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East LA Debate: D2 Challengers Pile On LAUSD

Hillel Aron | February 12, 2013

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District 2 candidates onstage at last night’s El Sereno event.

Challengers at last night’s District 2 debate in El Sereno rarely invoked School Board President Monica Garcia‘s name, even though she was sitting there onstage with them.

But they attacked the incumbent indirectly, with vehement criticisms of LAUSD policies and decisions (regarding standardized tests,  charters schools and budget cuts) as well as Superintendent John Deasy, who was appointed by the School Board.

Throughout the evening, Garcia defended her record and the district’s progress in recent years, ignoring most of the criticism.

“We have improved the district, she said, touting rising graduate rates and test scores. “We have improved the student outcomes. We are not satisfied.”

New Setting, New Rules

The rules for this event were different from the ones that have governed previous candidates forums that have been hosted by United Way.

All questions were written by the audience and selected by a three-person panel. Because there were six participants — Garcia and five challengers — answers were limited to one minute. There was no back and forth between candidates or follow-ups from the moderator.

This gave the debate a somewhat frenetic feel; candidates touched on many topics but didn’t have the time to go into any one issue deeply.

Charter Schools

Scott Folsom, left, Robert Skeels, right, before the debate

Garcia’s challengers all criticized charter schools to varying degrees:

Candidate Robert Skeels blasted charter operators as “privately managed corporations” with “zero accountability” who “discriminate against special needs students [and] children in poverty.”

Candidate Abelardo Diaz, a school teacher, said charter schools increase the class size of district schools.

Candidate Scott Folsom, who’s not on the ballot but was invited to the debate anyway, said charters schools are “making money off of our children.”

Candidate Annamarie Montanez, who was among the more measured district critics, said charter schools were “a good idea” but that “we’ve lost sight about what is going on,” and that there was “no oversight.” 

Candidate Isabel Vazquez, a longtime district employee, said, “We did not build schools to give them away to external operators.”

Garcia’s answer, of course, was the complete opposite: “Charter schools are part of the solution,” she said. “Today we have 110,000 young people who choose charters. Those parents have rights; those students have rights.”

She said she welcomed corporations to get involved in public education. A few audience members gasped.

Superintendent Deasy

The five challengers were practically holding pitchforks and torches, calling for LAUSD Superintendent Deasy’s head — despite not being asked directly about his performance.

Skeels, Folsom, Vazquez and Montanez all made passing reference to at least wanting to fire the Superintendent.

This was a sharp contrast to the District 6 forum, where one candidate dodged the question of whether or not she would support Deasy and another almost sheepishly said she would consider replacing him.

Budget Cuts & Layoffs

When asked about cuts made to adult education last year, Garcia said they were “tough choices” but that the Board had to find something to cut.

Her opponents said the decision showed a misplaced set of priorities:

“These are not supplemental services,” said Montanez. “These are part of the core.”

Vazquez was even stronger, calling the decision an act of “cowardice.”

“The money is there. It was just allocated for things that didn’t work,” she said.
Garcia’s opponents also took aim at the school Board’s impending vote on cutting roughly 200 social workers and counselors so soon after the passage of Proposition 30, which raised taxes to fund public education. (See: Board Preview: Tablets, Layoffs, & Dual Language.)
After the debate, Garcia told LA School Report that the layoffs are the result of “grants that have expired” or are the decision of local schools. She added that the layoffs were part of “doing the work balancing the budget.”

District 2 candidates onstage at last night’s El Sereno event.

Firing Ineffective Teachers

The pro-teacher, pro-union tendencies of Garcia’s opponents were most apparent in response to a question, “Will you break rank with the union and fire ineffective teachers?”

This was the one question where you could feel the audience start to pull away from some of Garcia’s opponents, who, for the most part, have been endorsed by the teachers union and said they did not believe in firing ineffective teachers.

“Are there bad teachers? Absolutely,” said Montanez. “But the vast majority of them work hard. We need to look at teachers that aren’t effective and support them.”

“I have never met a unionist who wants to save bad teachers,” said Skeels. “But we want a fair process. We want to stop judging teachers and students… by a narrow criteria.”

Vazquez took a somewhat different tack: “I’m the only independent candidate in this race,” referring to the fact that she is the only candidate not endorsed by the Coalition for School Reform, UTLA, or any other union. “I would agree to fire a bad teacher. I would also fire a bad superintendent.”

Next Up: Wednesday District 2 Forum

Voters won’t have to wait long until the next District 2 debate — there’s another one on Wednesday, this one sponsored by the United Way and a panoply of other non-profits.

Previous posts: Debate Preview: Garcia on the Hot SeatEast Valley Forum: Differences Over Deasy, Evaluation, & Dismissal,  Westside Forum: Charters, Evaluation, Deasy

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