Gonez is re-elected; Rivas wins vacancy on LA school board
Kelly Gonez and Rocio Rivas have won their race for seats on the Los Angeles Education Council, increasing the influence of the teachers’ union as the school system navigates contract negotiations, the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and critical funding issues.
In District 6, which covers most of the eastern San Fernando Valley, incumbent school board president Gonez had 51.27% of the vote as of Tuesday, compared to 48.73% for high school Spanish teacher Marvin Rodriguez.
In District 2, which stretches from downtown and surrounding neighborhoods to the Eastside, Rocio Rivas had 52.48% of the vote, compared to 48.71% for Maria Brenes. Brenes conceded on Wednesday, and Rodriguez said this week he would wait until “every vote has been counted” before commenting.
Based on count updates through Tuesday, it would be virtually impossible for winners to move at this point.
Gonez had been heavily favored over Rodriguez, whose campaign funding was being swamped by his opponent’s. But the competition was surprisingly tight, said Dan Schnur, a politics professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications.
Schnur noted that “unhappy middle-class parents” have been vocal against the length of campus closures during the pandemic and LA Unified’s more limited access to live online classes compared to many school systems. Those parents “received immense attention,” said Schnur, and likely voted against the incumbent.
“But it’s entirely possible that many parents from low-income and heavily minority communities were just as dissatisfied with their children’s education during the pandemic,” said Schnur.
Rivas prevailed despite significantly greater financial resources for Breves, who benefited from two major independent campaigns. One was funded by Netflix founder Reed Hastings, a charter school supporter, and retired businessman Bill Bloomfield. The other was paid by Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents most of the district’s low-wage workers, including bus drivers, teaching assistants, janitors, and cafeteria workers.
Rivas, in turn, was backed by United Teachers Los Angeles – as the district’s two major unions fought to get their favorite included in the fray of ongoing contract negotiations. Rivas, 49, a senior adviser to school board member Jackie Goldberg, also benefited from support from left-leaning groups and officials.
She trailed at the first count on election night, but gained steadily as the count continued, then moved ahead – eventually by more than 5,000 votes.
Rivas replaces Monica Garcia, who was unable to run again due to term limits. Charter school supporters had long supported Garcia, who was usually opposed by the teachers’ union – the polar opposite of Riva’s political profile. Rivas has called for curbing the influence and growth of charters, which are privately run, largely non-union public schools. About one in five district students attends a charter school.
The seven-member Board of Education will oversee the work of the recently hired supt. Alberto Carvalho, who is facing learning setbacks exacerbated by the pandemic. He’s also working to strike deals with unions, which are demanding big pay rises to fight inflation and the high cost of living, even as economic forecasts have turned pessimistic and threaten the district’s future revenues.
The long-term decline in enrollments, which has accelerated during the pandemic, is also threatening funding and is expected to result in school closures. The chances of avoiding a recession are “slim,” the Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded in a Nov. 16 report. “Given the threat of a recession, our revenue estimates represent the weakest performance the state has seen since the Great Recession,” which ended in 2009.
“Should the LAO report prove correct, we are heading into a period of budgetary constraints,” said John Rogers, director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.
The district’s looming financial and enrollment problems will overshadow the longstanding political battle between the teachers’ union and charter school supporters, who have dominated campaign funding, said Pedro Noguera, dean of the USC Rossier School of Education.
The race, he said, came down to “which candidate will be more compliant in negotiations with UTLA, and that appears to be Rivas.”
Members of the teachers’ union – teachers, nurses and counselors – are currently working on an expired contract and are seeking a 10% pay rise this year and a further 10% next year.
Rivas said her immediate agenda would include expanding successful schools like Bravo Medical Magnet High in Boyle Heights, which have a waiting list, and popular bilingual programs. She also wants to attract new students to the district by promoting successful programs and plans to focus on mental health issues students are facing, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
Rivas said that while she supports important political positions of the union, she puts the interests of students and families first.
“I’ll reach out to everyone,” Rivas said. “I will be present at every single school… even charter schools. If they invite me, I’ll be there. I am there for all voters.”
“I obviously didn’t win by a landslide,” she added. “So there’s a good District 2 Board population that doesn’t know me, and I want them to know who I am.”
Incumbent Gonez said she was ready to take on new challenges in her second term.
“I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to continue the work tirelessly on behalf of the students, families and communities of Board District 6,” Gonez said in a statement. “As we recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, I stand ready to build a brighter future for our students with transformative and joyful learning opportunities, holistic mental health support, and more resources for our staff to help our communities heal and grow can and thrive.”