The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education will be getting a new member Tuesday as a pair of contenders square off to claim the seat being vacated by termed-out longtime representative MÃ³nica GarcÃa.
GarcÃa has been the District 2 representative since 2006 and served as the board president from 2007-13. The district includes areas including downtown, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Highland Park and Montecito Heights.
Four candidates fought for the seat in the June primary, but Rocio Rivas, a policy deputy for LAUSD board member Jackie Goldberg, topped the field to land a spot in Tuesday’s runoff.
She has said she supports a re-examination of school campus safety, police presence on campuses and patrol tactics. She also said she will work to reverse underfunding of public schools due to policies such as Prop 13. She also said she wants to apply “common-sense standards of transparency, equity and accountability to charter schools.”
Rivas will be facing Maria Brenes, founder of the InnerCity Struggle advocacy group, who finished second in June.
She claims her years of advocacy work on behalf of students supports her election bid. She boasts endorsements from Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Jimmy Gomez, county Supervisor Hilda Solis and various other elected and labor officials. Brenes said she wants to eliminate bureaucratic barriers in the district for parents and students and will reverse what she calls years of under-funding of schools on the east side of Los Angeles.
Rivas has the backing of the powerful United Teachers Los Angeles teachers union, while Brenes has been backed by some major charter school supporters. The issue of charter schools has long affected contributions to LAUSD board candidates, with charter backers working to obtain and maintain support from a majority of the seven-member panel.
Meanwhile, incumbent board President Kelly Gonez is seeking reelection in District 6, which includes areas such as Sun Valley, San Fernando, Mission Hills, Panorama City and North Hollywood. Gonez topped a field of candidates in the June primary, but fell just short of the 50% mark needed to avoid the Tuesday runoff. Gonez will square off against high school teacher Marvin Rodriguez, who finished second in the June primary. Rodriguez is a veteran teacher and former Marine who said he wants to improve lines of communication between the district and the community.
Gonez, a former teacher, has served on the board since 2017 and touts her work to improve educational resources in historically underserved areas and investing in early childhood education and ethnic studies.
The seven-member school board will be grappling with a host of troubling issues in coming months, including the continued recovery of a wide-ranging computer hack that compromised many of its systems and raised questions about cyber security.
The district is also facing an anticipated sharp decline in enrollment that threatens future funding, raising issues such as possible staff reductions and closures of some campuses.
This comes as the district continues contract negotiations with United Teachers Los Angeles, which is pushing for 20% raises over the next two years.
The board will also face continued questions about campus policing. The board in 2021 dramatically slashed the budget of the School Police Department, reducing the size of the force and removing all officers from campuses in favor of staff trained in de-escalation strategies. The move came in response to national pushes for scaling back police agencies following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But the debate over school safety has been renewed following the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Following that shooting, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district was updating its safety protocols, such as conducting an “access assessment” to reduce entry points to campuses and exploring “safe corner” designations to students and staff have protected areas on campus to reach in the event of an emergency.
The recent overdose death of a student in a campus bathroom at Bernstein High School in Hollywood also brought the issue of campus police presence back into the public debate.