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L.A. school board president withdraws plan for district to help pay for a nonprofit’s building

L.A. school board president withdraws plan for district to help pay for a nonprofit’s building
An artist's rendering of the new Boyle Heights headquarters of InnerCity Struggle, which is under construction. (InnerCity Struggle)

Board of Education President Monica Garcia has pulled back from a proposal to use school district funds to help an Eastside community group pay for its new building.

She had planned to ask fellow board members Tuesday to consider approving a $125,000 grant for InnerCity Struggle, a Boyle Heights group that is building a $6-million community center and administrative headquarters.

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Although the proposed grant was relatively small — less than the average salary of two teachers with benefits — she would have been asking for it at a time when leaders of the nation’s second-largest school system are crying poverty and talking of a desperate need for money to flow into the district, not out.

InnerCity Struggle is run by community activist Maria Brenes. Her husband, Luis Sanchez, once was Garcia’s chief of staff. Sanchez ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2011 and now heads a group set up to register and mobilize young voters, particularly those of color.

One of InnerCity Struggle’s main efforts has been to mobilize students at Eastside high schools to advocate for themselves by pushing for such goals as more rigorous classes and a greater share of district funding for their campuses. Plans for the new building include a technology center that would be available to students. Brenes also envisions the center helping families with immigration and housing problems in the rapidly gentrifying community.

Brenes said her organization still is fundraising for the 6,000-square-foot center, which it hopes to open by August.

The city is contributing $1 million in community block grants and the county has kicked in $250,000, Brenes said.

The district funding resolution was to be introduced at Tuesday’s meeting, the only public item in an otherwise closed-door session on labor negotiations. The teachers union and the district remain at loggerheads, with a strike possible early in 2019.

Garcia had proposed pulling the money for the grant from her discretionary spending account. Each board member is given $280,000 per year; the board president gets an additional $50,000.

Board members have wide latitude in using these funds. They can choose to hire an extra staff member to work with parents or pay for new computers at a school.

Like other such expenditures, Garcia’s proposal would have had to be approved by a board majority, said district general counsel David Holmquist. In this instance, he said, the board also would have had to declare that the money was for a “public purpose.”

Garcia did not explain her change of heart, saying through a staff member Monday afternoon that other methods of funding the project would have to be found. The Times began trying to contact her about the grant proposal on Monday morning.

L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner on Monday declined to comment about Garcia’s proposal. But in a separate interview, he stressed the district’s financial problems.

“The money that L.A. Unified has is not enough. We’re going to have to make some hard choices,” Beutner said. “We’re sort of on the precipice.”

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