Transgender Activist Among Many Parents Vying For District 5 Board Seat

 Transgender parent Justine Gonzalez

Transgender parent Justine Gonzalez

While there are currently no parents of school-age children serving on the LAUSD Board, at least seven of the 17 candidates who have filed to run in the District 5 special election on March 5 are parents, and most have included that fact in their ballot designations. One parent, Justine Gonzalez, would be the first transgender person elected to office in Los Angeles if she were to win.  

The BD5 seat has been empty since the resignation of Board Member Ref Rodriguez earlier this year. Former BD5 Board Member Bennett Kayser, whom Rodriguez defeated in the last race for the seat, has decided to run again, as has Jackie Goldberg, another former Board member and state lawmaker who failed in her attempt to get appointed to the seat after parents objected to a closed process that excluded their input.

 Educator and Parent Allison Bajracharya

Educator and Parent Allison Bajracharya

The parent candidates include: Allison Bajracharya, a career educator who works at Camino Nuevo and whose kids attend Franklin Elementary; Gonzalez, a transgender activist in Echo Park who has worked on LGBTQ issues with mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti and is also a parent of an LAUSD student; Heather Repenning, an LAUSD parent who serves as Vice President of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works; Rocio Rivas, a parent activist who pushed Rodriguez to resign from the Board; Erika Alvarez, an English teacher and parent whose top platform plank is to place a moratorium on charter schools; Cynthia Gonzalez, an LAUSD principal and parent; and Bell Councilmember and parent Nestor Enrique Valencia.

Speak UP has been calling for parents to have a seat at the table when it comes to decisions affecting our kids, although it remains to be seen how many of the parent candidates support Speak UP’s progressive reform agenda. Speak UP is currently reaching out to candidates for meetings and interviews and will eventually endorse one or more candidates in the race.

Board District 5 is divided into two distinct areas: Echo Park, Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Eagle Rock in the northeast, and the southeast cities of South Gate, Bell, Vernon and Huntington Park. While most of the candidates live in the northern part of the district, several candidates that currently hold office in the southeast are also running, including Huntington Park City Councilmember (and former Mayor) Graciela Ortiz, teacher and Bell Mayor Fidencio Joel Gallardo, as well as Valencia. 

 Eduardo Cisneros

Eduardo Cisneros

One candidate who only recently decided to enter the race, however, has strong ties in both communities. Eduardo Cisneros, a first generation Latino immigrant, grew up and attended schools in Huntington Park but now lives in Echo Park. Cisneros served as a community liaison and policy adviser to former LAUSD Board member Yolie Flores, who also served on the Speak UP Board.

Cisneros worked for the Obama administration and is now working for the NALEO Education Fund to get an accurate Census count and to empower more Latinos to participate in the political process. He also worked for SEIU so he has strong ties to both unions and education reformers, both of whom have historically played key roles in school Board elections.

Another prominent candidate that filed early Tuesday, the final day to enter the race, according to the City Clerk’s office, is Ana Cubas, who served as chief of staff for L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar and deputy director of the Youth Policy Institute.

Also running are Los Angeles County Arts Commissioner David Valdez, Scott Cody, an instructional support specialist at LAUSD and adjunct professor at USC; East Los Angeles College Professor Salvador “Chamba” Sanchez and teacher James C. O'Gabhann III, who ran against Rodriguez and Kayser in the last BD5 race.