Meet an LAUSD school board candidate — District 2’s Mónica García: ‘Pleased with the progress but not satisfied’
Esmeralda Fabián Romero | February 7, 2017
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Name: Mónica García
Board district: 2
Job: Incumbent, school board District 2. She also has a paid position with the Probation Department, where she works a 4-10 work schedule.
Children in LAUSD: No children
LAUSD high school: She graduated from Sacred Heart of Mary in Montebello
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Chicano studies and political science from UC Berkeley, master’s in social work from USC
Lives in: El Sereno
Platform: She wants to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate, reduce the number of English language learners and promote college and career readiness for all LAUSD graduates.
Campaign funding: García reported $163,693.40 in contributions and $130,812.65 in expenditures to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, leaving her campaign with $37,119.40 cash-on-hand as of Jan. 21. She has also received $32,750.32 in support from an independent expenditure committee called Parent Teacher Alliance, which is sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, the organization’s fundraising arm.
Endorsements: Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 99, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), State Council, Los Angeles/Orange County Building Trades Council, LA School Police Union, Southern California Alliance of Law Enforcement (SCALE), California Coalition of Law Enforcement Association (CCLEA), Planned Parenthood, Jose Huizar, L.A. Councilman, Nury Martinez, L.A. Councilwoman, Grace Napolitano, Congresswoman, Alex Padilla, CA Secretary of State, Ricardo Lara, CA Senator, Maria Brenes, Executive Director of InnerCity Struggle.
Campaign site: http://monica4schoolboard.com/
Los Angeles Unified board member Mónica García has spent more than 10 years in one of the most critical positions in education in Los Angeles, representing Local District 2 covering most of the downtown area and East Los Angeles, where both she and the Chicano movement were born 48 years ago.
She’s running for her fourth and last term to continue representing the schools of disadvantaged communities she knows well. This is her third full term, though, having run in 2006 for an unexpired term, then in 2009, 2013 and finally 2017.
“I’m a big Chicana nerd,” she said proudly. She recounts her grandfather’s arrival in the U.S. as a “bracero” worker and her family’s struggles as immigrants — much like many in the district she represents.
“I’m just so honored to serve the people I love so much,” said the second of five children of Guillermina and Manuel García. “I’m proud to represent families that believe education interrupts (the cycle of) poverty.”
She said after a decade of working on the board, and as the third Latina in board history, she is “pleased with the progress but not satisfied” because the main vision for the district has not yet been fulfilled, she said.
“Part of what I’m proud of is the increase in the graduation rate, the reduction of the dropout rate and the suspensions. The work has not gotten any easier, the work is always difficult, but the people in this district are amazing and had met each challenge with grace, just like the movement of ’68. They taught us to keep fighting,” said García, who lives in El Sereno with her sister.
She has no children of her own, but she has eight godchildren, whom she cares as deeply for as she cares for the students she represents in her district, she said.
García was first elected in 2006. If she wins, it will be her last term on the board due to term limits. During her time on the board, she has had to make some tough decisions, and some of them have directly gone against those who have supported her in the past.
” I always make decisions based on what is best for our children’s education and safety, and sometimes that means I disagree with people who have supported me,” García explained. “I think, based on my track record, that everybody understands that.”
During her past two terms, she has been dealing with the threat of district deficits, and that’s another reason why she said she wants to run for re-election. She thinks she has “learned a lot” and wants to put that experience to work.
“I have learned how this district can change, how leadership does matter and the choices that are made at every level matter every single day. The budget is always a challenge, but there are options, it’s a matter of what you choose to do, where do you want to see the results,” she said.
She noted how in part that’s a consequence of education being underfunded in California. However, she said she is used to fighting with what she has.
“Maybe it is because I was poor, because I’m a daughter of working-class people, we did our job regardless. I’m used to struggling to find the solution. I want to put my experience negotiating with the district, with the partners to work as we look to the next 10 years, because we will again make choices.”
García said her top focus for a new term if she wins would be “accelerating the pace of progress, a leadership that reflects understanding and urgency, A-G requirements, equity and justice, student climate and college and career readiness.”
She also wants to improve services to reduce the time students are designated English language learners, but she did not specify how.
Other board members consider the charter schools movement as a threat to the district’s enrollment, but García considers charters “partners” and part of the solution, but not the only solution.
“Because my focus has always been 100 percent graduation, my focus is what works for kids and families. I think we don’t have one solution for families, we have many, so pilot, magnets, charter, all these different kinds of schools have to be spread throughout the district. That will bring more success, more enrollment and a healthier budget to the district.
“I’m a practical person, so I think let’s support what is working and let’s change what is not,” García said.
She feels confident of winning because she has a strong coalition support, including endorsements from various organizations including the LA School Police Union and the SEIU Local 99, and contributors to her campaign include elected officials, charter educators and philanthropists such as Eli and Edythe Broad.
Even though she considers herself a lifelong Democrat because she believes that “education is the foundation for the democracy,” the Los Angeles County Democratic Party decided not to endorse García or either of the other two candidates. However, it did endorse Steve Zimmer, the board president running for re-election in District 4, and Imelda Padilla, who is running for the open board seat in District 6.
García will face opponents Lisa Alva and Carl Petersen in the election. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes in the March 7 primary, the top two vote-getters go on to compete in the May 16 general election. Petersen moved to the district, he said, in order to run against her.
“I think the voters are smart, and they usually prefer to be represented by people who really live in the community, who are invested in our community, and who understand the needs of our community’s schools,” García said about Petersen. “I am proud to be a daughter of the Eastside. I have benefited from the movement to bring educational opportunities to children of immigrants, working-class families and those that believe in the ability of all children to learn.”
She pointed out that her roots are strong in the district. “My memories include walking down Olympic Boulevard to church with my grandmother in East Los Angeles; watching baseball games at Evergreen and Obregon parks; I registered voters in front of Two Guys on Whittier in 1983; I signed up to volunteer at the ’84 Olympics at East LA College; I was part of Youth and Government at the Montebello-ELA YMCA; I participated in the East Los Angeles Christmas Parade and the Dia de Nuestra Virgen De Guadalupe pilgrimage; I studied at the Cal State LA library during high school. My parents met at Stevenson Middle School. It’s not about showing up in our community and renting a room just to run for office.”
Asked about the new Trump administration and its proposed education policies, García said she thinks the new administration has been misinformed about what Los Angeles is.
“I stay focused on our mission, because it is not about my preferences, whoever is in power,” she said. “They have to understand their role in what we do, and I’m ready to help educate and inform any member of the federal government about the movement toward justice that we have here in LA.”
García shared other passions in her personal life such as playing poker, exploring new things and volunteering, as she did at the 1984 Olympic Games as a teenager and registering voters, but she said her biggest joy is spending time with people.
“I feel very grateful that I had so many opportunities, and that’s why I fight so passionately and so intensely for things to change, because if we want to we can. I know that, I lived that.”
She knows that some critics will say she served on the board long enough to get things accomplished. “We have accomplished much,” she said, but she regularly tells her fellow board members things aren’t going fast enough to satisfy her. “I want to accelerate that pace.”
“I wish systemic change happened faster!” García said about her wish-list for the district. “I wish the economic recovery was quicker! I wish labor peace meant success for all children of working families and just and fair compensation for each employee! I wish $1 billion spent on health care meant all employees had access to healthcare! I wish each student had personalized assessments and instruction in every school in every community!”
She continued, “I wish per-pupil funding was available at every school site. I wish the school year was longer with more support for everyone not at proficiency. I wish counselors and social workers had case loads that allowed for family case management. I wish restorative justice and community schools were fully supported at every school site! I wish all English learners had access to high-quality support. I wish there were no D’s and F’s in the system. I wish adult learning and leadership could focus on helping all kids read and write at grade level in a systemic and organized way. I wish we could build the district that models what investment in America and schools looks like.”
García concluded, “But we have come a long way, and I believe my experience in moving the district in the right direction is an asset, not a liability.”