In Partnership with 74

New website seeks to spur conversation about LA schools

Sarah Favot | September 26, 2016



Screen shot of www.voteLAUSD.com.

A sample page of the new site, www.voteLAUSD.com.

A new website has launched that encourages thoughtful discussion about issues involving LA schools and school board elections.

The new site, www.voteLAUSD.com, is run by Loren Bendele, a technology entrepreneur who co-founded coupon website www.savings.com. 

Bendele, a father of two, said he first thought of the idea about eight years ago when he became interested in school issues.

“I found it very difficult to quickly figure out what was going on,” Bendele said. “It just takes a lot of time with an issue as complicated as education. It’s almost like you have to make it a full-time job.”

Growing up in Texas, he said he was fortunate to attend good public schools and, as an adult, he wanted to give back to his community in some way by doing more than just write a check. He came to Los Angeles for work and better weather from Dallas 19 years ago and lives in Pacific Palisades.

“I honed in on education because I think it’s the most fundamental,” he said. “If we can help create a path for everybody to get a good education, now you have more educated citizens who can make decisions from an educated place.”

Bendele said there were over 30 pages of comments on an article about education that he read when he first became interested in the topic. Ninety-five percent of the comments were not useful, but 5 percent had valuable information, he thought.

With this in mind and building off of user-generated content platforms like Yelp, Trip Advisor, Wikipedia and others, Bendele got the idea for his site.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we had something like that for education and other complex subjects and issues where we could really engage people in a thoughtful discussion,” Bendele said.

On Bendele’s site, the comments that other people agree with rise to the top.

The site can be described as “comments on comments on comments.”

There is an option to flag comments. Comments will be removed if they are blatant personal attacks, completely off-topic or spam, Bendele said. But, in the vein of transparency, there is an option to show flagged comments, so a user can see what has been removed. Bendele doesn’t want to be accused of removing comments simply because he doesn’t agree with them.

Bendele said there is also an appeals process for someone whose comment has been removed.

The site is divided into issues like school performance, budget and charter schools. Users can also suggest issues and people can vote on an issue they want to see on the site.

Bendele opened the site up last month to about 100 people and so far the conversation has been cordial, he said.

The comments on topics are divided into two columns. For example, a conversation on “Should we expand charter schools in LAUSD?” has comments in favor on the left side of the web page and comments against on the right side. (As of Friday, four people commented in favor and three people were against the idea.)

Bendele said he wanted to make sure both sides of an issue were represented, even if majority opinion is swayed one way.

Another feature of the site is on the topic of the LA Unified school board elections in March. Bendele wants the site to be a place where people can learn about candidates and hear from the candidates themselves.

“We want this to be a tool that elected officials are excited about and allows the community to directly speak to elected officials,” he said.

Unlike some sites, users can be anonymous. Bendele said he thinks anonymity will bring some people to the site who can’t speak in an official capacity, but who have a lot of knowledge about issues. People do still have to sign up and provide their email address, so moderators can communicate with them if they need to.

The site can also be translated into Spanish, including comments that people wrote in English, which was important to Bendele considering the demographics of LA. The site also works on a mobile device.

Bendele is self-funding the site and doesn’t plan to make money from the site.

“We’re doing this to drive awareness and engagement around issues that are important,” he said.

Eventually, Bendele wants to create another similar website for a national audience on issues like healthcare, gun control and campaign finance reform.

“I want to speak to and reach the middle,” he said.

Click here to sign up for the site. Enter your email and you will receive a message with a link to verify your email address. Click the link and you will be directed to the site with a window that has the site’s guidelines that you must agree to, like “I will focus on facts and avoid personal attacks.” Create a password and enter your username.

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