By Tanya Anton, creator of GoMamaGuide.com
You’re busy, your kids keep you running, your work is never-ending, and after this last round of “political theatre” (for lack of a better way to put our current state of the union), you’re crispy, burnt, over it.
I get it. I really do.
But here’s where you can take that outrage and “election fatigue” and actually make a difference. Locally. Where every single vote really DOES matter. (The previous BD4 race was narrowly won by a margin of about 2500 votes.) Where parents in the previous election, whose kids have the most at stake, were ABSENT from the vote! (About 2/3 of voters were over the age of 55 and didn’t even have children in the school system.)
Parents, we’ve been letting OTHER PEOPLE decide the future of our kids’ education! We need to pay attention now and STEP UP!
In LAUSD, seven elected school board members run a $7.6 BILLION dollar annual enterprise impacting the future of about 650,000 of our kids. Three of those seven seats are to be decided in the March 7 election next week. The victors this time will be seated for an unusually long term of 5 ½ years, meaning they will be making decisions through June, 2022. There is a lot at stake.
The decisions your school board rep makes will impact our collective kids and schools directly in many ways you might not realize. Here are TEN reasons why you NEED to vote for your school board rep on March 7:
1. Choosing Your School: In a buffet of school options you can have “choice,” as long as it’s a district-union choice. Our current board member, at times openly hostile to charter schools, would have everyone go back to their neighborhood schools. That’s fine in some neighborhoods, but what if your local school has been failing kids for decades? Is unsafe? Or simply is a model that doesn’t work for your particular child? (It happens.) If you believe that every family has the right to choose which program works best for their child, whether that’s the neighborhood school, a magnet, a charter, language immersion, gifted program, specialty academy, or a combination of those options throughout their K-12 journey, then you’ll need to vote for a candidate who actively supports ALL public school options.
2. Discretionary Funds: Did you know that each board member has access to a cache of discretionary funds to be allocated to schools and projects in his/her board district? They also wield extraordinary influence on prioritizing bond expenditures. How is it that Venice High gets a $111M modernization makeover, while Westchester High (WESM) continually sits in a state of disrepair? Or Emerson Middle gets over $18M of a $25M BD4 CIPR fund, while other area schools get virtually nothing? Ask your board member.
3. Co-Locations: Setting aside the charter debate for a moment, it’s the local board member who works behind the scenes coordinating with the Charter Schools Division to determine where charters and other school programs (pilots, language immersions, new themed programs) will be housed and co-location offers made. How is it that some areas are dense with co-locations, while other half-empty campuses NEVER have to share? Why do some charters get offered a space that just a few months earlier was “not enough space” for a different charter? Why can expansion bungalows be dropped easily for some programs yet “impossible” for others to receive? Why is this entire process shrouded in secrecy, everything from current enrollment numbers, zip codes of attendees, campus maps with classroom allocations, to a neutral oversight process? And further, if there are such ballooning waitlists at certain in-demand programs, while other programs are limping along at a fraction of what their campus once held, why aren’t the in-demand programs being expanded and replicated to serve more students?
4. School Improvement Oversight: We talk about stricter oversight for charter schools and there’s a lot of finger pointing, but that works both ways. We need stricter oversight for ALL schools, and that includes the district ones, especially the middle and high schools that have been failing kids repeatedly without ever being revitalized or shut down. Perhaps it’s time to consider a change in approach and new leadership.
5. Open Door Policy: It sure sounds good in a stump speech, but does your board member actually take your calls? Meet with your school? Communicate proposed plans openly and work with you on issues your community is concerned about, ie. does he REPRESENT his constituents? Or will he ignore all questions, show disdain for your concerns, and compare your “presumed affluence” to other more distressed areas, in effect silencing your concerns as altogether unworthy. Or abstain from voting because he doesn’t agree with his constituents? Our current board member keeps talking about “ALL kids,” but I know he’s not talking about MY kids, or the MANY kids, (his actual constituents), across this vast board district because these kids are somehow less important to him.
6. Budget: Make no mistake, this district is facing a fiscal cliff of unmet pensions with decreased revenue from steadily declining enrollment. Despite the passing of Prop 30 and 55, (the sales tax increase), if the looming budget is not addressed by this board and we face the inevitable shortfall, there WILL be class size increases, reductions in staff, reductions in custodial, counselors, nurses, librarians, supplies, and reductions in the kinds of programs that enrich and expand learning for our kids. We need a board member who will take his fiduciary responsibility seriously and come up with solutions. You can’t “bake sale and gift wrap” your way out of millions of dollars of deficit.
7. Labor Negotiations: When your board member is in the pocket of labor unions - he gave a 10% raise to teachers and clerical while ignoring fiscal realities, admin has increased 20% despite declining enrollment, he fought measures to track teacher performance, or to make it easier to remove a bad teacher (it’s virtually impossible) – we know where his priorities are.
8. Allegations of Privatizing/Special Interests: Charters have been accused of being part of a union-busting “privatizing” agenda. However most of the not-for-profit charter schools around here would be thrilled to receive even a fraction of the monies they’ve been accused of getting from those “billionaires.” It’s an effective accusation but a false one. On the other hand, the same “special interest” argument can be levied at the unions. Just follow the funds. The unions raised dues in order to have a larger political war chest, and The California Teachers Association is by far the largest and most well-endowed lobbying arm in California, outspending Big Oil and Big Pharma in order to protect its agenda. Despite all that spending and organizing, many public schools have done a dismal job educating kids, and any attempts to revitalize them are met with skepticism and intractable job protection gridlock. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it’s a misleading, go-nowhere argument that divides families and hurts kids. Let’s get leadership who promotes the school models that are working, replicates best practices, and puts an end to the divisive rhetoric that harms families. ALL children deserve a great education.
9. Magnet Conversions: In an effort to compete with charters, your neighborhood school has just been converted to a STEM/STEAM magnet, the edu-flavor du jour. There goes your community school. Now you need to apply through eChoices with everybody else and pray you get into the new commuter school, or scramble to find other options if this model doesn’t resonate for your child. Your current board rep thinks this will fix your neighborhood.
10. Broken Pathways: Unless you can afford to move into a few select affluent neighborhoods, most of us do not live where the zoned pathway from elementary to middle to high school (“feeder pattern”) is optimally functioning and high-performing academically. So while the majority of elementary schools are doing a consistent job of educating kids, when you start to look to middle school and beyond, parents begin to panic at the slim pickings. This is where you see a large drop in enrollment as families leave the district for other school choices. More needs to be done to build and support the revitalization of feeder patterns especially at the secondary school level. Slapping up new magnet programs, or lowering the bar to qualify for graduation is simply not enough.
I hope this motivates you to get out and vote for fresh leadership on March 7. Our collective kids’ futures depend on it.
Tanya Anton, creator of GoMamaGuide, is an author, frequent guest speaker, and public school parent who has helped thousands of stressed-out parents navigate the Los Angeles public school system.