LAUSD District 5 school board candidates face off in debate
AUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015| Cheryl A. Guerrero for KPCC
February 06, 05:30 AM :: In a debate Thursday night featuring candidates for the Los Angeles Unified's school board District 5 seat, differences emerged on issues such as charter schools, testing and the problem-plagued student data system known as MiSiS.
Former teacher and school administrator Bennett Kayser, the incumbent in the race, defended his record, repeatedly pointing to what he described as the failings of former LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.
Lambasting Deasy for spending over $100 million to fix MiSiS, Kayser said: "I sent a letter and spoke with Dr. Deasy advising him, 'Don't go forward with this, it's going to be a disaster.' He didn't listen. He went forward anyway."
The debate at Eagle Rock High School drew an audience of about 200 and was moderated by KPCC education reporter Annie Gilbertson. District 5, with one of three contested seats on the LAUSD school board this year, covers Los Feliz, East Los Angeles and Eagle Rock, and other adjacent neighborhoods.
Through the debate, Kayser battled what were at times pointed critiques from his two challengers: charter school chain co-founder Ref Rodriguez and parent and education researcher Andrew Thomas.
Rodriguez responded sharply to Kayser's comments on MiSiS, which in the past year scrambled students' schedules, failed to properly track grades and produced inaccurate transcripts for college applications.
"We've got to hold our school board accountable for that. They are the ones in charge of our budget. They are trustees and stewards of our kids' learning and $100 million is unacceptable to me," he said.
Thomas criticized the district's handling of the data system, saying it probably shouldn't be developing its own software — a point Kayser disagreed with. He said that systems don't exist to serve districts as large as LAUSD and so officials have to develop their own software and adapt it.
Thomas said he would look to outside companies for solutions to the district's troubled data system.
"LAUSD for a long time, before Mr. Kayser was on the board, has liked to do everything themselves, invent everything themselves, and I think that that culture probably needs to change," Thomas said.
When asked whether he would support an expansion of charter schools in the district, Rodriguez said no, adding: "I think we've got to close schools rather than expand when we know that there are schools that are not working."
Responding to a question about testing, Rodriguez said he preferred to do away with state standardized exams. Thomas disagreed, saying new tests give schools a way to gauge where a student needs help. With data, he said, the more the better.
The audience included a large pro-charter constituency. High school senior Mireya Gonzalez, who attends the charter school Renaissance Arts Academy, was among those in the crowd.
"I think we need someone who is going to overlook all of the politics and actually focus on the students," Gonzalez said. "I think often students are overlooked and learning is overlooked, and I think it's time that that's not the case anymore."
KAYSER, HIS TWO CHALLENGERS KEEP IT CIVIL IN FIRST FORUM TOGETHER
by Vanessa Romo, LA School Report | http://bit.ly/1ulotlD
Ref Rodriguez(L), Andrew Thomas (C) and LAUSD board member Bennett Kayser
Posted on February 6, 2015 9:37 am :: After days of tension leading to the first debate with all three candidates running for LA Unified’s board District 5 on March 3, a forum last night at Eagle Rock High School played out with a relatively civil tone and a focus more on policy than politics.
Surprisingly, incumbent Bennett Kayser, who is strongly supported by the teachers union, UTLA; challenger Ref Rodriguez, a charter school executive who is backed by reformers; and Andrew Thomas, who calls himself an independent, found plenty of common ground in discussing their respective vision for the future of the school board and LA Unified students.
But the two-hour debate before a crowd estimated at about 200 also produced fault lines among the three, including their views on standardized testing and the expansion of charter schools.
While all agreed that high stakes testing can be at best, an inaccurate measure of how much students have learned, and at worst, detrimental to “meaningful understanding,” Rodriguez was alone in calling for the elimination of statewide testing, a radical suggestion in that statewide testing is mandated by the federal government.
“As far as I’m concerned, get rid of state standardized testing,” Rodriguez told the crowd. “Growth over time is really what we should be looking at and studying.”
Thomas argued that testing provides an important measure for helping determine a student’s areas of need.
While Rodriguez called for approving more charter schools, Kayser and Thomas said the board needs to stem the recent explosion of charters and to study their effectiveness.
But Rodriguez also advocated for closing poorly performing charter schools. “We could close down 20 percent of the charter schools tomorrow,” he said. “The district has the power to do so…and we should let the district do its job.”
When Kayser reminded Rodriguez that he voted to revoke the charter of two Aspire charter schools late last year after the schools refused to join the district special education plan, a decision the district has the autonomy to make, Rodriguez called it “morally reprehensible.”
Kayser spent part of the time blaming former Superintendent John Deasy for some of the ills affecting the district, including the need to spend more than $100 million to address problems with MiSiS, the new student data tracking system. Kayser told the audience he warned Deasy not to proceed with the system, that “it’s going to be a disaster.”
“He didn’t listen,” Kayser said. “He went forward anyway.”
Rodriguez turned the issue against Kayser, insisting that the school board is responsible for decisions of that magnitude. “They are the ones in charge of our budget,” he said.
Thomas expanded the point, saying that computer experts, not school districts as large as LA Unified, should be developing software that’s so critical to school operations. He said it was long past the time the board had to “invent everything themselves.”
On other issues, the candidates found more common ground. They agreed that the district needs more teachers and that all teachers deserve raises and need more support. They favor smaller class sizes, and they said the board should approve and develop more magnet schools as well as dual immersion programs to help them compete against charter schools.
And perhaps with Deasy more in mind than his interim replacement, Ramon Cortines, they agreed that the superintendent hired to succeed Cortines should be a collaborative consensus builder.
The overall emphasis on policy almost made events of the previous week forgotten.
There was no mention of Cancelgate, when last week’s scheduled forum sponsored by United Way-Los Angeles became a one-man show for Rodriguez after Kayser and Thomas pulled out. According to his staff, Kayser bailed a day before the event because of “a scheduling conflict,” which led Thomas to cancel, saying that it wouldn’t be a true debate unless all three were in attendance.
Speculation grew that Kayser pulled out because he feared the crowd would be predominantly pro-reform/anti-union, a hurdle made even more difficult to surmount by his Parkinson’s disease, which sometimes causes him to shake uncontrollably.
Nor did anyone bring up the controversial mailer that accused Kayser of supporting policies that harmed Latino students. The flyer was paid for by the California Charter Schools Association, which has endorsed Rodriguez.
The candidates are expected to gather again for three more debates — Feb. 10, Feb. 11 and Feb. 18 — with one exception. The first of them is sponsored by United Way, and Kayser has already informed organizers he has another “scheduling conflict.”
THe ever lively and always anonymous (and sometimes ‘martin eden’) Geronimo comments on LASR:
Journalism has been on my mind a lot recently and the responsibility of the press.
It would serve the BOE well to think like a journalist too when doing their jobs. Considering those Five W's and H in all their actions would maybe give them pause to think through their actions and serve their constituents better.
At the District 5 Debate last night, it was interesting to see how each candidate staked out their positions and how well they “performed”.
The victor of this race will be whose machine is better at getting the turnout.
The Ed Reform movement has chosen well with Ref Rodgriguez. His bright, enthusiastic and optimistic demeanor serves him well. He seems a shoe-in for the LA TIMES endorsement.
Kayser had the task of trying to explain what happened under Deasy and portray some path toward the future. Although he disagreed with Deasy often, he stayed mum often and didn't vociferously ring the alarms of how destructive his tenure had been to the teachers and students of LAUSD while it was happening.
Like Iraq's phantom Weapons of Mass Destruction or the CIA Torture Report, most in LA's press don't want to acknowledge the horrible obvious: John Deasy is the ghost elephant in the room in ALL the school board races, but the people who are responsible to us all want to “move forward and not look back”,.
The fact is that Vladovic and Galatzan certainly backed many of Deasy’s most egregious ideas and philosophies and their decisions have cost the district millions and millions of dollars. Deasy has his golden parachute and resides behind the gated community of Eli Broad’s foolish and discredited. (Could even ONE journalistic outlet do a story on WHAT those people “learn” in the vanity Broad Academy and why it has any greater cache than a “Get Your DiplomaToday!” matchbook advertisement?)
Speaking of education backgrounds, Ref Rodriguez holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara.
For God’s sake. Is it possible to have some illusion of educational credibility in our field of education?
For journalists who are interested, because of Rodriguez’s long involvement in the Charter movement, the internet is a treasure trove of resources. His participation in a filmed Loyola Marymount panel on Charter Schools back in 2010 with John Deasy and Steve Barr and Marco Petruzzi is really helpful to observe his development as a thinker on education issues.
Rodriguez has sizable support from the parents and kids in the charter community. That much is obvious. He speaks the language of disenfranchisement that the pedagogy under Bill Gates and John Deasy actually exacerbate by their class-based prescriptions. My suggestion to Andrew Thomas (who has to figure out a way to differentiate himself) or Kayser is to talk DIRECTLY to Latino parents about what is wrong with the corporate Charter school movement and admit how they have been let down by the VERY WEALTHY politicians and "philanthropists" who destabilized public schools and insisted on the curriculum and testing and school conditions that might led to their being disgusted by it..
This Monday night, Marco Petruzzi, Green Dot's CEO, is hosting a big fundraiser for Rodriguez at his magnificent Venice home featuring Marshall Tuck and Kate Anderson. My guess is that none of the parents in the Eagle Rock High auditorium will be at that one.
(BTW, the topic of Vergara never came up and needs to because that also is a very clear way of understanding who is who and why. I would be very surprised if Rodriguez's answer would be different from what I believe, but Thomas needs to respond too.)
In a question about arts funding, Kayser rightfully spoke out about how Deasy had dropped the graduation requirements from 260 credits to 220 thus crowding out those crucial electives. Now in ALL the columns that education reporter/editorialist Karin Klein of the LA TIMES did on praising Deasy’s raising of the graduation rates, NEVER once could she be bothered with any detail reporting on HOW those rates were raised.
She took the press clippings that Deasy sent her and typed them up. In fact, Klein (and alas, Howard Blume too) never did much investigation into what SPECIFIC pedagogy Deasy championed and HOW it affected every aspect of school. The reporting was completely surface level and absolutely unhelpful in giving anyone a TRUE understanding of the IDEAS and MECHINISMS behind whatever statistic The Times (and LASR) blithely published.
This brings me to one more final shout out in the area of journalism.
The debate was moderated with intelligent precision by Annie Gilbertson, the KPCC Education reporter. This journalist deserves tremendous credit for true investigative journalism. She went where others could not be bothered to go, using the tools of the trade (FOIA, analysis of “data” and old fashioned Woodward-Bernstein) to ferret out front page information that all the rest of LA media would trail after.
Gilbertson demonstrates what journalism is capable of and her dogged persistence inspires us when so much of the media around us act as stenographers to the powerful. (I'm proud she was an English Major and learned the great incisive skills needed to succeed in Journalism...She's welcome to come to my class anytime to demonstrate those skills in action!)
For those running against Rodriguez, Vladovic and Galatzan, here is my advice: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.