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Mónica Ratliff endorses Kelly Gonez as an ‘independent voice’ to take over her seat

Mike Szymanski | April 12, 2017

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Outgoing school board member Mónica Ratliff announced Wednesday she is endorsing Kelly Gonez to take over her Board District 6 seat in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

“I greatly appreciate that Ms. Gonez seeks to be an ‘independent voice on the school board,’” Ratliff said in an email to LA School Report. She made her choice after reviewing the two candidates’ answers to an extensive questionnaire she gave them. “I also appreciate that Ms. Gonez recognizes the need to be ‘conscientious of potential saturation of charters.’”

With this endorsement, Ratliff — who is noted for her independence in her decisions while on the school board — has broken with a majority of her fellow board members who have thrown their support to Imelda Padilla, the labor-backed candidate running for the seat.

School board President Steve Zimmer, Vice President George McKenna, and Scott Schmerelson said they are supporting Padilla, while Ref Rodriguez is supporting reform-backed Gonez. Mónica García and Richard Vladovic have not endorsed a candidate in the District 6 race. All the fellow school board members except García supported Ratliff in her race for city council, but she failed to make the runoff.

Gonez and Padilla both sought Ratliff’s endorsement, and Padilla was even encouraged early on to run for the seat by Ratliff after they met at a community meeting. Ratliff provided their answers to LA School Report after notifying the candidates Tuesday night. She noted: “As any reader will see from their answers, both candidates – while very different ‑ have a great deal to offer LA Unified and BD 6’s students, families, and schools.”

• Read Kelly Gonez’s and Imelda Padilla’s responses to Ratliff’s questionnaire

In a statement about the endorsement, Gonez said, “Board Member Mónica Ratliff has fought tirelessly for every student in our district on the school board. She knows firsthand what it takes to serve our community effectively and with integrity, and I am so honored to have her support. I am looking forward to working together in building on her successes and our shared vision of providing every student with the bright future they deserve.”

On Wednesday morning, Padilla’s campaign announced an endorsement of the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region and said in a  statement: “Our school board deserves a leader who can work with different community groups and issues. And I am confident that I can bring the type of leadership and service that we deserve.”

Ratliff was most impressed that Gonez, a teacher like Ratliff, detailed a number of possible ways to help failing schools “and drew on her experience as a teacher in coming up with the possibilities.”

Gonez also reflected Ratliff’s insistence on tackling the toughest issues in open session, especially when it appears that some board members don’t always seem comfortable doing so. (Ratliff was voted down when suggesting that the screening of the finalists for superintendent be open to the public.) Gonez said in her answers, “In my observations, the conversations at board meetings are not always constructive.”

Ratliff also liked Gonez pointing out that her constituents have to travel far to the downtown Beaudry Headquarters for school board meetings, making it a challenge for “meaningful community input.”

Ratliff made the endorsement after asking 20 detailed questions, including how they would deal with monthly school board reports that are more than 700 pages long, how to deal with failing schools, what they think of Superintendent Michelle King and the local district superintendents, and have they watched school board meetings and what they think of them.

Ratliff also asked about “charter school proliferation and saturation” and labor unions, as well as how they deal with angry constituents.

Ratliff asked the candidates how they plan to handle the special interests that have supported each of their campaigns. She also specifically asked Gonez how she will deal with unions such as UTLA and SEIU spending money to make sure she’s not elected, and Padilla about the charter groups spending money against her.

“I have not allowed the work of the California Charter School Association to impact my feelings about the individual charter leaders of my community,” answered Padilla. “My respect and admiration for the parents and students of charter schools started as a young college graduate working as a youth program coordinator at Pacoima Beautiful. Since then, our relationships have flourished over the years as collaborative community partners.”

Gonez said she is a strong supporter of organized labor, adding, “All schools, including charter schools, must abide by fair labor laws.”

Gonez wrote about being a seventh-grade science teacher and dealing with a fellow teacher who brought up personal views about climate change being fake. “To my students, I said that they were learning to be scientists — and being a scientist meant hearing both sides of an issue, but letting the evidence guide their final determination. I wanted my students to have an accurate understanding of the debate, and to learn about the importance of scientific fact in these discussions.”

Gonez wrote that she thought LA Unified could do a better job promoting teacher leadership and “it may be an innovative tool to help support schools that have been failing.”

Gonez added, “Many of the district’s bold plans have suffered in execution, so we need to lay out in detail an ambitious and achievable plan … so far the strategic plan misses the mark.”

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