CALL IT POLITICAL CASCADING. Antonio Villaraigosa left the City Council in June to become mayor; Jose Huizar left the Los Angeles Unified School District board in November to fill Villaraigosa’s vacancy on the council; and this Tuesday, four candidates are vying for Huizar’s now-vacant seat on the school board. None of the top three would-be replacements is particularly impressive. The best choice is the fourth, 23-year-old Ana Teresa Fernandez.
That may seem surprising at first, because it was not long ago that Fernandez was herself an L.A. Unified student, leading protests against overcrowding at the star-crossed Belmont High School. With tough issues facing the school board in coming months -- raising students’ still-underwhelming test scores, curbing the alarming dropout rate, picking a new superintendent and (most important) grappling with the mayor’s possible takeover of school governance -- voters need someone with independence, smarts and backbone. Fernandez, young as she is, impresses more in these areas than do her opponents.
An activist and the daughter of a district teacher and principal, she seems to eat and breathe education policy and community involvement. She’s open-minded about governance issues yet notes that City Hall could do more to help students right now, such as improving school security and student transportation. She recognizes the role of charter schools (former school board President Caprice Young tapped her to run a grant program for the California Charter Schools Assn.), and she has tangible experience working for current board member Mike Lansing.
Fernandez would have a lot of on-the-job learning to do, but she would make a more independent-thinking board member than the more experienced Monica Garcia, a Huizar political and policy aide who is backed by her ex-boss and Villaraigosa and who is now looking for her own place on the political ladder. Garcia is competent but has been cagey -- unconvincingly so -- on the mayoral takeover issue.
Teachers union employee Christopher Arellano falls on the other side, with the backing of United Teachers Los Angeles and an unwavering opposition to mayoral control at a time that calls for open-mindedness. Former political aide Enrique Gasca, who now runs a public relations firm, is likewise too inflexible on school administration. He says he welcomes Villaraigosa’s leadership on education issues but resists the mayor’s encroachment.
Fernandez’s stance on the still-stumbling district is that everything is on the table, as long as it’s in the long-term best interests of students. That’s a positive and pragmatic approach for any school board member, especially one who is to represent District 2’s overcrowded and underperforming schools from the Eastside, South Los Angeles and Hollywood.