MAYWOOD — The two candidates involved in a runoff election for a seat on the Los Angeles school board squared off in a 90-minute debate April 11 at the Southeast Rio Vista YMCA.
Jackie Goldberg and Heather Repenning are seeking to replace Ref Rodriguez in District 5 of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education in the May 14 election.
Organized by the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, the debate was conducted by panelists and moderators, limiting answers to 30 seconds per round.
Goldberg, a former teacher who has received support from United Teachers Los Angeles, the LAUSD’s teachers union, criticized Superintendent Austin Beutner’s plan to reorganize the district in geography and feeding clusters, and said the result may resemble Chicago’s downsizing of campuses.
“I fear that his reorganization is for closing down schools Goldberg said.
Goldberg also criticized charter schools for their lack of financial transparency and unilateral decisions to run the schools, and promised that if she is elected, the privately administered campuses will have to open their books and hold public meetings.
She said the performance of charter schools has been mixed when it comes to educating students.
“If a charter school does well, leave it alone,” she said. “If not, I’ll go after them, give them five years to work things or close. You don’t want a system undermining the other even though it may be working.”
Repenning, the former director of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s external affairs office, said she would be the only parent on the school board with a child enrolled in the district, and that her experience in public office gave her the skills to help children and parents.
“The board should have more to say on where parents want to put their students at school,” Repenning said. “We should not have more charter schools.”
Repenning’s goal is to have parents send their children to better traditional and charter schools and said both the board and the community must work together to improve schools.
Goldberg insisted that she has been a choices person all her life, and that the board ought to pay more attention where its money goes. She chastised the charter school model because principals are guaranteed their salary regardless of students performance in a hypothetical mishandling of funds.
A report conducted by the research firm MGT of America indicates that the LAUSD funneled $591 million to 277 charter schools under its jurisdiction last fiscal year. Of those, 53 are affiliated, and 224 are registered as independents.
Repenning said the accord reached by the teachers union with the district three months ago is a cliffhanger hooked to the success of a proposal on the June 4 special election ballot that calls for a parcel tax increase.
Both candidates voiced support for the ballot proposal, and forecast more labor strife if it fails.
“The June ballot tax needs to pass, otherwise the teachers strike won’t matter,” Repenning said.
Repenning advocated for healthier relationships between the district and parents of students enrolled in special education, and called for a halt to litigation that slams attorneys defending the district’s plans against concerned parents.
She also called for a redraw of District 5 boundaries to include more Latino voters who live in southeast Los Angeles County, to avert a situation that may result in white voters from wealthier neighborhoods electing a representative out of touch with the district’s needs.
Switching to Spanish, Repenning told the 200 people in the audience that “I want to see you as partners. What matters is that you understand I will work with you. We will work together.”
Goldberg said she would fight to get $250 million to hire more full-time teachers, eliminate hundreds of part-time instructors in campuses serving southeast communities, and hire psychiatrists and social workers with the $9.7 million the district saved for mental health.
Repenning said the district lacks a plan to manage cases of psychological crises, and pledged to steer resources for students to receive services that work for them and their families.
“We need case management,” Repenning said. “We need to have enough resources so students can be helped in ways and that they know they are real,”
Both candidates agreed that the district must pave the way for students to be prepared for college before they graduate from high school, providing more scholarships and advocating for university studies.
Repenning said all children should be prepared to enroll two years in a community college, and from there transfer to four-year institutions.
Goldberg said she attended UC Berkeley in the 1960s when tuition was free, and said she will advocate for free public higher education for all Californians.
She reached out to parents, and proposed to hold community meetings to find out what is the best time for them to gather with teachers to track their children’s performance.
“We need to meet with parents in the afternoon, when they are not working. We need to survey parents when are they available to meet, and not when we want to meet them,” Goldberg said.
Repenning vowed to inform parents about the classes being taught to their kids, and to engage the community about the importance of why they are getting those concepts.
The winner of the special board election will serve the remaining year of the term that won charter schools advocate Ref Rodriguez in 2015, who resigned from office following charges of money laundering and unethical funding to help his election campaign.
By Alfredo Santana