Community East Edition Education Northeast Edition

Students conduct candidates’ forum in LAUSD election

SOUTH GATE — Local high school students participating in United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ Young Civic Leaders Program led and moderated a forum for candidates seeking the District 5 seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District school board at South Gate High School Feb. 16. 

The special election will be held March 5 to replace Ref Rodriguez, who resigned last year.

Organized and co-hosted by United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Alliance for A Better Community, the forum provided an opportunity for students to hear directly from candidates hoping to represent them on the school board about how they plan to address many of the challenges students face.

Ten candidates are seeking the seat. They include former school board member Jackie Goldberg, Bell City Councilman Nestor Valencia, Huntington Park City Councilwoman Grace Ortiz, Cynthia Gonzalez, a principal and parent; Salvador “Chamba” Sanchez, a professor and community activist; Heather Repenning, a city commissioner and parent; Allison Greenwood Bajracharya, a parent and educator; David Valdez, a Los Angeles County art commissioner; Rocio Rivas, an educational researcher and mother; and Ana Cubas, a professor and nonprofit executive. 

“During the forum we asked candidates how they’d represent the diverse communities across the board district, and support an LGBTQ curriculum, English learners, and special education and homeless youth — issues that are important to our communities,” said Julie Castillo, a senior at Nava Prep Academy in Los Angeles and a member of United Way’s Young Civic Leaders Program. “We also asked them how they will ensure that there is a focus on college preparation as early as freshman year in high school, increase the number of college counselors and more,” she added.

Since 2015, the Young Civic Leaders Program participants have led and moderated United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ candidate forums for school board elections. The forums offer local voters, especially students, an opportunity to address a wide range of education-related issues affecting their school communities.

“We are honored to help develop our young civic leaders to create meaningful civic engagement opportunities and be the stewards of their own education,” said Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “We have proactively hosted candidate forums since 2015 and they have proven to be an excellent opportunity for students to learn firsthand how to advocate for themselves, elevate their challenges and highlight critical issues to better meet their educational, college and career goals.”

Forum organizers also hoped to increase voter engagement and participation in the election, particularly in the southeast cities where according to data from the California Department of Education, Latino students make up 97 percent of the student population, 91 percent of students are low income, and more than 26 percent are English learners. 

Historically, candidates are elected by less than 9 percent of registered voters in the district. There are 312,434 registered voters in Board District 5, which spans the northeast communities of Echo Park, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Los Feliz and Silver Lake, parts of El Sereno, and the southeast cities of Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Maywood, South Gate and Vernon.

“We are proud to be part of an effort that puts students and their concerns at the forefront of the conversation with candidates vying to represent them on the school board,” said Vanessa Aramayo, executive director of the Alliance for A Better Community, one of the nonprofits co-hosting the event. “In Board District 5, where 90 percent of students are Latino, one in four students is an English learner, and more than 2,000 youth are homeless, it is students’ voices that must be lifted to ensure their next representative understands their needs.”

Wave Staff Report