"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." - Wayne Gretzky
In their stump speeches supporting LAUSD Candidate Dr. Rocio Rivas, Scott Schmerelson and Jackie Goldberg have both expressed frustration with being in the minority on the LAUSD School Board. Along with George McKenna, they are the board members elected with the support of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) on platforms supporting public education. The three of them are blocked from pushing these ideals forward by a majority comprised of Board President Kelly Gonez, Nick Melvoin, Tanya-Ortiz Franklin, and Monica Garcia, who were all elected with the support of the charter school industry.
Of the four charter industry board members, Gonez has taken the lead in silencing the voice of district parents. Her first act as board president was to prevent Schmerelson from restarting the Parent Engagement and Special Education Committees. After her allies disagreed, she reneged on an agreement to restart the Parent Engagement Committee. More recently, Gonez has led efforts to silence speakers at board meetings, possibly violating the Brown Act.
Given this background, the news that UTLA endorsed this incumbent for the June primary was met with bewilderment. This move was even more surprising given the fact that one of Gonez's opponents is a public school teacher and a loyal member of the union. Not only does Marvin RodrÃ guez bring the experience of teaching Spanish at Cleveland High School since 2014, but he is also the parent of two LAUSD students. This gives him a perspective not shared by any of the current board members. His leadership abilities were honed serving our country as a Marine in Iraq.
When asking UTLA members why the union made such a surprising move, the first answer that I usually get is that Gonez voted to ask the state to enact a moratorium on new charter schools. They seem surprised when I point out that this relatively benign resolution also received a "Yes" vote from Monica Garcia. They certainly are not going to make the case that Garcia is not in the pocket of the charter school industry.
The next case made is that Gonez supported the teachers during the 2019 strike. This is the equivalent of honoring an arsonist for his role in saving people from a fire that he started. Yes, Gonez marched with teachers on the picket line, but if she had not conspired with her allies to hire the unqualified Austin Beutner as Superintendent before Ref Rodriguez was forced from the board, then there may not have been a strike. Beutner saw the strike as a way to break the union, but his plan failed when parents rallied behind the teachers. Seeing the writing on the wall, Gonez switched sides.
It is at this point in the conversation that I finally get to the opinion that is probably the closest to the truth; UTLA saw Gonez as invincible. Therefore, instead of doing the right thing, the union endorsed the candidate they saw as the inevitable winner. As with all the other reasons for endorsing the incumbent, this assessment turned out to be incorrect."
In order to avoid a runoff in the November 8, 2022, election, Gonez had to get one more vote than 50% in the primary. Despite Gonez and her supporters spending at least $315,810, the incumbent only won 47.23% of the vote. Jess Arana, a former Sergeant with the LA School Police Department, and his supporters spent $37,580 and came in third place with 22.32% of the vote. Marvin Rodriguez will face Gonez in the runoff after spending just $5,533.22 and earning 30.45% of the vote.
Rodriguez's unexpected showing in the primary gives UTLA a rare chance for a do-over. With Rodriguez having proven his viability, the union needs to drop its endorsement of Gonez, who falsely claims to be an educator, has tried to silence parent voices, and has engaged in questionable ethical practices. This would give their members permission to vote for one of their own who knows what it is like to teach in our public school classrooms. Of course, taking this step would require displaying a political backbone that was visibly missing during the primary.
Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is elected to the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.