Three candidates vying for the District 2 seat on the Los Angeles Unified School Board pledged this week to involve parents in decisions and build more schools in the overcrowded Southeast area.
"We need more funding for schools and we need to speed up new construction," said education activist Willene Cooper. "This area has been ignored for too long."
Cooper is running against Belvedere Junior High Principal Victoria Castro and former school board member Larry Gonzalez.
The new, predominantly Latino district that each candidate hopes to represent stretches from South Gate, Huntington Park, Bell, Cudahy and Maywood to Boyle Heights, Echo Park, Silver Lake and Pico-Union. Eighty percent of its 475,833 residents are Latino.
The candidates addressed about 120 people at a South Gate High forum sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the South Gate Democratic Club, the Mexican-American Political Assn. and the Parent Coalition of South Gate.
Although the three appeared to share similar views on many of the district's most pressing issues, they tried to distinguish their qualifications for the job.
Gonzalez, station manager of KMEX-TV Channel 34, said his business experience will help him bring accountability to the district's central bureaucracy.
"It is time to hold this institution accountable for the work they aren't doing with our young people," Gonzalez, 37, said. "Perhaps then we'd see the dropout rate among Latinos come down."
Castro, a 25-year school district veteran who worked seven years as a teacher, said her day-to-day experience with school crises, including student shootings, has put her in touch with school needs. Her years in the district have convinced her of the importance of school safety, she said. "I've always set my priorities for safe and successful schools," said Castro, 47. "I am running to bring my experience as a parent, educator and activist to the school board."
Cooper, who has served on numerous school-based councils and on the South Gate Education Committee, said that she speaks for parents in the community. She has volunteered in Southeast-area schools for more than 30 years. "The district needs someone with a full knowledge of schools and children in this area," said Cooper, 62. "I know our schools and our children. I have been serving them."