Meet the candidates for the L.A. school board
Three seats are on the June 7 primary ballot for the seven-member Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.
The mini-profiles below provide a snapshot of the candidates’ background, their priorities and opinions on a range of issues. Each answered questions from The Times about their experience, priorities, school policing and their thoughts on a 20% raise proposed by the teachers union. (Candidates answered questions about school security prior to the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school.)
Incumbents had the opportunity to mention accomplishments; challengers critiqued the incumbent. Some responses were paraphrased and edited for brevity.
Candidates are listed in the order they appear on the ballot.
District 2 candidates participated in a forum that is available at: https://www.lfia.org/in-case-you-missed-it-lausd-voter-info
Four candidates are on the ballot to represent an area that includes downtown and expands outward to Los Feliz, Highland Park, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Boyle Heights, East L.A., El Sereno, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights and Cypress Park.
MIGUEL ANGEL SEGURA
Occupation: Segura is a substitute teacher and worked recently as a logistics aide for political campaigns.
Experience: He was student body president at an overcrowded Belmont High when it was probably the nation’s largest high school and went on to work as an early education teacher for about four years, before turning to political work.
Priorities: 1) Develop a pipeline for demographically diverse teachers so that students will have role models. 2) Focus on mental health needs of students. 3) Strengthen programs for English learners while also celebrating and retaining their native-language skills.
COVID vaccine mandate: He lost his father to COVID and supports vaccinations but not as a mandate.
Proposed 20% raise for staff: “They deserve it. They’re doing the hard work.”
On charter schools: “Within Board District 2 there are enough charter schools. That’s a fact.” All the same, a well-regarded charter organization such as KIPP, he said, “deserves to be here.”
School police: “Our Latino community feels safer when our police officers are there. It should be up to the principal.”
Quote: “Kids are suffering right now. Fighting more. Acting up. They don’t know how to use words to solve problems.”
Occupation: Rivas is a research and policy deputy for school board member Jackie Goldberg.
Experience: She said her work and study of education around the world has underscored the how and why of schooling and its impact on improving the lives of the working class and marginalized. She has a 6th-grader in a district school.
Priorities: 1) Make sure schools with highest-need students get adequate resources and use them wisely. 2) Integrate needed mental health support into schools, especially in the wake of the pandemic. 3) Create a healthier school environment by greening outdoor spaces, eliminating heat islands, addressing air pollution.
COVID vaccine mandate: Rivas has supported district policies, which were hindered, she said, by inconsistent communication.
On charter schools: She views the charter sector as a whole as “going after public schools and changing what public education is,” creating a system that is no longer “education for civil rights and democracy, but for profit and accountability.”
Proposed 20% raise for staff: She is not taking a position at the moment until she has more information, but hopes to work to find resources for such a raise, while also supporting policies to help teachers, such as assistance with housing and transportation costs and with school supplies.
School police: Rivas generally supports the cuts to date, but is aware of safety concerns from parents and teachers that conflict with the teacher union leadership’s desire to eliminate the police. “We all need to come to the table, the union, the communities. And let’s talk about these issues. There has not been a public conversation.”
Quote: “I have a well-rounded education on what communities need. I feel I have a responsibility to use that on behalf of students and families.”
Occupation: Brenes is the founder and director of InnerCity Struggle, a student advocacy and family-services group that operates out of Boyle Heights.
Experience: She has worked especially closely with outgoing board member Monica Garcia to identify and pursue priorities at Eastside schools. This included successfully pushing the district to require all students to graduate qualified for admission to a four-year state college. Her two children, in 4th and 6th grade, are enrolled in the district.
Priorities: 1) Put substantially more funding into campuses identified through a Student Equity Needs Index, which was developed by groups outside the district. 2) Increase health-related supports on campuses, such as nurses and mental-health professionals. 3) Lower class sizes, with an equity focus, such as concentrating on schools where the achievement gap is widest or COVID-19 had the greatest impact.
COVID vaccine mandate: “In my own organization, I instituted a vaccine and booster mandate. My family and children are all vaccinated. I follow the science. The vaccine is safe. I think we can revisit [the postponed] student mandate and continue to educate and build awareness.”
On charter schools: Rather than consider a charter moratorium, for LAUSD, what I want us to focus on is creating engaging high quality schools to attract and keep families, where enrollment is not a challenge because parents want to send their kids there.”
Proposed 20% raise for staff: “Employees are definitely deserving of an increase. ... An increase is the right thing to do.”
School police: She declined to say exactly what her position would be, but said the students advocating for defunding should be listened to. “We have a movement of young people that are challenging us in a very good way to relook at the old ways of thinking, of archaic, problematic racist ways of thinking. And I’m very open to hearing them and listening to their ideas. ... I want to uplift their voices and their solutions.”
Quote: “What I hear from families is a need, a wanting, of LAUSD to be a resource hub to their family and in their community, whether it’s mental health services or related to housing to issues around child care and enrichment after school.”
Occupation: Vilardi-Espinosa is an accountant/small business financial officer
Experience: She is a parent leader in local schools; serves on a neighborhood council; manages a Girl Scout troop. Her 6th-grader and 9th-grader attend LAUSD schools.
Priorities: 1) Address the mental health needs of students and teachers. 2) Focus on staff retention in part by improving working conditions for teachers and nurses. 3) Individualize the education experience, which includes celebrating different cultures and backgrounds.
COVID vaccine mandate: She supports the intent of district policies, but does not feel they were always managed well. “I don’t want to have unvaccinated teachers in my classroom. I think it’s irresponsible.”
Proposed 20% raise for staff: “I think they need to make it work. Wages are going up slowly; inflation is going up faster.”
On charter schools: “Charters are not the worst thing. Some have been successful. But I think they are a problem. Some are not run by people who know what education is.”
School police: “The school police are one of the best options for community policing. Police can actually know students, and students can get to know a police officer, fostering a good relationship with police for the future.”
Quote: “My kids are getting a great education. We have potentially everything we need here, and I don’t understand how things constantly get caught up in bureaucracy and stupidity.”
Overview of L.A. school board races
Less campaign money, less mudslinging, but still high stakes in L.A. school board races.
Three candidates are on the ballot to represent an area that covers much of the Westside, including Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Bel-Air, West L.A., Westwood, Mar Vista, Playa Vista, Playa del Rey, Venice, Westchester, Hollywood Hills, Fairfax, Larchmont, Hancock Park and Windsor Square. The district also stretches north into the west San Fernando Valley, including Encino, Tarzana, Woodland Hills and Reseda.
Occupation: Schroeder is an L.A. Unified teacher.
Experience: She has 24 years of classroom experience and is currently teaching remotely at City of Angels, the district’s online independent study program. Earlier, she worked at Hesby Oaks, a K-8 campus.
Priorities: 1) Make sure the voices of parents, teachers and community members are heard and their opinions respected. No wasteful spending — no new taxes or bonds. 2) Back to basics to “combat extreme lockdown learning loss with immediate actions in place for these non-readers.” 3) Combat staff shortages by returning unvaccinated “capable, qualified staff” to school sites.
Critique of incumbent: During the pandemic, Melvoin supported “policies that cut kids out of their education.”
COVID vaccine mandate: Opposes any mandate and questions the safety of the vaccines. Also considers mask-wearing detrimental to children.
On charter schools: “Charter schools need to be held to the same academic standards and fiscal responsibilities as public schools.” Sharing campuses with charters can work, but it should not be “to the detriment of the neighborhood schoolchildren on the same site.”
Proposed 20% raise for staff: If there had not been mismanagement, she said, “there could have been raises, but the district can most likely only afford bonuses at this point.”
School police: “We need school police strategically available, while valuing the voices of communities working toward alternate solutions.”
Quote: “It is illegal and unlawful for an employer to mandate an experimental medication of any kind to maintain their employment. This is against the Nuremberg Code, against medical needs and religious/personal beliefs, which have been unnecessarily removed from schools. This school board has been acting outside its authority.”
Occupation: Barkhordarian is an engineer and business consultant.
Experience: She is an immigrant who speaks four languages and cites her work for corporate executives as helping develop skills in bringing people together to find solutions. She has two children in public elementary school.
Priorities: 1) Her top priority is “to give parents a seat at the negotiating table so that when important decisions are made about our children’s future, they are made with parent input.” 2) Address the mental health crisis among students. 3) Improve support for children with learning differences, including English learners.
Critique of incumbent: “The incumbent Nick Melvoin lives in one of the wealthiest areas of the city and has little safety concerns. He voted to defund campus police and failed to consider the impacts to less fortunate students. ... Our board has largely let UTLA manage decisions for our district, and this has led to families leaving.”
COVID vaccine mandate: Opposes mandate for employees and also children “since the COVID-19 vaccine hasn’t been tested over time as thoroughly as other childhood vaccines.”
On charter schools: All seven board members “are primarily sponsored by the teachers union and the charter-school organization. By contrast, I am entirely citizen-backed.”
Proposed 20% raise for staff: Declined to answer
School Police: Barkhordarian would rehire laid-off officers. At the same time, she said, no law-enforcement abuses can be tolerated.
Quote: “Recovering from the learning loss and staffing shortages comes down to strengthening parent involvement. ... We can share resources and have workshops that better help parents tutor their children at home, similar to what they did last year while children were on Zoom, and perhaps even donate some of their time to tutoring others.”
Occupation: Melvoin is the school board incumbent and was elected in 2017.
Experience: He taught two years at Markham Middle School and participated in litigation to change teacher-seniority rules. He serves as director of Camp Harmony, for homeless and underserved children.
Accomplishments: He cites his service as a member of the school board that navigated the pandemic — “the largest educational disruption of the century with no playbook” and found ways to “support the holistic needs of our community.” He helped bring in two strong superintendents: Austin Beutner and Alberto Carvalho. Despite the pandemic, progress was made with district decentralization, school autonomy, equitable funding and more-accessible public information.
Priorities: He lists pandemic recovery, including mitigation of learning loss and mental health needs; execution of a new strategic plan, and long-term transparency in district operations.
COVID vaccine mandate: Melvoin supports the district policy of mandating the vaccine for staff not working remotely and the recent postponement but not cancellation of the mandate for students 12 and older.
On charter schools: “Even if we don’t want any more charters ... they’re partners, they’re here to stay. How do we learn from them? They’re all our kids.”
Proposed 20% raise for staff: The district cannot afford 20%, he said, but needs to do as much as possible to support teachers and other staff and make key investments, such as possibly improving the starting salary for teachers and giving teachers the choice of higher salaries now or working to accrue district retirement benefits.
School police: Before further budget cuts, he wants to see how the current decreases, which he supported, affect school safety. He said the district is trying to balance the right level of security with the benefits of a police-free environment for students and the transfer of police resources to pay for direct services to students.
Quote: “I felt validated that what I intended to do on the board has, at least, if not always successful, has been noticed by ... stakeholders — who this time around are supporting me.”
Three candidates are on the ballot to represent an east San Fernando Valley-based district that includes Sylmar, San Fernando, Mission Hills, Pacoima, Arleta, North Hills East, Panorama City, Sun Valley, North Hollywood, Toluca Lake, Shadow Hills, Lake View Terrace, Sunland and Tujunga.
Occupation: Gonez is the incumbent school board member and was elected in 2017
Experience: She has five years of teaching experience and served as an education staffer in the Obama administration. She is the parent of two young children, with the older one about to enter preschool.
Accomplishments: She is proud of the school board’s response to the pandemic — that while not without “hiccups” — was notable for robustness and compassion in providing meals and technology and in reopening; record-high graduation rates and more students taking Advanced Placement courses and enrolling in dual-language programs. She also points to increased equity and access to high-quality programs in the east San Fernando Valley.
Priorities: 1) COVID recovery must continue by confronting the “rippling impacts” on staff, student learning, mental health, while ensuring equity in all programs. 2) Expand early education to achieve universal preschool. 3) Continue to focus on college and career readiness.
COVID vaccine mandate: She supports the district policy of mandating the vaccine for staff not working remotely and the recent postponement but not cancellation of the mandate for students 12 and older.
On charter schools: Gonez supports current policy that allows for an evaluation of whether a new charter should be approved. When charters and traditional schools share a campus, she would like to allow for more flexibility so critical spaces like parent centers or intervention rooms for struggling students would be protected, although state law places limits on such considerations.
Proposed 20% raise for staff: Teachers and other staff are deserving, but she hasn’t “run the numbers yet.”
School police: “I’m proud of steps the board has taken thus far to reinvest in systems of care and support.” Before cutting further, she said, “we need to ensure that the proactive safety measures, those alternatives that I think advocates and students are excited to see, start to take shape ... and that our campus communities feel safe.”
Quote: “A full recovery from the pandemic is going to take multiple years. ... I bring a sense of urgency to continue conversations about how we’re investing our dollars, and really ensuring that long-term recovery — academically, socially, emotionally, mentally, combating the trauma that our communities have experienced — and really getting the system to focus on all that.”
Occupation: Rodriguez is a Spanish teacher, Cleveland High School.
Experience: He has taught for 17 years, starting right after college. Before that, he served as a Marine, with combat duty in Iraq. Rodriguez coaches in a program to train students to run marathons and has two children in district schools.
Critique of incumbent: Her teaching experience was limited, and she listens more to special interests than to parents.
Priorities: 1) Expand “community schools” to provide wide-ranging services for students and families as well as meaningful responsive curriculum that incorporates community input. 2) Make early education meaningful for more students, especially in vulnerable communities. 3) Make sure centers for students with disabilities are fully funded to provide the needed support for students with moderate to severe disabilities.
COVID vaccine mandate: Supports current district policy, including the employee mandate. “I’m a military veteran. Sometimes we’re called upon, including as teachers, to do something for the greater good.”
On charter schools: He formerly taught at a charter school and concluded that “charters don’t necessarily have to play by the same rules. Oversight is a little lax, and the working conditions are not the optimal ones. ... If we allow charters to come in and siphon some of the resources that our neighborhood schools are hungry for, how are we going to create those strong neighborhood schools?”
Proposed 20% raise for staff: “At a time when teachers are leaving the profession early, and the district is having a difficult time attracting qualified teachers, a raise of that magnitude in the most expensive city in the country is a good start.”
School police: “The police budget was inflated and had to be cut because whatever money we took should be used to provide other services to our students. There’s a role for school police to play. I just don’t believe they should be on campuses. Principals still have the option to call school police when there’s an issue.”
Quote: “We talk a lot about academic success and, believe me, that is important, but public education has failed students in providing the other supports they need to address the whole child.”
Occupation: Arana is an L.A. school police sergeant who has filed for retirement, and a wrestling coach.
Experience: He is a parent of five LAUSD students: four current; one graduate. As the son of a teenage mom, he said LAUSD people and services were essential. He started an after-school wrestling program that has helped build prize-winning boys and girls teams at San Fernando High.
Critique of incumbent: She doesn’t recognize or acknowledge that schools are no longer as safe with the cuts to school police.
Priorities: 1) Increase school safety. Officers belong back on campus with the understanding that behavior is not to be criminalized, with officers as part of the “family” helping students. 2) Give parents more of a voice in what’s going on. 3) Create more and better career pathways for students as an alternative to the standard college track.
COVID vaccine mandate: Arana opposes mandates.
On charter schools: He is willing to support existing charters, unless they deserve to be shut down.
Proposed 20% raise for staff: He supports this.
School police: The police aren’t the answer for everything: “A ticket or an arrest is not an answer for juvenile behavior.” But the pendulum has swung too far to the other side, he said. Without a police presence on campus, more kids are being victimized.
Quote: “The defunding of the police occurred pretty fast, like a knee-jerk reaction. There was no plan in place. It was a political move.”
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