-making, and curriculum designed for next-generation jobs and problem-solving. Most importantly, I want results. I want children to be educated and to leave schools prepared to contribute to our society.
My list is supported and promoted by our current Superintendent, Dr. John Deasy. I like this man and I like what he wants to do and can potentially do for my children and all of LA’s children. That is, if he has a school board that backs him.
Not surprising, I also like candidates who support Superintendent Deasy. Given this, I fall on the side of reform-minded candidates, including Kate Anderson in my own District 4. I wouldn’t want Mayor Villaraigosa, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg and other Coalition for School Reform supporters to be the primary decision makers in our public schools, but I do appreciate their willingness to put their reputations and personal incomes on the line on behalf of our children.
Her opponents portray Kate Anderson as pandering to big money supporters, but the reality is that if Anderson wins this election, it will be in large part because of her tireless work with parents in meeting halls and living rooms throughout District 4. Such critics fail to acknowledge that in order to launch a successful big city political campaign today, one must have money and lots of it. It isn’t evil, but instead the sad current state of American politics. UTLA, and likely its state and national partners, will also spend a tremendous amount of money backing their candidates.
It’s tough for public school parents to balance our respect and appreciation for our own teachers with our frustrations over the efforts of teachers unions to maintain a status quo that I believe most of the general public agrees is not working. I have seen evidence that many in UTLA would like to see Deasy gone and I find this unnerving. If we really want to improve things in LA, we need a strong leader (which we have in Deasy) and we need to give him enough time to do the difficult work. A shift away from reform on the school board leaves Deasy’s future, and the future of sustained change for LA’s schools, highly uncertain.
For decades, a large portion of LA’s parents were either disengaged from our public schools or focused only on their own schools. But an incredible thing has happened over the last few years, in large part because of the economic crisis. Parents are paying attention. Parent and parent-supported education reform groups are forming around the state. Parents like me who are fortunate to have strong local schools are recognizing that this is not enough. We also understand that most of the decisions that impact our local school operations are made at the district and state levels.
My neighborhood has hosted more than a half dozen meetings with Kate Anderson, lawns are peppered with her signs, and emails on her behalf are being sent and forwarded. We are engaged and we are not alone. Our group is connected with others around the district and state that are supported by parents who know that we need to do things differently. Even private school parents are coming to realize that strong public schools are imperative for the success of our city and a strong democracy. We all have a stake in the future of LA’s public schools and we also all have a vote.
In addition to being an LAUSD parent herself and having excellent qualifications
for a seat on the board, Kate Anderson supports the changes needed at LAUSD and the leader who embodies them. This does not mean that she will blindly support Superintendent Deasy, but it does mean that the two are on the same page – something that is critical for LAUSD (and any organization) to move forward.
I acknowledge that our District 4 incumbent, Steve Zimmer, cares deeply about
public education, but I disagree with his priorities. Over the last four years, he
has steadily lost the support of the reform community. He put forward a board
resolution that, if not for the public outcry, would have halted the approval of
new charter schools in LAUSD. This, while 10,000 students are on district charter school wait lists. He also worked to dilute and delay the recently approved teacher evaluation process that was championed by Deasy.
Perhaps my biggest concern with Zimmer is his philosophy regarding his board
service. In 2011, when Deasy’s original contract was approved by the board,
Zimmer abstained from the vote because he objected to the selection process.
Instead, Zimmer should have made his point and voted yes or no. A school board member’s job is to make decisions in the best interests of the public, the school district, and its students and he does this by voting. Further, there is perhaps no more important decision than the selection of your district’s superintendent - sitting this one out was just unacceptable. Zimmer also abstained from a controversial vote on the early-start school calendar change. Zimmer views not voting as being an independent voice on the board. I view it as failing to perform his duty.
Change is beginning to take hold within LAUSD, in large part due to the efforts of Superintendent Deasy and the board members who share his vision. The tough work has begun with the teacher evaluation system. LAUSD parents have more school choice than ever before. And the Superintendent is transitioning the district from a one-size-fits-all command-and-control model, to one where more decisions are made at the local level to meet the individual needs of schools and their communities. All of this will be in jeopardy if reform-minded candidates are not elected to at least two of the three open board seats in this election. If parents want these efforts to continue, we must vote for candidates who will sustain them. We have a responsibility to our children and our city to get out and vote. If just 15 to 20 percent of LAUSD parents and guardians make our desire for change known at the polls, change is certain to occur.
As the single largest stakeholder group in LAUSD, we parents share heavily in the responsibility for the current state of the system. By voting for change and candidates like Kate Anderson, we also have the numbers and power to do something about it.
LAUSD Parent and Co-Founder, Parent Partnership for Public Education
District 4 of the LAUSD is comprised of Brentwood, Del Rey, East Hollywood, Encino, Hollywood, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Playa Del Rey, Tarzana, Topanga, Westchester, West Hollywood, Westwood, Woodland Hills and Venice.