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LAUSD school board candidate survey: Carl Petersen (District 3)

Courtesy of Carl Petersen

Three contested Los Angeles Unified School District board seats are up for a vote in the March 3 Los Angeles city primary election.

KPCC surveyed the candidates for their thoughts and priorities on key issues facing the district. Here are candidate Carl Petersen's responses. (For information on other school board candidates as well as City Council candidates, visit KPCC's Los Angeles 2015 voter guide.)

1. What's the first issue you will tackle while in office? 

I am a father of five, with my four school-age children enrolled in the LAUSD. Two of my daughters are on the autism spectrum and about two years ago they both reached a point where they were not making progress. After researching our options we presented a plan to their teachers and the other staff at their schools. The education professionals agreed that these plans might work but informed us that they could not write them into our daughters’ education plans - it was against district policy. During our two day battle fighting the bureaucracy downtown (a bureaucracy that never had any interaction with our children), I decided to run for the LAUSD School Board so that I can change the system.

The first issue that I will tackle when taking office is dismantling the top-down management of the district that stifles innovation and prevents local school communities from customizing education to meet the unique needs of their students. Parents should never have to go through what I did to get to get educational services for their children that professionals at their local school agree that they need. The district needs to set expectations and get out of the way so that parents, teachers and other school staff can work together to implement the plans to meet these goals. This decentralized approach is the only thing that can save the LAUSD from collapsing under the weight of its size.

2. What qualities will you look for in hiring the next superintendent?

Before we start a search for a new superintendent, we need to discuss why things went so badly with the last one and make the appropriate changes. If we do not fix the underlying structure, any person we put into the position is going to fail.

One problem with John Deasy’s failed tenure was that the basic structure of our district was ignored. The School Board is supposed to establish policy and ensure that the Superintendent implements this policy to their specifications. However, according to the Los Angeles Times, Deasy was hired “with the understanding that he would be able to advance his own aggressive reforms.” This was a transfer of power away from the elected officials. The MiSiS debacle exposed the fact that the Board was also not fulfilling their oversight role. When the first day of school exposed the problems that many had been warning about, Tamar Galatzan stated “I can’t remember the last time we got an update on the program...and we don’t supervise anyone who works for the superintendent, which is who was running it.” It was her job to supervise the superintendent and his staff.

One quality that is definitely needed in the next superintendent is the ability to work with the all levels of the district staff. The experience of Patrena Shankling, a substitute teacher whom Deasy clashed with in her classroom, is an example of the bullying of district staff by the former Superintendent. Deasy had no knowledge of the lesson plan that she was following but confronted her in front of her students without asking any questions. She was then fired. Our teachers, principals and staff need to be treated as teammates, not adversaries.

3. Do you support charter school expansion?

The choice of charter schools should not be eliminated. Instead, the public schools need to be made the better choice. It is my view that every time a parent chooses to send their child to a charter school, it means that the incumbent has failed at her job as a School Board member to create superior public schools. Charter school enrollment has exploded under Tamar Galatzan’s watch.

If charter schools are going to receive public funding, they need to serve all students. This includes providing an entire range of special education services, accepting English language learners and finding a way to deal with behavioral issues without simply expelling a student at the first sign of trouble. As a Board member, I will not vote to approve the charter of any organization that is not in compliance with these rules.

4. Do you support the iPad program?

I oppose the iPad program for both financial and educational reasons.

The bond funds that are being used to pay for the iPads were approved by the voters for construction and repairs. These tablets are consumer items that do not fall into either category and these funds are badly needed for their intended purpose. There is currently a backlog of repair projects and the LAUSD’s Director of Maintenance and Operations says that “it’s inevitable” that the district will have to place a request to sell more bonds on a future ballot. When temperatures soared in September, students were left with stifling classrooms as the district logged “nearly 500 calls for service for older air-conditioning systems.” We owe our students the respect of sending them to school in safe and well maintained facilities.

I also believe that fully stocked computer labs are more educationally valuable than iPads. High powered computers locked in a secure environment can unleash the full power of technology and spark an interest in computers science careers. iPads lack this power and are particularly useless when the software that is contracted to be included with their purchase is not yet available from the supplier.

5. What priorities would you like to see reflected in next year's budget? Please be as specific as possible.

I would like to see a larger amount of the budget moved directly to the schools sites. “Local Control” needs to be given more than lip service.