Goldberg joins L.A. Unified school board, immediately challenges aid to charter schools

Jackie Goldberg, standing with wife Sharon Stricker, takes the oath of office Tuesday as an L.A. school board member from retired Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon. Goldberg had an immediate impact.
Jackie Goldberg, standing with wife Sharon Stricker, takes the oath of office Tuesday as an L.A. school board member from retired Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon. Goldberg had an immediate impact.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Jackie Goldberg took a seat on the Los Angeles school board Tuesday and immediately signaled change to come, shifting the discussion to whether charter schools were getting unfair advantages over district-run public schools.

Not long ago, the seven-member Board of Education — with one different member — was easing restrictions on charters.

The 74-year-old political veteran last week won a special election to fill a board seat that has been vacant since last July, when former board President Ref Rodriguez resigned after pleading guilty to violating campaign finance laws.


She rejoined a body that she had served on more than 25 years ago, taking the oath of office twice: once in the morning so she could take part in an early meeting; the second time at midday, to accommodate more than 200 cheering well-wishers.

Rodriguez, the co-founder of a charter school organization, was elected with millions of dollars in support from wealthy backers of charters. Goldberg won with funding and volunteers anchored by the teachers union, which built on momentum from a six-day teachers strike in January.

Union leaders have called for a moratorium and tighter controls on charters, which are privately operated and mostly nonunion.

Charters compete with district-run schools for students, and critics say they undermine traditional schools by pulling away higher performing students and funding. Supporters say that charters offer high-quality options for parents and helpful competition.

Under state law, the district must offer charters available space. A classroom without a regularly assigned teacher, for example, is typically counted as available.

Goldberg’s concerns arose minutes after the board began moving through its agenda. The item was $16 million to prepare space for charters operating on up to 79 district campuses. In all, about 11% of campuses host charters, according to the California Charter Schools Assn. Charters enroll nearly one in five district students.


Goldberg noticed that some of the money would pay for computers and wanted to know if the host school would have comparable technology.

“I have a school that lost its computer lab and the charter school went in there and put in a computer lab,” which it used to recruit students, Goldberg said during the meeting. “That’s crazy.”

Goldberg declined to name the school.

Another board member, George McKenna, raised similar points. And board member Richard Vladovic asserted that this sharing of campuses is “real bad for kids.”

More surprising were comments from two board members elected with substantial support from charter backers.

Nick Melvoin said it was difficult for staff and families at a district-run school to see a charter move in with fresh paint and new furniture on only the charter portion of the campus. He suggested that both parts of the campus should get upgrades.

And Kelly Gonez formally proposed postponing the technology upgrades until staff could present more information. She said the age of the computers should be considered as well as the ratio of devices to students.

A senior manager in the charter division, Sean Jernigan, said there already was an effort to make sure the distribution of technology was fair. Schools Supt. Austin Beutner pledged to return to the board with more information. In the meantime, he said, the technology purchases would be delayed.

In a later interview, Cassy Horton, a senior official with the state charter association, said rental fees paid by charters could benefit the host school, creating a win for both.

Ebony N. Wheaton, a regional facilities director for the association, said that there are “plenty of examples” of sharing that is working well.

“Both charter and traditional students are equal in value and should have equitable access to facilities,” she added.

Goldberg also raised questions about district bond funds being used to help build new facilities for charter schools when declining enrollment was already resulting in empty seats at both traditional and charter schools.

Here, Melvoin diverged, noting the Catch-22 of denying charters space at existing campuses and then also denying them the opportunity to build new ones.

The funds in question were set aside for charters as part of a voter-approved bond measure.

During her campaign, Goldberg’s foremost theme was winning more money for schools, although charters also came up often. The main topic of her acceptance speech was a push for Measure EE, a local school funding measure on the ballot in June — and for still more dollars after that.

“EE has got to pass,” Goldberg said. “It’s the down payment on what our children need.”

Among the officials seated behind her, Beutner was first on his feet with applause.

With news cameras rolling, it was good press for a measure that could be challenged to win a required two-thirds majority.

A poll released Monday by Probolsky Research says low voter turnout — and a low turnout is anticipated — would probably doom the measure. The Newport Beach pollster said it is not affiliated with either campaign.

Goldberg abstained on a motion to provide about half the funding for Rise Kohyang High School to build an $80-million campus in Koreatown. Other board members approved the grant, while acknowledging Goldberg’s concerns.

The new board member joined her colleagues in approving a $9.7-million grant for Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Pacoima. That school’s founder, Yvonne Chan, has won Goldberg’s respect over the years.

Even before Goldberg could get to it, staff withdrew a third charter school grant from consideration — at least for Tuesday.

Her supporters were thrilled.

“OMG,” texted parent activist Sara Roos. “It’s electric in here.”