School Board Chief Steps Aside

September 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

One week after being charged with perjury and other felonies for allegedly funneling $25,000 of his own money into his campaign by listing phony donors on a disclosure form, Ref Rodriguez on Tuesday gave up his position as president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board.

Rodriguez will remain on the school board, but said he was stepping aside as president to avoid being a distraction.

“When I was elected board president, I committed to highlighting the Kids First agenda for L.A. Unified,” Rodriguez said. “I remain committed to putting kids first, and so, in order to allow the board to remain focused on the hard work ahead of us, I have decided to step aside as board president.

LAUSD President Ref Rodriguez

LAUSD President Ref Rodriguez

“I do not want to serve as a distraction to my colleagues, or to any of the other dedicated teachers, principals and employees who do the hard work of educating students every day,” he said. “I have always been driven by my passion to give all kids, but especially those with backgrounds similar to
mine, a chance at a brighter future, and I believe this decision will help us continue doing exactly that.”

Monica Garcia serves as the board’s vice president and will take over the top post until the board selects a new president.

Rodriguez, 46, was charged last week with more than two dozen criminal counts for allegedly reimbursing nearly $25,000 to donors he listed on a campaign finance form. He was charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Rodriguez was also charged with 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

His cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, 45, was charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

According to city Ethics Commission documents, shortly after Rodriguez began his campaign for the school board seat in November 2014, Rodriguez “provided $26,000 of his own money to Melendrez, his cousin and a key campaign volunteer, with instructions to funnel that money into his campaign account by asking family members to make contributions.”

The D.A.’s filing of criminal felony charges caught many political observers by surprise, with most noting the relatively small amount of money involved and the fact that it’s not illegal for a candidate to give money to his own campaign.

The latter point has left many bewildered as to why, if the allegations prove true, Rodriguez would reimburse others for their donations rather than give the money outright to his campaign committee.

Some have speculated that as a late entry into the race and facing a campaign finance-reporting deadline, Rodriguez wanted to bolster the appearance that he could run a viable campaign.

“Melendrez enticed 25 family members and friends to make campaign contributions by telling them that their contributions would be reimbursed,” according to the Ethics Commission accusation. “The 25 contributions were made from Dec. 23 through Dec. 31, 2014, ranged from $775 to $1,100 each, and totaled $24,250. Melendrez fully reimbursed all 25 contributions using Rodriguez’s funds.”

Rodriguez said last week he and his attorneys have been trying to “resolve the issues with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission for over two years.”

Melendrez’s attorney, Mark Werksman, called the criminal charges “much ado about nothing.”

“We are surprised this has risen to the level of a criminal prosecution,” he said, calling it “mystifying” that county prosecutors would bring a case “over such a small amount of money so long ago.”

LAUSD Board President and Cousin Charged With Campaign Fraud

September 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Ref Rodriguez, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, was charged today with conspiracy, perjury and other counts for allegedly reimbursing nearly $25,000 to donors he listed on a campaign finance form in 2014.

LAUSD President Ref Rodriguez

LAUSD President Ref Rodriguez

He and his cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, who was also charged in the case, are scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon in downtown Los Angeles.

Rodriguez — who became president of the school board this summer — will be charged  with one felony count each of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Rodriguez, 46, is also charged with 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

His cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, 45, is charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

Prosecutors allege Rodriguez raised more than $50,000 during the first campaign reporting period that ended in December 2014 and that 25 donors  — most of whom were family members and friends — were allegedly paid back $24,250 by Rodriguez and Melendrez.

The donors’ names had been listed on a campaign finance report that was allegedly signed by Rodriguez under the penalty of perjury and submitted to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which received a whistleblower complaint in March 2015 about Rodriguez’s fund-raising activities, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Rodriguez and Melendrez were charged following an additional investigation by the District Attorney’s Office.

David Holmquist, attorney for the LAUSD, said the district is aware of the criminal charges.

Parents Push Education Agenda as Crime Scene Unfolds

June 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A group of Spanish-speaking mothers were waiting outside the Highland Park Ebel Club on Avenue 57 last week to meet with their local school district board member when L.A. police units swarm the location in pursuit of an alleged “armed” gang suspect, yelling at the women to leave the area. They take refuge across the street inside a local coffee shop where they hope to continue their meeting.

A few doors down on Figueroa Street, a man in a white shirt and tie stands outside a new hip, antique-filled bowling venue and restaurant greeting the mostly White guests, he seems oblivious to the chaos unfolding less than a block away. A street vendor sells ice cream to a man waiting at a bus stop while people gather on street corners as police cordon off several blocks, denying them access to their homes and cars left in public parking lots. The only vehicles being allowed through are those with loud sirens; firefighters, an ambulance, police patrols and three K9 units. A helicopter combs the area at a close range.

It could have been a scene right out of a Hollywood movie but instead was real life in Highland Park, a community at the crossroad of change.

Perhaps most striking that day was how the community seemed to take things in stride, for the most part just going about their business in a neighborhood where gentrification is changing the face of what’s normal.

The best example being the group of mothers who, undaunted by the scene taking place outside of the Antigua Café, continued to press forward with their meeting with Los Angeles Unified School Board Member Ref Rodriguez, who initially followed police instructions to leave the area because it wasn’t safe, but at the women’s urging returned to meet with them.

“Padres de Highland Park,” a group of about eight mothers representing the 11 public elementary, middle and high schools in Highland Park, had a long, organized list of items they wanted Rodriguez to address. Charter schools were not represented and all the women taking part are Latina. They primarily spoke in Spanish, and repeatedly emphasized their desire to be partners in their children’s education.

Calling the mothers and children “mi familia” (my family), Rodriguez said he was ready to listen.

“The school never asks our opinion,” complained Daisy Ortiz, whose child attends Garvanza Elementary. “We are giving them our most precious treasure and you just make business out of their education,” she told Rodriguez.

The parents complained about schools that wait to incorporate accelerated or advanced classes until middle or high school.

“Advanced education has to start from elementary school,” said one mother as Rodriguez listen attentively and a member of his staff took copious notes on a laptop computer.

Some of the mothers stressed the importance of inclusion in the education of their children and asked the board member to help make it a school district goal.

“We want a resolution approved that will require the involvement of parents at the beginning of any process, instead of at the end,” Ortiz said.

You [the District] don’t have a vision for our children, she continued. “There are new positions in LAUSD to make money, but not to fix the educational system,” she lamented.

Taking turns speaking, the women asked Rodriguez to work with them on a list of goals they said would help improve Highland Park schools. Specifically, they want schools and the District to:
—Always consider parents and give them full and concrete information;
—Include parents’ opinion when implementing new school programs;
—Listen to [parents’] questions and concerns;
—Give parents workshops on how to conduct meetings and understand District information and;
—To hold quarterly meetings with the board member.

We don’t want to go to our school parent centers for Zumba or knitting classes, said Alma, who did not want to give her last name.

What we really need, she said, are experts who can teach parents how LAUSD meetings work so they can take part.

The best thing schools can do for families is to give them the opportunity to be included in the process, the women said.

They said they volunteer at their schools so their children will have a better future than the man police were searching for right outside their meeting.

“We are not against the District, we want to work with you, but words are not enough,” said Susana Zamorano, an organizer with CARECEN who works with the group.

Public schools need to work harder to keep students instead of pushing them to charter schools, Leticia Aldana told Rodriguez.

“[Students] leave public schools because they don’t feel welcome,” she said.

“Charter schools have more programs,” added another of the mothers.

Rodriguez answered specific questions about school data and other matters, and what he could not answer, he said he would look into and come back with an answer. He concluded the meeting by saying he would take all their comments and suggestions under consideration, and agreed to meet again.

Outside, the neighborhood was returning to normal as streets were reopened to pedestrians and traffic. LAPD Northeast Division Sergeant Christopher Gomez told EGP that police officers had observed a known gang member with a gun walking near Avenue 57 and attempted to stop him, which led to the foot pursuit and the suspect discarding the gun along the way. The suspect eventually surrendered without incident, said Gomez. The gun was not found.

East L.A. Charter Is LAUSD’s Only 2015 Blue Ribbon School

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

It was a banner day for students, families and teachers at an East Los Angeles area charter school Tuesday.
They were celebrating KIPP Raíces Academy being named a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School award by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

Located in a predominately low-income Latino neighborhood, KIPP Raíces Academy is one of only 33 schools in California, and the only Los Angeles Unified School District school to receive the Blue Ribbon designation.

The East Los Angeles elementary school was chosen as an “Exemplary High Performing School” based on its achievement on state assessments. In 2015, KIPP Raíces students exceeded the averages for both the district and the state on the state assessment exam, with 82 percent of the school’s students meeting or exceeding the standards in math and 78 percent meeting or exceeding the standards in English Language Arts.

(L to R): Marcia Aaron, executive director of KIPP LA Schools, Amber Young Medina, managing director of schools for KIPP LA Schools, Chelsea Zegarski, principal of KIPP Raices Academy, Monica Garcia, LAUSD board bember, Gloria Molina, former LA County Supervisor, and Ref Rodriguez, LAUSD board member. (Courtesy of KIPP)

(L to R): Marcia Aaron, executive director of KIPP LA Schools, Amber Young Medina, managing director of schools for KIPP LA Schools, Chelsea Zegarski, principal of KIPP Raices Academy, Monica Garcia, LAUSD board bember, Gloria Molina, former LA County Supervisor, and Ref Rodriguez, LAUSD board member. (Courtesy of KIPP)

“KIPP Raíces Academy has shown what is possible for public education in East LA,” said L.A. Unified Board Member Mónica García. “It is clear that this community of dedicated educators and students has raised the bar, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be here today to celebrate this very bright spot in our community.”

Founded in 2008, the school currently enrolls 545 students in grades K-4 — 85 percent of who are from low-income families and 96 percent of who are Latino.

“This award is a testament to what can happen in East LA when a public school is seen as a joyful place, where learning is celebrated and possibilities are endless,” said current KIPP Raíces Academy school leader Chelsea Zegarski. “I am so proud of our students, families, and staff for the work that they do every day to make this vision a reality.”

KIPP Raíces is a part of KIPP LA, a network of six middle schools and seven elementary schools serving over 6,000 students and alumni throughout South and East Los Angeles.

New LAUSD Board Members Seated

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Ref Rodriguez and Scott Mark Schmerelson joined the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education today, replacing Bennett Kayser and Tamar Galatzan, while Richard Vladovic began his third term and George McKenna was sworn in to his first full term.

Rodriguez, the founder of a chain of charter schools known as Partnership to Uplift Communities, defeated Kayser in a May runoff election in District 5. Kayser, who was backed by the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers’ union, faced stiff opposition from charter school backers due to his general opposition to charters.

District 5 includes Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, Bell, Cudahy, Los Feliz and Huntington Park

Schmerelson, a retired LAUSD teacher and principal, defeated Galatzan, in the San Fernando Valley’s District 3 in May, while Vladovic defeated teacher Lydia Gutierrez to continue representing District 7, which includes the Harbor area and reaches into South Los Angeles.

McKenna ran unopposed for the District 1 seat, which he originally won in 2014 in a special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. The district represents south and southwest Los Angeles.

After the members were sworn in, the board elected Steve Zimmer as board president. Zimmer appointed McKenna as board vice president.

Two Challengers Win School Board Races

May 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Ref Rodriguez and Scott Mark Schmerelson will join the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education July 1, replacing Bennett Kayser and Tamar Galatzan, while Richard Vladovic will begin his third term.

Rodriguez, the founder of a chain of charter schools known as Partnership to Uplift Communities, defeated Kayser, 53.55 percent-46.44 percent in Tuesday’s election in District 5, according to unofficial results released by the City Clerk’s Office.

Kayser, who has generally opposed charter schools, drew fire from the California Charter School Association, which put its financial might behind Rodriguez.

A former teacher and technology coordinator for the district’s Independent Studies program, Kayser had the backing of the powerful United Teachers Los Angeles union, which reportedly spent $800,000 to help Kayser, nearly $1 million less than what the Charter School Association was reported to have spent in support of Rodriguez.

Rodriguez finished first in the March primary election but fell short of the 50 percent of the vote needed to unseat Kayser.

District 5 includes Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, Bell, Cudahy, Los Feliz and Huntington Park.

Schmerelson, a retired LAUSD teacher and principal, defeated incumbent Tamar Galatzan, a deputy Los Angeles city attorney, 54.61 percent-45.38 percent in the San Fernando Valley’s District 3.

Galatzan also had the support of the California Charter Association. Schmerelson had the backing of UTLA.

Galatzan congratulated Schmerelson on the victory and said she was proud of what the board accomplished over the past eight years “during difficult financial times.”

“I was an advocate for students before being elected to the school board,” she said. “I am an advocate for students as a board members and I will continue advocating on their behalf long after my time on the board.”

Vladovic defeated teacher Lydia Gutierrez, 55.91 percent-44.08 percent in District 7, which includes the Harbor area and reaches into South Los Angeles.

UTLA officials hailed the election of Schmerelson and re-election of Vladovic.

“UTLA is ready to work with all school board members in our fight for the Schools LA Students Deserve,” according to a union statement.

Breves de la Comunidad

May 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Ángeles

Ref Rodríguez y Scott Marcos Schmerelson se unirán a la Junta de Educación del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Los Ángeles comenzando el 1 de julio, en sustitución de Bennett Kayser y Tamar Galatzan.

Rodríguez, fundador de una cadena de escuelas Charter, derrotó a Kayser 53,55% contra el 46,44% en las elecciones del martes por el Distrito 5, de acuerdo con resultados extraoficiales de la Oficina del Secretario de la Ciudad.

Rodríguez obtuvo el primer lugar en las elecciones primarias de marzo, pero no llegó al 50% de los votos necesarios para desbancar a Kayser.

El Distrito 5 incluye Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, Bell, Cudahy, Los Feliz y Huntington Park.


Boyle Heights

Un camión transportando una carga de vidrio se volcó el lunes por la mañana provocando el cierre de la carretera transición del sur de la autopista Santa Ana (5) a Pomona (60) en dirección este, dijeron las autoridades.

El chofer del camión sufrió heridas menores en el accidente, que ocurrió alrededor de las 6am y también involucró una camioneta, informó la Patrulla de Caminos de California.

La causa del accidente está bajo investigación.


Este de Los Ángeles

Doce personas sufrieron heridas leves el domingo cuando una van de pasajeros chocó con un tren del metro de la Línea Dorada, dijeron las autoridades.

El accidente ocurrió alrededor de las 5:35pm  en la intersección de la Calle Tercera y la Avenida McDonnell, dijo el oficial de la Patrulla de Caminos de California M. Alvarez.

Lorena P. García, 30, de Los Ángeles conducía una van Ford 1996 hacia el oeste en la calle Tercera en la intersección de la Avenida McDonnell Avenue y el operador del tren MTA Hugo A. Repreza, 56, de Reseda iba hacia el oeste en la Calle Tercera en McDonnell Avenue, dijo Alvarez.

“Cuando García hizo un giro a la izquierda, la furgoneta chocó con el tren MTA”, dijo el oficial.

Diez de los heridos sufrieron lastimaduras en el cuello y espalda, descritas como menores, y fueron trasladados a hospitales, según el Departamento de Bomberos del Condado de Los Ángeles

El teniente Lester Trull de Servicios de Tránsito del Alguacil del condado de Los Ángeles dijo que todos los heridos se encontraban en la van.

El tren tenía cuatro pasajeros a bordo. Ninguno resultó herido, ni el operador del tren, dijo Trull. El accidente esta siendo investigado por la CHP.

‘Ref’ Rodriguez for LAUSD School Board

May 18, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Eastern Group Publications endorsed Ref Rodriguez for the Los Angeles Unified School Board’s 5th District Seat during the primary and we still endorse him in the general election taking place May 19.

The election has focused a great deal of attention on the battle between the forces that support charter schools and those who believe they are damaging the public school system.

Incumbents have been heavily criticized for their role in the district’s multi-million dollar iPad fiasco, and other ails facing the country’s second largest school system.

EGP believes that in both the charter and traditional public schools systems there are schools that do an outstanding job and schools that are shortchanging students out of a solid education.

Take the latest news that a majority of 10th graders in the LAUSD are not on track to graduate high school, despite years of reforms and innovations aimed at improving academic performance and closing the education gap in mostly Latino and African American communities.

EGP believes that parents and students who have opted for a charter school education deserve a voice on the school board who understands the dynamics of operating a charter school, and is willing to take those that perform poorly.

In our view, Ref Rodriguez is that person in the 5th District race.

Vote for Ref Rodriguez May 19.


Ballot Recommendations LAUSD, Commerce, L.A. Charter Amendments

February 26, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

On March 3, voters in several local cities will go to the polls to elect members of their city council and local school boards.

The past several elections have seen historically low voter turnouts, with in some cases fewer than a quarter of the eligible voters deciding who will lead us through these complicated times, and how to spend our tax dollars.

In cities across the region, what development, housing and city services should look like are ongoing concerns. While the economy has improved, the plight of many low- and middle-income families has lagged behind.

In every city there is talk about encouraging businesses to locate there and ways to create more jobs.

Education is still seen as the best way to improve one’s chances for a better life and financial security, yet there are diverse views on what’s needed in our schools to help students achieve.

The people elected next Tuesday will have a big say in that happens in all these areas.

EGP encourages voters to have a say in their future, and to get out and vote March 3.

These are our ballot recommendations:


Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education – 5th District

We endorse Dr. Ref Rodriguez in this race.

We feel that the incumbent Bennet Kayser has had an opportunity to assist the LAUSD in reforming many issues of concern to parents and students of the school district, but seems to just continue in the role of supporting the status quo.

We have not been impressed by his performance and feel that he failed to act as an independent or inquisitive advocate for the diverse mix of students in his District.

From questions regarding the iPad fiasco, to the debacle at Jefferson High with LAUSD’s student (mis)information system, a technological disaster, it seems to us that he has failed to demonstrate the leadership needed to correct these problems. It’s time the District is represented by a more thoughtful and resourceful representative.

Ref Rodriguez to us is just such a candidate.

Rodriguez grew up in Cypress Park and has a good understanding of the challenges students, faculty and parents in the District’s lower-income, predominantly Latino schools face.

As one of the co-founders of the charter schools under Partnerships to Uplift Communities, he has a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to create schools that work, from developing curriculum to supporting teachers to engaging families and the surrounding community.

While it’s easy to lump people in to pro- or anti-charter school groups, we were impressed by Rodriguez’s commitment to make all schools work, and willingness to decertify charters that fail to meet education goals and standards. He supports ensuring teachers have the tools they need to succeed, including being fairly compensated and involved in the decision process as a team member. But he also understands that teachers do not have an exclusive on good ideas and what works.

We like that Rodriguez has more questions than answers, and promises to use his questions to break through the entrenched bureaucracy which often stands in the way of progress.

We believe he is uniquely qualified to be on the school board to represent the district’s diverse students and parents.

Among Ref’s many contributions to the area in education is his appointment to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing by Gov. Jerry Brown and Board member of Alliance for a Better Community Los Angeles.

He has served as a board member of Glassell Park Neighborhood Council, board member of Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club, Los Angeles and a member of Small Business Alliance.

Rodriguez’s education consists of Doctor of Education Fielding Graduate University and Bachelors of Arts and humanities, Loyola Marymount University.

Vote for Ref Rodriguez for LAUSD District 5.


Los Angeles City Charter Amendments 1 and 2

We recommend a No Vote on both measures to amend the city charter to change the elections dates for city offices and ballot propositions.

While we agree that something must be done to increase voter participation in city elections, changing the sequence of elections and terms of office are not the solution to the problem of voter apathy.

Changing city elections to coincide with the Presidential Election does not guarantee that voters will be any better informed or enthusiastic about city elections. In fact, there is a real danger that the information about city offices and ballot measures will be drowned out by the louder and better-financed state and national campaigns. Not to mention that the change would result keeping some elected officials in office nearly two years longer than voters might want.

It’s an experiment that the city doesn’t need at this time. What city voters would probably prefer is a way to make voter eligibility and voting less difficult. We believe many potential voters would come out to the polls if they could register the same day to vote by provisional ballot and if there were less complicated ways to vote once registered.

Money spent to change election dates would be better spent on city services like street and sidewalk repairs. Vote No on Charter Amendments  1 and 2

Commerce City Council Election – Vote for Two

While there is something to be said about the smooth working of a city council not embroiled in political one-upmanship, it is equally important to have city councils with members who are willing to stand alone when they don’t agree with their fellow council members.

That is why we endorse Denise Robles for reelection and Hugo Argumedo for the second open seat.

Hugo Argumedo has been on the council before, elected in 1997, 1999, 2003 and 2007.

During the time he served Commerce experienced an era of growth in many areas, from new retail developments to improvements in the city’s infrastructure and services.

The Crown Plaza Hotel was inaugurated and the Citadel was expanded, which led to the creation of many jobs for the area. He helped negotiate a new contract with the fire department, saving the city millions of dollars. He helped pass a hotel visitor tax, which now generates approximately $2.3 million for the city.

We are well aware that his tenure was not without controversy, but we believe he has learned valuable lessons from his mistakes that are likely to help him push for greater transparency if elected.

We support Denise Robles because she has not been afraid to be the lone voice of opposition on issues before the council. She has refused to be bulldozered, when it may have been personally more practical and advantageous to just get along.

That’s not to say that we always agree with her; in fact, there have been times when we thought she was on the wrong side of an issue.

But we believe that Robles has conducted herself in a professional manner and represents voices in the city not always heard. Like her fellow council members, she has her own constituency and followers and that’s okay.

One person speaking out alone is often seen as an interloper, and while they may have valid points of views and concerns, they are often written off as a troublemaker.

EGP believes the reelection of Robles and election of Argumedo will add balance to the equation, although it is our hope the council will avoid splits on issues that are more about power and control than differences over the best path to serve Commerce residents and businesses.

Vote for Robledo and Argumedo for City Council.


Earlier Endorsement: Jose Huizar for Los Angeles City Council District 14


School Board Candidates Debate in Eagle Rock

February 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Three candidates running for a spot on the board of the second largest school district of the country were at Eagle Rock High School Monday evening, taking part in forum where they told voters why they should represent District 5 on the L.A. Unified School District Board of Education.

The school’s auditorium was nearly packed, with many of those in attendance there to support their preferred candidate, incumbent Bennett Kayser, or one of his two challengers, professor Andrew Thomas and charter school executive Ref Rodriguez.

District 5 covers a large and diverse area that includes schools in the southeast communities of South Gate, Cudahy, Maywood and Huntington Park, as well as east and northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods like Highland Park, Cypress Park, El Sereno, East L.A., Mt. Washington, Lincoln Heights and Eagle Rock among others.

(Left to right): Ref Rodriguez, Andrew Thomas and incumbent Bennet Kayser speak to a large audience about their future plans for the District 5. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

(Left to right): Ref Rodriguez, Andrew Thomas and incumbent Bennet Kayser speak to a large audience about their future plans for the District 5. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The seven-member school board oversees LAUSD’s $7 billion budget and sets policy for District’s 1,000 schools; 650,000 students; and more than 45,000 employees.

It was the first debate with all three candidates in attendance: Kayser and Thomas opted to not take part in a debate sponsored by the United Way of Greater L.A. and a diverse group of community partners Jan. 28 at the Goodwill Community Center in Lincoln Heights, leaving Rodriguez as the only participant.

Kayser’s absence in particular raised the ire of several community groups, who in a news release said his “refusal to participate” deprived the community of “an opportunity to meet all candidates, learn their values, strategies and ideas for the Board and the District,” which is key to voters deciding which “best meets the needs of their children and local schools.”

Kayser responded to the criticism Monday, distributing a written statement explaining he had participated in multiple other election-related forums, interviews and Q and A’s and that “Debating debates is pointless.” The concerns facing District 5 “are too large for us to waste another moment on this contrived issue.”

At Monday’s forum, moderated by education journalist Annie Gilbertson, Kayser said his time as a board member has benefitted LAUSD students. He said he voted to add $34 million for early childhood education and adult education as well as sponsoring hundreds of fieldtrips. He is a big supporter of providing better programs for students with special needs, he said.

Thomas said his two children attend LAUSD schools and the experience has left him unsatisfied with the quality of schools throughout the district. “Three out of ten LAUSD school students are not graduating,” he said. The next school board needs to fix the District’s budget and implement Common Core –that sets high academic standards in math and English language arts/literacy, he said.

In 1999, Rodriguez co-founded “Partnerships to Uplift Communities,” a network of highly respected charter schools. He said the achievement and excellence gap could be closed by providing better education to LAUSD students. Communication between parents and teachers and the board willing to collaborate is the key to success, he said.

While all three candidates seemed to find common ground on issues such as Common Core and the restoration of arts and music programs, Thomas and Keyser expressed disapproval with the growing number of charter schools in the District.

Thomas said 18% of LAUSD students now attend a charter school and that takes money away from other public schools. “Every time a charter school opens they take away money from LAUSD,” he said, adding that 20% of charters are performing below the standard.

Rodriguez defended charter schools noting that many perform exceptionally well, but added that those programs that fail to provide a high quality education should be closed. While most parents move their child to a charter in search of higher quality education, much of the exodus from traditional LAUSD schools is due to parents leaving because they cannot afford to stay in the city.

“It’s not about charters taking away kids, it’s about parents [leaving],” he said.

All three candidates agreed that teachers are vital to providing high quality education and they need an environment that allows them to do their best.

Keyser said teachers need more flexibility in their lessons. Rodriguez said teachers should to be paid better. Thomas said that the biggest priority is to reduce teacher-student ratio.

In regards to the Local Control Funding Formula, a new funding mechanism that allocates more money to schools with large numbers of special need students, English Learners (EL), and students in foster care, Rodriguez said the funds should support high quality proficiency programs. “Schools need peer coaching, peer training, especially for foster kids and low-income kids.”

During the forum, Thomas called for greater transparency at the District. “Schools have decided for the second year in a row not to publish results” on the Common Core standards and that’s not acceptable, he said.

Kayser said programs and services for children with special needs should be required at schools with low-income families.

“I have a son who goes to King Middle School and it is a good opportunity to see where each candidate stands,” Norma Lopez told EGP following the forum.

“It’s good to see diversity among the candidates,” added Gabriel Sandoval.

Copyright © 2017 Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews, Inc. ·