Ahead of Tuesday’s School Board Election in Los Angeles, Finalists Goldberg and Repenning Find Little to Disagree About at Key Campaign Forum
This article was produced in partnership with LA School Report
In their last candidate forum in the southeast section of L.A. Unified’s Board District 5, the two candidates vying for the open school board seat in Tuesday’s election mostly stuck to familiar themes and gave few glimpses of how they differ.
Jackie Goldberg and Heather Repenning met Wednesday evening at Turner Hall Community Center in Cudahy, in the heavily Latino and poorer section of Board District 5, taking questions from parents and students in English and Spanish before an audience of about 50 people.
They did not engage in substantial debate on what they would do differently, nor did they address improving low-performing schools, school choice or ways to bring new revenues to the district besides the parcel tax on the June ballot.
The candidates had a minute and a half to respond to questions from a panel of two parents, Luz Puebla and Jeannette Godina, and two student members of the United Way’s Young Civic Leaders program, Gabriel Rodriguez and Nazareth Gutierrez. The questions were projected in both languages and were based on a recent survey conducted by Alliance for a Better Community (ABC), which co-hosted the forum with United Way of Greater Los Angeles. This was the third candidate forum organized by these groups in the District 5 board race. The first two took place in February when there were 10 candidates on the ballot in the primary election. In total, the two candidates have faced each other at about 10 forums this spring.
Goldberg, 74, reiterated her decades of experience as a public servant and a former school board member in District 5. “I believe those experiences are what you need,” she said. For many of the questions asked, her answers revolved around her message about “taxing the wealthy,” lowering class sizes and having more substitute teachers, counselors and nurses at every school.
Repenning, 44, highlighted that she would be the only board member with a child in the district, as well as her ability to communicate with more parents because she speaks Spanish. She said she would advocate in Sacramento and Washington for more funding, particularly for schools with the highest needs, the need for wraparound services for students, and college readiness and eligibility. “LAUSD should be measuring its success not just on high school diplomas but college diplomas,” she said. “The status quo isn’t good enough.”
Their only glimmer of differences came during questions about whether 16-year-olds should be able to vote in school board elections and how to better support teachers.
“Absolutely I think students should be able to vote,” Repenning said. “And I believe that undocumented parents and residents should be able to do that as well. At the end of the day, it’s important to me that true stakeholders in the district are able to have a real voice about who’s going to represent them at the school board.”
Goldberg said about 16-year-old voters, “I’m not sure. I have to look at that some more. I haven’t made up my mind yet.” She added, “What I have absolutely made up my mind about — and I already have a draft of — is what San Francisco did to enfranchise every parent and guardian in their schools to vote regardless of citizenship. That is something I do believe.”
To the question of how to better support teachers, Repenning said, “We can have a program where we offer teachers, school staff and administrators, people who have shown a lot of success, additional pay or other incentives to come and serve out some time in some of our more struggling schools.”
But Goldberg responded that “when you say to a group of teachers to come into another area, you’re implying that the teachers that are there are not very good.”
Goldberg added that the best way to support teachers is by reducing class sizes and having additional teaching assistants. “That combination costs money, and we need to think about how to get more money from Sacramento. Time to tax the wealthy in the state.”
When asked what their priorities would be for their first 100 days in office, Goldberg listed the topics of:
Equal school spending: “making sure schools are getting the same amount of money in L.A. Unified.”
Bilingual education: “I do believe that everybody needs to be bilingual, bicultural and biliterate.”
Special education: “A lot of parents are happy their students are in regular schools and regular classes, but they are unhappy with the services they have.”
Repenning said she would:
Advocate for more money for public education: “I will look for every possible source for new funding.”
High-quality afterschool tutoring at every school campus: “It’s very important for me as a working mother. Afterschool programs should be available for every child in the district.”
College access and eligibility: “I want to convene with UCs, CSUs, community colleges, private universities to find out how can we do better for our LAUSD graduates.”
When asked why Measure EE, the parcel tax on the June 4 ballot, was needed, Goldberg said, “Measure EE is a critical piece in changing the outcomes for children in our district. The contract with the teachers talks about a nurse in every school, adding a teacher each year for two years. That’s not going to reduce class sizes nearly enough. It tries to do more in the way of counselors. We need to vastly change the amount of money spent on children in the state, a very rich state. EE means that for the first time since Prop. 13 in 1978, the big landowners in downtown L.A. and in the city will be finally taxed for our children.”
Repenning said, “Measure EE is a direct outcome of the teacher strike. There is actually not enough money at the district right now to pay for all three years of the strike agreement, even though some of the changes reached in the agreement, the reduction of class sizes, the increase in counselors were more gradual than I think a lot of people were hoping for. The district still does not currently have enough money to pay for the whole package, so we actually need to pass Measure EE in order to be able to implement all three years of the strike agreement. I think it’s very important that we find and support new revenue for our school district. I believe whatever happens with EE, this effort shouldn’t stop there.”
If passed by two-thirds of the votes, Measure EE would raise about $500 million a year over a 12-year period for schools.
As the candidates were preparing to leave after the forum, an immigrant parent from Nicaragua pressed them both to listen to her concerns. “How are you going to fix low-performing schools?” Francisca Rueda asked in Spanish. “No parent wants their children to attend a low-performing school. What are you going to do to address that? I need you both to take that into account.”
Repenning responded in Spanish that “as a member of the school board, I will focus on how we can fix the issues that exist in the schools that are underperforming.”
After the Q&A, Elijah Cabrera, a father of four students, told LA School Report that he will vote for Repenning because “she has fresh and specific ideas on how to support students. She is in full support of our students. I think she will pay more attention to the underperforming schools because in this district there are too many of them and very few good ones, and that hurts. We need change, fresh ideas, that’s why I’ll vote for her.”
Patricia Covarrubias, a Cudahy resident with grandchildren in the district, said she will vote for Goldberg because “she has the experience that will help her bring many resources back to our schools, including art and music programs that are so needed in communities like this one. That’s very important for me.”
Goldberg came close to winning the seat in the March 5 primary but fell just shy of a majority, winning 15,935 votes — 48.18 percent of the 33,074 total primary ballots cast. Repenning won about 13 percent of the vote. Both are backed by unions: Goldberg by United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents teachers and support service personnel such as counselors, and Repenning by SEIU Local 99, which represents education workers including cafeteria staff, bus drivers and teachers aides.
Before the candidate Q&A, the forum organizers shared a new report on the district’s disparities between the wealthier and whiter northern section of Board District 5 and the south and southeast sections. Northeast of downtown, the median income is $50,446, compared with $41,203 in the southeast section and $31,559 in the south section.
It also showed that the overall voter turnout in the last runoff election in the board district, in 2015, was 8 percent. Registered voters in the southeast voted at 7 percent, in comparison to 13 percent in the northeast.
Based on the input of more than 500 stakeholders in Board District 5, the report included five recommendations for the next elected board member, calling for:
—Increasing bilingual and dual language programs;
—Prioritizing the needs of special needs students and their parents;
—Prioritizing the needs of English learner students and their parents;
—Addressing the language barriers of parents; and
—Targeting funds for the bright spots of BD5.
It also requested that both candidates commit to meeting with parents and student leaders within the first 100 days of taking office, to which both agreed.
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