Education

KPCC's LA school board candidate survey: Carl Petersen, District 2

Carl Petersen is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Petersen hopes to represent District 2, which runs from Koreatown through much of east L.A.
Carl Petersen is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Petersen hopes to represent District 2, which runs from Koreatown through much of east L.A.
Campaign Photo

Carl Petersen is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Petersen hopes to represent District 2, which runs from Koreatown through much of east L.A.

Petersen is one of three candidates running for the District 2 seat. Click here to view survey responses from other candidates in the race.

KPCC lightly edited all responding candidates' answers for spelling, grammar and style. KPCC is presenting candidates' answers in full, but does not vouch for the accuracy of any statements they make. Here are Petersen's responses to KPCC's candidate survey:

Why do you want to be a member of the L.A. Unified School Board?

I am honored that Dr. Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education, author and education historian referred to me as a “strong supporter of public schools.” My support is driven by the example of my father who grew up in the worst parts of the South Bronx in New York City. Through a public education, including free college tuition at the City University of New York, he was able to raise his family in a middle class neighborhood in the suburbs. I want to pay forward that debt and ensure that all children have the same opportunity to fulfill their American Dreams.

Superintendent Michelle King is in her thirteenth month in the district’s top job. On an A-F scale, how would you grade her first year? Please explain your answer.

I would grade Ms. King’s performance in her first year as Superintendent as a C; “average, ­simple, common, adequate, but ordinary.” I also believe that she was chosen because she is not the type of person who would stir up the pot and this is exactly the type of performance we have seen. After the fiasco of the Deasy era, it is understandable that the board wanted someone who was more likely to follow the policies that they set. However, given the challenges facing the district, the students deserved better. While the board should have the final say, they should also respect the superintendent enough to let her advocate her positions and to take them into consideration.

The board’s lack of respect for the superintendent was on display immediately after she was sworn in. They had asked for the input of their new superintendent on the subject that they were discussing and she laid out a series of recommended changes. However, instead of discussing these ideas, the board moved immediately to a vote. This did not set the stage for a productive working relationship.

I am also concerned that the district has not fully disclosed Ms. King’s role in the mismanagement of the Food Services division. When the Inspector General’s office found — as reported by The Los Angeles Times — “that the program [was] currently at a minimum being mismanaged and at worst being consistently abused,” David Binkle was set up as the fall guy and forced into retirement. However, Binkle has maintained that his supervisor and Ms. King had approved the actions that he was criticized for taking. Unfortunately, the district has refused to comply with several of my Public Record Act requests claiming that the situation is still under investigation. It is, therefore, impossible to confirm Binkle’s accusations.

Please name one idea or policy you don’t see Superintendent King, district leaders or the school board discussing often enough that — if elected — you’d work on either implementing or expanding in L.A. Unified?

​I am concerned that there is a singular focus on pretending that every student will attend college after graduating. However, not all students have the ability or desire to attend college. These students should not be made to feel inferior. Their needs should also be met and we should reinvigorate vocational training so that they are prepared to find good jobs after graduation.

Do you believe expanding “school choice” policies (giving parents more ability to choose the school their child attends) is a force for eliminating or exacerbating the educational opportunity gap between privileged and less-privileged racial, linguistic or socioeconomic groups? Please explain your rationale.

​Magnet schools are the only option that have proven records of improving student performance. Therefore, expanding these programs should be the focus of the district. If Eli Broad really cares about the children of the district, he should abandon his plan to put private money in expanding the “market share” of charters and financially support these efforts.

Choice only sounds like a good idea until you realize that some students have no choices. As long as the district continues to look the other way while charters cherry­pick students, the opportunity gap will be exacerbated, especially if these actions force the LAUSD into bankruptcy. If the parents of higher performing students continue to abandon the LAUSD while students with special needs, English learners and children with behavioral problems are forced to stay behind, the district will receive less revenue and face a higher cost per student. This will increase the amount of red ink flowing from the district’s ledgers.

How, if at all, would you change L.A. Unified’s approach to “authorizing” and overseeing charter schools? (Your answer may touch on any facet of the relationship — from vetting applications to open new charter schools; renewing or revoking existing charters; monitoring charter schools’ performance, governance and finance; handling Prop. 39 campus-sharing arrangements.)

I support the NAACP resolution calling for a moratorium on new charters until systems are put into place to ensure that charters, as recipients of public money, are following the rules. Charters like View Park Middle School, which the California Charter School Association ranked a one out of ten, should not be allowed to continue in operation. Principals like David Fehte should not be able to place $100,000 in questionable charges on a credit card paid for with public funds and then be able to walk away with a year’s salary as part of his severance package. School board members like Mónica García should not be allowed to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the charter industry and then continue to vote on matters related to these same organizations. If one of these donors, like Vielka McFarlane, then has her charter raided by the FBI, those donations should be immediately returned. This same charter executive should also not have been entitled to a compensation package that topped $438,730.

L.A. Unified faces long-term financial challenges, including declining enrollment and rising costs for pensions and employee benefits. A blue-ribbon panel in Nov. 2015 also highlighted further issues that cloud the district’s financial future. If elected, what immediate steps would you take to address these financial challenges?

It is amazing to me that, with a bureaucracy the size of the LAUSD’s, they had to look outside for suggestions that were less than impressive. For example, in the entire discussion of charters, they never mention the problem of cherry­picking. They also did not investigate whether the district is receiving enough funds from the state to cover the cost of oversight or suggest performing an audit to determine if charters are paying enough to cover the cost of district facilities that they use in their operations.

I am particularly concerned that this report seemed to play into an us versus them point of view that pits special education students against those in general education. The panel came to the conclusion that the district must guard against being “over inclusive,” especially in the case of “African­Americans and Latino kids [who] are over represented among special education students.” In reality, too many parents are forced to hire lawyers to make sure that their students receive the proper services. The panel erred by operating under the assumption that all conditions requiring special education are somehow transitional. This let them assume that the district can “reduce the cost curve which is threatening to grow way out of control” by getting students “mainstreamed as quickly as possible.” Conditions like autism are not the equivalent of broken bones. A cast is not available that can reset my daughters’ brains and send them on their way to general ed classrooms.

Unless we stem the loss of students from the district, bankruptcy is inevitable. To avoid this, the board must start following the law that created charters and start competing so that our LAUSD public schools become the better option for parents. While the incumbent focuses on the charters that fund her campaign spending, I will serve the students who are still enrolled in LAUSD. I will work to shift power away from the bureaucracy so that parents, teachers and staff can design programs that will make our local neighborhood schools better choices than the charters.

The L.A. Unified board has set a district-wide goal of a 100 percent high school graduation rate. How, if at all, would you change the district’s approach to meeting this goal? (Or would you change the goal itself?)

If we want all of our children to graduate, we have to pay attention to every one of them, not just the ones who fit our expectations. For some students this means offering college level classes so that they can be challenged. Other students prefer vocational classes. Music and art classes must also be made available.

I also have serious concerns that the district is artificially inflating its graduation statistics. It seems entirely unrealistic that the actual graduation rate last year was 75 percent when in December the district was predicting only 50 percent of students would graduate. While Mónica García hawks “diplomas for all,” they are meaningless pieces of paper if they are not backed by a mastery of knowledge. Social promotion from grade to grade is bad enough; pushing students out the door because they took part in a credit recovery program that did not teach them anything can have devastating results. The high percentage of college freshmen who have to take remedial courses is just one example of problems that our graduates are facing. We owe them better.

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KPCC lightly edited all responding candidates' answers for spelling, grammar and style. KPCC is presenting candidates' answers in full, but does not vouch for the accuracy of any statements they make.