When voters head to the polls on Tuesday, March 7, they’ll have the chance to decide who should be L.A. Mayor and the CD11 councilmember, but the most talked about local race has to be who will win the LAUSD School Board seat to represent District 4, which includes Westchester, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista and Marina del Rey. Dozens of campaign mailers have been sent and more than $3.5 million has been spent from independent contributions and outside expenditures. What makes this race even more important for voters is that the school board member elected will serve a 5-1/2 year term, instead of the customary four, to accommodate a change in the election cycle. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote on March 7, the top two candidates will move onto the general election on Tuesday, May 16.
The HomeTown News recently reached out to all four candidates running for the District 4 LAUSD Board Seat to ask them why they’d be the best choice for voters. Below are their answers to our candidate survey, in the order they were received.
No matter who you’re rooting for this election season, make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, March 7.
Personal Statement: Elected in 2009 and re-elected in 2013, Steve Zimmer is President of the LAUSD School Board. A 17-year veteran teacher, counselor and community activist, he began his career at Marshall High School. Through all his work, Steve is passionate about doing whatever it takes to support and affirm all students.
1. What makes you the best candidate for the School Board District 4 seat? My experience with LAUSD as a School Board member and previously as a teacher, and the trust I have built with parents, teachers, administrators and the community are my greatest assets for this position. I have experience addressing the challenges of the district and working effectively with our labor partners and families to make the compromises and decisions needed to provide the greatest benefit for our students.
2. What do you feel are the biggest issues facing Westchester/Playa schools? How would you work to improve these issues? Some parents perceive that LAUSD schools are not a quality option for them. LAUSD is working hard, but needs to work harder, to make sure that parents are familiar with the excellent programs that exist in our schools and continue building programs that respond to parents’ interests and needs.
One parent’s choice shouldn’t come at the expense of another. The best way to live up to the promise of public education is to work collaboratively, rather than competitively, to address the challenges we face.
3. Do you think there should be more local autonomy over schools? Why or why not? I’m a strong believer in local autonomy. As a teacher at Marshall High School, I was involved in expanded school based management. During my tenure on the LAUSD School Board, I have worked to support increased local autonomy for schools and efforts to expand pilot schools and affiliated charter schools. I am also a strong advocate for teacher initiated innovations.
As parent-leader, Tracy Bartley said, “Steve Zimmer has been an advocate for local control and the resulting school pride, academic achievement, and increased enrollment that come when you empower school communities and welcome every child and family that comes to the schoolhouse door.”
4. If you could implement one change at LAUSD what would it be? We have made important progress on the School Board, under my leadership, but our work is not done. The most important thing that we can do right now is to galvanize the forces of this district and the forces of greater Los Angeles around closing the school readiness gap. I believe that a massive investment in early childhood education on an equity basis is absolutely doable. We’ve already seen the positive effects of LAUSD opening 15,000 new seats in the areas of highest concentration of poverty in our district. Tying high quality, early education, rich with social emotional learning and community engagement, to effective early literacy programs would enable us to close the school readiness gap and the Reading by 9 gap and position our students for long term success.
For more info, visit steve4schoolboard.com.
Personal Statement: Gregory Martayan is the only candidate in the race for District 4 who is a native Angeleno who was born, raised, educated, married, served and worked to protect the residents and stakeholders of the City of Los Angeles, without ever leaving or abandoning the city. Martayan has served as a Los Angeles City Commissioner, as a member of the Los Angeles Workforce Investment Taskforce, as an Ambassador with the National Crime Prevention Council, as well as numerous posts which all have revolved around education reform and school-neighborhood safety. Martayan is the only candidate in the race with a coalition of elected leaders, business owners, parents and organizers.
1. What makes you the best candidate for the School Board District 4 seat? The only candidate with a coalition of supporters from every region of Los Angeles, including Westchester/Playa. The only candidate not compromised by big money and special interests. The only candidate qualified to lead a large district. The only candidate with the experience to create safer environments for learning for our students. The only candidate who supports an equitable standard for distributing money to charter students at a dollar for dollar rate as traditional public school students. Equal is equal. I stand strongly for parent’s choice and am a parent who believes that the safety of our children should be a district priority across the board. I stand for safe schools, accountability in providing dollar for dollar equal services for our charter and traditional school students, and transparency in the budget. Equal is equal. Our parents who stand with me for choice, deserve to be part of an education system that values their opinion.
2. What do you feel are the biggest issues facing Westchester/Playa schools? How would you work to improve these issues? Westchester/Playa is a crown jewel of Los Angeles, but the current members of the board have turned their backs on this area by promoting divisive language and not giving parents a seat at the decision making table. As a Los Angeles City Commissioner and all my posts, both nationally and locally, I have been a representative who has been accessible to all. When I take office, I will continue my platform of transparency and access. As a parent, I recognize that access is what we all deserve. The budget and local funding for Westchester will reflect larger numbers when I take office, because that is what the region deserves. The current numbers are nowhere near where they should be in supporting the needs of Westchester/Playa from the board.
3. Do you think there should be more local autonomy over schools? Why or why not? There should more local autonomy over schools, because local communities know their backyard more than the bureaucracy. Simply put, I trust in parents and local organizers. There are “charter deserts” in Los Angeles, and I plan on filling that gap. We need to empower our families to pick the path they feel is best for their child.
As a parent of three, I know that even within families each child has a need specific to themselves. I also recognize that parents know their children best. For this reason, as well as the fact that I strongly stand for families’ rights to make decisions for their own kids, I believe localities in partnership with families can make assessments and create programs best suited for their regions.
4. If you could implement one change at LAUSD what would it be? I want to protect our children. I would implement stronger protocols and prevention measures to curb child abuse in schools, and I would implement safe school initiatives to curb school bullying. I am the only candidate in this race who has tried to have a dialogue about the issue of child abuse and has a plan to protect our classrooms. Additionally, there has to be equity in the system for charters and traditional public schools. Dollar for dollar, we have to make sure that each student receives the same services. Anything less, in my opinion, is unfair. The current system allows for charter students to receive less dollars than non-charter students, I would assure we reverse that system. Equal is equal.
For more info, visit votemartayan.com.
Personal Statement: I began my career as an English teacher at an LAUSD school in Watts where I saw firsthand how the district was failing students. After teaching, graduating from law school, working in the Obama White House, and doing civil rights work with the ACLU, I was encouraged by parents in this community to run for the board. I am running on a platform to put kids first by cutting the bloated bureaucracy and keeping the best teachers in schools.
1. What makes you the best candidate for the School Board District 4 seat? I have spent my career fighting for our city’s schoolchildren, serving as a teacher, a coach, an attorney, a teacher organizer, a charter school board member, a nonprofit consultant and a children’s advocate. These experiences have helped me understand the problems of LAUSD, but also help craft innovative solutions to improve outcomes for kids.
My platform is aimed at rethinking the way we run the district—from supporting schools to training teachers to engaging with parents. We need more local control to allow schools and communities to make the decisions that are right for them. We need to promote innovation in school design, classroom learning and district governance. We have to ensure that all families have access to great choices in schools, regardless of zip code—and that parents can easily navigate those choices. We must overhaul the district’s human capital policies to better support our educators, from recruitment to training to compensation. And we absolutely must usher in an era of radical transparency and accountability so that parents, students and taxpayers actually know what’s going on in district headquarters, from the true fiscal situation to graduation rates to facilities needs.
2. What do you feel are the biggest issues facing Westchester/Playa schools? How would you work to improve these issues? Westchester/Playa families are frustrated by the broken promises and roadblocks put in their way by our current leadership. Parents and parent groups have been pitted against each other because of divisive rhetoric surrounding charter schools and facilities, there is not enough local control, promises have been broken and too many students are not receiving quality educations.
I’d work to bring in stakeholders from all communities, including charter schools (Westchester Secondary, WISH, etc.), district schools (Wright, Playa Vista Elementary, Westchester High, etc.), parents and partners (such as LMU), to reset these relationships. Through more transparency, an improved co-location process, better communication with stakeholders, and more innovative decision-making, I firmly believe there is a way to gain back the trust of the community.
3. Do you think there should be more local autonomy over schools? Why or why not? Yes. We should be pushing as much decision-making authority as possible to the school site and letting principals and teachers do their jobs with fewer strings attached. The increase in autonomy and flexibility would extend to giving principals the ability to put together their own staff. I want there to be fewer decisions made at the district level and more made in local schools.
This is one of the lessons we’re learning from charter and pilot schools; in general, decisions made closer to students and to a community are better serving students and families.
4. If you could implement one change at LAUSD what would it be? I want to usher in an era of radical transparency. Parents should have information on everything from the true fiscal situation to student achievement scores to salary data at a school site to parent and student satisfaction survey results to a similar school’s ranking and information about neighboring schools and other options they may consider.
In addition to having more information on schools, it will allow voters to hold the board accountable to balancing the budget. With a $13.6 billion unfunded pension liability, it is more important than ever that every dollar in the district is spent as efficiently as possible. Opening up the books will lead to more honest accounting and more efficient spending.
For more info, visit nickmelvoin.com.
Allison Holdorff Polhill
Personal Statement: Allison is a social justice advocate, parent, educator and a businesswoman who will help reset the table and revitalize the potential of one of our country’s greatest and most diverse school districts. Her goal is to realize the promise of equal education for all our students and she brings 18 years of experience immersed in local public schools governing, managing large school budgets and negotiating with the teachers’ union. She’s a champion for public education, and she and her three children have graduated from our local public schools. She will work tirelessly–and full-time–to build a legislative agenda and budget that will put the interests of our students and our classrooms first and foremost.
1. What makes you the best candidate for the School Board District 4 seat? The LAUSD Board is in dire need of a fresh perspective and hands-on, in-the-trenches experience. The district has been enduring tremendous financial pressures and systemic sub-par graduation rates. I strongly believe that my passion and background as a social justice advocate, a parent and a businesswoman will help reset the table and revitalize the potential of one of our country’s greatest and most diverse school districts. My goal is to realize the promise of equal education for all our students. That’s where it all starts with our students. I will work tirelessly–and full-time–to build a legislative agenda and budget that will put the interests of our students and our classrooms first and foremost. I am the only candidate that has: put all three of my children through our local public schools, balanced a large school budget, negotiated a successful agreement with the teacher’s union and led a fragmented school board together to be student focused with proper governance.
2. What do you feel are the biggest issues facing Westchester/Playa schools? How would you work to improve these issues? For two decades, parents, teachers, administrators and community members have been striving to offer cohesive public school options in the Westchester/Playa area to serve all students. The district has failed to provide proper oversight and support a master plan. I will advocate for “master planning” of the Westchester/Playa schools. LAUSD has taken a hands-off approach once co-located schools are paired. LAUSD should help co-located schools learn to navigate the process. I will advocate for new policies where school leaders and stakeholders of the traditional and charter schools are encouraged to collaborate together on a co-located site. I will advocate that all communications be transparent, timely and shared with all stakeholders. I will advocate that a liaison be appointed to represent the traditional and charter school directly involved in district discussions.
3. Do you think there should be more local autonomy over schools? Why or why not? Having 18 years of experience with an autonomous public school complex within LAUSD, I am a proponent of increasing localized autonomy over schools. Each community’s needs may differ and autonomy over curriculum and budgets can ensure that these needs are met. In order to increase academic performance at all schools and increase graduation rates, the district should increase localized control at individual schools. Each school and complex should prepare educational plans ensuring the majority of monies follow each student. That is important for our students most in need– homeless, foster, low- income and English learners. There are highly effective pilot schools with plans that take over 90% high need students and graduate 94% of their student population. Every school needs a specific plan and have monies follow each student to the school site.
4. If you could implement one change at LAUSD what would it be? I will implement strong, consistent, results-driven board oversight. I will advocate that the board monitor graduate rates on a monthly basis in a systematic manner. The board should also monitor why the district’s middle schools are failing. Middle school years are a time of enormous growth. All of this can be confusing for students and teachers. Students do slip through the cracks. There is not a specific teaching credential for the middle school grades. Providing training for middle school teachers so they can identify and address social emotional issues is imperative. When all middle school teachers are taught how to reach adolescents who are going through developmental changes and the school has implemented a system of tracking these students, students are more likely to succeed and enter high school more likely to graduate.
I will also advocate for governing policies defining the role and responsibility of the board, so the board can balance the budget and ensure that all students can graduate. Without governing policies, the board is a ship without a rudder.
For more info, please visit allisonforstudents.com.
*These are the candidates answers in full, with light-editing for grammar and spelling. The HTN does not vouch for the accuracy of any statements made by the candidates.