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Filiberto Gonzalez: a fundraiser for social justice and now himself

Vanessa Romo | January 16, 2015

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Filberto GonzalezThis is the first in a series of profiles on candidates running in the March 3 primary for the LA Unified school board. Today’s focus is Filiberto Gonzalez, a candidate for the District 3 seat.

Filiberto Gonzalez has been raising money for social justice causes since he was a teenager. Now, the cause is himself.

Gonzalez, 40 and a father of three, is one of five candidates challenging Tamar Galatzan to represent LA Unified’s District 3, which covers most of the north valley.

Recounting the influences on his life, he harkens back to his high school years in Salinas, Calif. on the day Cesar Chavez died.

“The United Farm Workers union headquarters was right next door to my elementary school, and my friends and I went over there to offer our condolences,” he told LA School Report.

He paints a vivid picture: The three nervous boys were summoned from the lobby to the union’s board room, “all the the way in the back,” where several members sat around a worn out wooden table. One was labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. “She said, ‘Thank you but we need your help. Go to the local businesses and ask them to donate for the funeral, and bring it back as soon as you can.’ ”

Over the next few days, Gonzalez says, he and his friends raised several hundred dollars.

“That was a seminal moment in my young adulthood,” he said.

It launched a career as an organizer and professional fundraiser. It also made him sympathetic to the plight of teachers, who, he argues, are overworked and under appreciated. “They’re the cornerstone on which the district is built,” he said.

As part of his platform, he is proposing a plan to boost starting teacher salaries to $65,000 a year, climbing to $100,000 for educators with seven or more years experience.

He also believes the district’s teacher evaluation system and “teacher jail” are desperately in need of reform. “The adjudication process [for teachers accused of wrong-doing] should get the funding that it needs to work in swift order,” he said.

The teachers union, UTLA, has not endorsed any candidates in the 2015 elections for the three contested board seats — Districts 3, 5 and 7 — and Gonzalez says he has yet to meet with the union’s interview committee. But UTLA typically endorses challengers who are rank and file members, which Gonzalez is not. Still, he says he’s hopeful to gain the union’s support.

As founder of SoCal Impact Consulting, a Woodland Hills-based consulting firm, Gonzalez has skills in nonprofit fundraising, grant writing and community outreach, which he is relying upon to defeat Galatzan, a charter school champion whose campaign will likely be backed by national and statewide education reform organizations.

“I do have some powers of persuasion,” he said, laughing, then adding that while he may not be getting the big ed reform bucks, his politics are such that he is getting small, personal donations “from people across the political education spectrum.”

Through the reporting period that ended on Dec. 31, he had raised $1,236, least among the five candidates who have reporting raising at least $1,000.

Despite his background and ties to various labor movements, Gonzalez says he is not anti-charter. While he is not happy about the proliferation and expansion of charter schools within the district, he says, “It’s short sighted to be critical of parents who have voted with their feet by taking their kids to charter schools.”

As a parent serving on the leadership council at his two daughters’ district elementary school, Gonzalez has watched as parents have checked out of the public school system.

“If they’ve made a move away from the school district it’s because they’re sick and tired” of failing schools, he said. And he doesn’t blame them.

Part of his platform includes an as yet to be revealed plan to reverse that trend. “It’s coming soon,” he said in an interview last week. “We can’t afford to sit by as we lose more students.” Indeed, LA Unified’s chief finance officer, Megan Reilly, told the board this week, the district has an annual attrition rate of 3 percent per year, and each 3 percent represents $100 million per year in lost funding.

“I mean, that’s just not sustainable,” he said.

Not surprising, he is intensely critical of Galatzan even though he voted for her in the last election. He is especially critical of her role in supporting the district’s iPad program, insisting, “She was a great supporter of the iPads even when it did not have support in our neighborhoods. It was wrong headed from the very beginning and yet she was the number one champion on that.”

Gonzalez also wants to take a leading role on child abuse reporting and transparency. He grows nearly apoplectic when talking about the Miramonte Elementary School scandal, which dragged on for more than two years and cost the district nearly $170 million in settlements  — the nation’s largest civil settlement in a school-related sexual abuse case.

“[Galatzan], the board and the general counsel did close to nothing for all these years during that child abuse scandal that consumed the school district for years now,” he said. “I plan to be a very active public advocate.”

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