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Gonez and Padilla meet in first and potentially only forum ahead of runoff election

Sarah Favot | May 3, 2017

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Kelly Gonez and Imelda Padilla, school board District 6 candidates, at a candidate forum at PUC Triumph Charter High School in Sylmar.

In an intimate setting Tuesday night at a Sylmar charter school, LA Unified school board candidates Kelly Gonez and Imelda Padilla met for the first and possibly only time ahead of the runoff. Differences stood out in the candidates’ demeanor, but their platforms had some similarities.

The forum for the board District 6 candidates at PUC Triumph Charter High School was organized by PUC Nueva Esperanza Charter Academy Principal Fidel Ramirez, who also moderated.

About a dozen parents, some wearing “Parents for Kelly Gonez” T-shirts, attended and sat in a half-circle around the candidates, who sat at a long table.

“This is an opportunity for us to ask some questions with regard to our interests here in our community, our PUC community and San Fernando Valley community,” Ramirez said.

Gonez and Padilla, who are competing in the May 16 runoff to represent the East San Fernando Valley district, ignored each other for the most part during the hour-long event and spoke directly to the parents gathered.

There was also a difference in the language they used. For example, Padilla said referring to the election, “when I win,” while Gonez said, “If I am lucky enough to be elected.”

• Read more: Just 3 of 4 LAUSD school board candidates are expected to participate in Saturday’s forum

Padilla subtly highlighted differences between her and Gonez, noting that she has always lived in the district. Gonez lived in Washington, D.C., for two years when she worked in the Obama Administration.

At one point, Padilla stopped speaking and pointed to some Gonez staffers in the audience and asked them if they were OK. They were giggling, she said. “Did I say something wrong? Taking notes on my next hit pieces,” she said.

Padilla criticized incumbent Mónica Ratliff, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the LA City Council, for not being accessible and for “ignoring” part of the district. Ratliff has endorsed Gonez.

“I’m very connected. I’m very well aware of what’s going on in this community, I don’t want another candidate who doesn’t know this community,” she said.

Gonez highlighted her experiences as a teacher — she even taught at a PUC school in Lake View Terrace. She now teaches at a charter middle school in South LA. She said she decided to run because none of the other candidates were educators. She said she’s never been interested in running for office.

“I felt like I shouldn’t let my personal insecurities keep me from doing something that can make a lasting difference for our kids and our families. I really did it for my students,” she said.

Padilla gave her answers in English and Spanish. While Gonez gave her introduction in Spanish, Ramirez translated her answers to the questions in Spanish.

When it comes to addressing the district’s financial crisis, Gonez said she would make decisions based on what she knows works for kids and would work to increase enrollment by investing in traditional schools. Padilla said she believes there needs to be more transparency about the budget and will make sure the East San Fernando Valley gets its fair share.

Both candidates agreed traditional schools and charter schools should collaborate and share best practices.

Read LA School Report’s full series of coverage at LAUSD Race 2017.

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