Education

LAUSD's new board members aren't interested in 'massive charter school expansion'

Newly-elected Los Angeles Unified School Board member Kelly Gonez speaks at a rally in downtown L.A. Behind her, from left: fellow board members Ref Rodriguez and Nick Melvoin, district superintendent Michelle King and board member Mónica García.
Newly-elected Los Angeles Unified School Board member Kelly Gonez speaks at a rally in downtown L.A. Behind her, from left: fellow board members Ref Rodriguez and Nick Melvoin, district superintendent Michelle King and board member Mónica García.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

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Forget what you’ve heard: the Los Angeles Unified School Board's two newest members say they're not here to usher in a new golden era for charter schools.

Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez both benefited from record outside spending by pro-charter school political groups on this spring’s school board campaign. After they take their oaths of office on Thursday, they'll become the third and fourth board members to receive the California Charter Schools Association's exclusive endorsement — enough, in theory, to form a majority on a seven-member board.

But in separate and broad-ranging interviews for KPCC’s Take Two, both Melvoin and Gonez were adamant: this new school board is not about to open the floodgates for more charter schools in L.A.

"No … I'm not interested in a dramatic expansion, or really an expansion at all, of the number of independent charter schools in the district," said Gonez, who now represents the East San Fernando Valley on the board.

"I'm concerned about the financial health of the district," Gonez went on, "and I'm concerned about students in district schools. I think, while there are many factors that are contributing to declining enrollment in our district schools, charter schools are one of those factors."

Melvoin, too, said "massive charter expansion" is unlikely: "That's (A) not going to happen because … I don't support it, but (B) it's just really infeasible when you consider the restraints on facilities and the supply of teachers."

Like most L.A. Unified elections in recent years, this year's campaign was a proxy battle between charter school groups and the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers union. Since campaign finance rules allow outside groups to spend more freely, candidates can easily lose control over their own message.

Now, following a campaign in which outside groups spent a record $14.9 million attempting to influence the outcome, Gonez and Melvoin are both now trying to reclaim the narrative, highlighting nuances in their stances on charter schools they feel journalists, commentators, voters and other campaign observers overlooked.

Teachers union allies and other charter school opponents will likely to need more than these assurances to assuage their fears.

Union leaders have fundamental objections to charter schools, which are often non-unionized and which they see as siphoning funds and students from traditional district-run schools. The eight-year incumbent Melvoin defeated, Steve Zimmer, was a hero of L.A.'s charter skeptics who warned of creeping "deregulation" in the charter school sector.

Gonez and Melvoin expressed eagerness to reach out to those who opposed them in the campaign. Melvoin said his goal is to "turn down the heat" on L.A.'s charter schools debate.

"I'm excited, as the term starts, for people to see that this is not some conspiracy to rubber stamp a lot of charter applications," he said. "We're going to see more thoughtful conversations."

For the new school board members' thoughts on other issues — from Superintendent Michelle King's job performance to school choice — click on these links to listen to Kelly Gonez's interview and Nick Melvoin's interviews for Take Two.