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Meet the 10 candidates running for LAUSD school board in District 5

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | February 12, 2019

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These four candidates have raised the most in campaign contributions so far: Allison Greenwood Bajracharya, top left, Jackie Goldberg, top right, Graciela Ortiz, bottom left, and Heather Repenning.

*Updated Feb. 13

The 10 candidates in the race for L.A. Unified’s vacant school board seat are in full swing participating in community forums and other public events as the March 5 special election approaches.

The new board member for Board District 5 will represent about 100,000 students in some very different communities: from the heavily Latino southeast cities — including Huntington Park, Maywood and Bell — and from the more affluent neighborhoods north of downtown — like Silver Lake, Eagle Rock and Los Feliz. District 5 has the second-highest concentration of Latino students, representing almost 89 percent of the student population. Of the 10 candidates, seven are Latinos.

If no one gets more than 50 percent of the votes next month, a runoff election between the top two candidates will be held May 14. The new board member will serve only a year and a half and will likely be a swing vote on the seven-member board. Of the 10 candidates, only a couple have been vocal about their opposition to independent charter schools, while the rest have stayed away from taking a position.

The District 5 board seat was left vacant by Ref Rodríguez, who resigned in July after pleading guilty to political money laundering charges. One month later, the school board voted 5-1 in favor of holding a special election to fill the seat and opposed an effort to appoint former board member Jackie Goldberg as an interim member. Goldberg is now one of the 10 candidates.

• Read more on Board District 5:

100,000 LAUSD students have no representative. Here are 5 things to know about Board District 5, vacated by Ref Rodriguez’s resignation

10 candidates will be on the ballot in March to fill LAUSD’s vacant school board seat

‘I want my voice heard’ — Showdown in the boardroom as Latino parents balk at an attempt to name a replacement for Ref Rodriguez without their input

LA parent voice: ‘We want to have a voice,’ says a mom who showed up at LAUSD before dawn to make sure her community was represented

Last week, the 10 candidates joined two separate community forums, one in the southeast city of Cudahy on Wednesday, hosted by YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA and the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles. About 200 people attended. A forum held Saturday and organized by Great Public Schools Now drew about 1,000 people.

This week candidates will appear at two community forums, one led by parents on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Eagle Rock Elementary, and one student-led forum on Saturday at South Gate High School, starting at 2 p.m. Both are co-hosted by the Alliance for a Better Community and United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and supported by the Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS) coalition.

This election is a nonpartisan race. Candidates must be registered voters of L.A. Unified and residents of Board District 5 since Oct. 6.

Every candidate paid a filing fee of $500, which means none submitted more than 1,000 signatures supporting their nomination. In terms of campaign contributions, so far this race is not even close to 2017’s election that raised about $4 million in outside funds one week before the primary for Board Districts 2, 4 and 6.

Meet the 10 candidates here:

Ana Cubas

Ana Cubas is a professor at East Los Angeles College and founder and president of the Latina Public Service Academy, a local nonprofit which empowers high school youth through leadership training. She was chief of staff to Los Angeles City Councilmember José Huizar. She ran unsuccessfully in 2013 for the Los Angeles City Council District 9, losing to Curren Price.

“I am running for LAUSD Board District 5 because education was a way out of poverty for me and my family. I graduated with highest honors with a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, and a Master’s Degree from Princeton University (and most recently my MBA from USC). I strongly believe that all of our children deserve a high quality education to attain the American Dream,” Cubas states on her Facebook page.

Cubas has raised $49,169 in campaign contributions, according to the L.A. City Ethics Commission website. Her endorsements include elected officials, board members from other L.A. County school districts and Los Angeles Community College trustees.


Jackie Goldberg

Jackie Goldberg is a retired teacher who represented Board District 5 on the L.A. Unified school board for two terms, from 1983 to 1991. She was also a member of the L.A. City Council and the California state Assembly. L.A Unified board member Scott Schmerelson submitted a resolution to the board last August to name Goldberg as Rodríguez’s interim replacement, but the board voted to leave the seat vacant until an election could be held.

“We are assembling a strong team to ensure our schools are properly funded. Educators’ courageous strike cast a bright light on public education in Los Angeles and demonstrated deep support for our schools. There is urgency to act now to give students and teachers the resources they need and as a school board member I know how to take immediate action,” Goldberg said when she earned the endorsement of L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis last month.

Goldberg was active during the UTLA strike last month, joining teachers on the picket line, speaking at rallies and calling for a halt in the growth of charter schools — which ended up being key to UTLA’s agreement to end the strike.

She told KPFK public radio that charters are led by “billionaire privatizers” and are “rigged” and “undermining the financial support for 80 percent of the students in L.A. Unified.” 

UTLA is calling on its members to support Goldberg by canvassing southeast cities for several days starting Saturday.

Goldberg has raised $77,951 in contributions. Other endorsements, besides UTLA and Solis, include state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, state Senator Maria Elena Durazo and current school board members George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson.


Cynthia González

Cynthia González is the principal at L.A. Unified’s Diego Rivera Learning Complex. She has been working in education for 17 years. She has two master’s degrees in education and an educational doctorate from UCLA. She grew up in Huntington Park and attended L.A. Unified schools in Board District 5. Her two daughters attend Board District 5 schools.

“We need to give power back to schools. Schools need to have the flexibility to invest in programs that meet the needs of their students and communities. They need funding, assessment and curriculum flexibility. Students need to be empowered by providing them multiple pathways of success. We do this by creating partnerships with community organizations, colleges, universities and businesses. We need to empower our communities by uniting parents to fight larger issues that keep kids from learning at high levels. These include advocating for safer communities, affordable housing, and additional school funding,” González states on her website.

González has raised $24,615 in contributions. Her endorsements include the Association of Administrators of Los Angeles and former L.A. Unified board member Victoria Castro.


Allison Greenwood Bajracharya

Allison Greenwood Bajracharya is an L.A. Unified parent who lives in Los Feliz. She was the operations and strategy chief at the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy network of schools until she stepped down in November. Her two children attend Franklin Avenue Elementary in Los Feliz. She has 18 years of experience working in public education. Prior to her job at Camino Nuevo, she worked as a public school teacher in New Orleans before moving to Los Angeles to get her master’s degree in public policy from USC. She is chair of the Silverlake Jewish Community Center’s board and a board member of STEM Preparatory charter schools and United Parents and Students.

“This is bigger than any candidate’s campaign. It’s about making sure all our children have the opportunity to learn, prosper, and succeed,” she said in a statement when she began an online petition calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature to provide new school funding in order to help end the Los Angeles teacher strike.

Bajracharya has raised $151,372 in contributions. Her endorsements include Students for Education Reform, families and community members.


Graciela Ortiz

Graciela “Grace” Ortiz is a Huntington Park councilwoman and a social worker who has worked for L.A. Unified as a pupil services and attendance counselor at Banning High School, Peary Middle School and Linda Esperanza Marquez High School, where she notes she became a UTLA member. Ortiz was elected to serve on Huntington Park’s City Council in March 2015. She was vice mayor in 2015-16 and mayor in 2016-17, when she voted in favor of a moratorium on new charters schools in Huntington Park which lasted for one year.

Ortiz told Speak Up in an interview that she had to “wear that hat” as a councilwoman and that the charter moratorium was temporary. “My view on schools, in general, is I believe in good schools, period. I believe in good schools in all our communities. Period. To put a label on a school, I don’t believe it’s fair. That’s a charter school, that’s a public school, that’s an option school, that’s another LAUSD school. Schools are schools. And we need good schools. Period. So I believe in good schools, and I believe in good programs. We have amazing programs in many of our schools, and we don’t advertise it enough to our communities, to our parents.”

Ortiz has raised $114,315 in contributions. Her endorsements include elected officials from the southeast cities, as well as L.A. City Councilmember Gil Cedillo from District 1, who represents the areas northeast of downtown that are in Board District 5. Other endorsements include the Association of Pupil Services and Attendance Counselors, the National Association of Social Workers and Los Angeles School Police Association.


Heather Repenning

Heather Repenning has served Mayor Eric Garcetti in various roles including director of external affairs. She has a daughter attending an elementary school in Silver Lake. She told Speak UP in an interview about the importance of having a parent of an L.A. Unified student on the board. “I think it’s really important. At the end of the day, we’re representing the clients of LAUSD, which are the kids. I don’t think it’s the only perspective that should be represented on the board. And I certainly understand the importance of having educators and administrators on the board. But the parent perspective is a really important one to have in the mix. I talk to parents every day about how they’re making decisions around their children’s education, how they’re trying to figure it out. And I think having that perspective there is a really important one, particularly when it comes to enrollment.”

Repenning has raised $197,248 in contributions. Her endorsements include Mayor Garcetti and local unions such as Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99, which represents cafeteria workers, school bus drivers and other classified school employees, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112 and Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters.


Rocío Rivas

Rocío Rivas is an L.A. Unified community representative and parent. She doesn’t have a campaign website. Her Facebook page doesn’t show endorsements or other information.

On Facebook, she is a strong critic of charter schools. “Finally. well, let’s see how well he [Gov. Gavin Newsom] addresses charter school network growth with tight regulation, cleans out the fraud and corruption, implements strong oversight, transparency and demand accountability.” When asked at the YMCA candidate forum last Wednesday whether there are too many, too few or enough charter schools, Rivas responded: “Too many,” according to a twitter post by Kyle Stokes of KPCC and LAist, which added that Rivas said “the reason we’re here is a previous board member was indicted.”

To date, the L.A. City Ethics Commission website doesn’t show any contributions made to her campaign.


Salvador “Chamba” Sánchez

Salvador “Chamba” Sánchez is a Los Angeles City College professor and community activist and a former janitor union organizer.

Education is very personal. It changed my life. I believe in the promise of public education because this community fulfilled that promise to me. It was in public education where a better future began for me. Indeed, my life story is a testament to the power of education and determination. I want to restore this promise to our children attending public schools in this district,” Sánchez states on his website. He states that his three main areas of focus to improve schools are student absences, funding and parent empowerment.

Sánchez has raised $6,999 in contributions. No endorsements are listed on his website.


David Valdez

David Valdez is a Los Angeles County arts commissioner. Valdez is a graduate of Garfield High School and Yale University. He also currently serves on the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. He is a member of the board of directors for Jovenes Inc., an organization serving homeless youth in Boyle Heights.

“As an artist, I am invested in revitalizing arts programs at our schools. Arts are a proven method of improving educational outcomes and our students need access to programs so that they may continue to develop confidence, soft skills, and leadership abilities,” Valdez states on his website. He also mentions more support to teachers, increased funding and a cap on classroom sizes as part of his campaign’s platform.

Valdez has raised $19,283 in contributions and lists no endorsements.


Nestor Valencia

Nestor Enrique Valencia has been a council member in the City of Bell, in southeast L.A., since March 2011. His term is set to expire in March 2020. He was elected mayor in 2014 and again in 2015. Valencia has served on school site councils and was elected vice president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Advisory Committee.

If elected, Valencia says he will “face aggressively the challenges that impact LAUSD and its students. We must invest in teachers so that they can continue to help students succeed,” he states on his website.

Valencia has raised $2,644 in contributions and lists no endorsements.

*This article has been updated to correct that Allison Greenwood Bajracharya stepped down in November as Camino Nuevo Charter Academy’s operations and strategy chief, and to clarify the co-hosts of this week’s forums.

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