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Education

Meet LAUSD's new school board member Nick Melvoin




Nick Melvoin is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Melvoin hopes to represent District 4, which covers much of west L.A., Hollywood and portions of the southwest San Fernando Valley.
Nick Melvoin is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Melvoin hopes to represent District 4, which covers much of west L.A., Hollywood and portions of the southwest San Fernando Valley.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

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Nick Melvoin will be one of LAUSD's new school board members starting July 6.

His victory in the last election -- and that of fellow board member Kelly Gonez -- means that a a majority of board members have the backing the California Charter Schools Association.

Melvoin talked with KPCC education reporter Kyle Stokes about his vision for charter schools and his other priorities in office.

Interview highlights

Some have interpreted your victory as a win for school choice. Others are concerned about effects on local neighborhoods schools. What do you say to that?

One of things that the charter movement has done is let the benefits of choice inure to less affluent communities. As a progressive, I think that's a good thing.

The question is, now, how can we be thoughtful about that choice? And I think LA has not been thoughtful.

We've proliferated, but we haven't thought about why and how and where, and how to learn from charters.

But the danger of embracing school choice is that it could amplify segregation.

I've been an advocate of universal enrollment for a while.

Let's provide the same access to parents, and then let's build some safety valves into the system to make sure that it's not just the eager parents that are getting the options.

You've written about slowing the growth of charter schools by making district schools more attractive. You also say we shouldn't do anything to limit charter schools' growth. How do you mesh together what seems like a contradiction?

You have 40,000 parents on waitlists. Do you build a lot more schools to get parents off those waitlists, or do you improve our schools?

I'm confident that, in part by learning from the charter school sector, we can improve our schools to get that list down close to zero.

Until that day comes, charter options for families should be their right within the public school system.  

And one of the conversations we're going to have to have with the charter sector is this whole myth of charter growth.

What is that "myth of charter growth"?

It's this idea that, now, with four members of the board endorsed by California Charter Schools Association, that all of a sudden there will be a massive charter expansion. 

I don't support it.

It's really just infeasible when you consider restraints on facilities and supply of teachers.

Collective bargaining with major unions including United Teachers LA will begin soon. Those agreements are things you'll have to vote on. What are you hoping for?

I think we need to stop the bleeding.

By that I mean for new employees, we need to think more creatively about healthcare and retirement. Ironically, that could be a way to attract new teachers.

We see across sectors Millennials spending less time in any one job. And so they're really thinking about salaries, not defined benefits.

I actually think one thing that could help us financially is something like saying to new teachers, we're going to increase your salary but we're going to look at a 403(b) and we're going to look at one health care provider as opposed to five or six.

Not only do we cut costs, but we actually attract more people to the district.

At the last full meeting before your term, the board voted to renew the contract of Superintendent Michelle King. Should they have done that?

I don't think so, if only because we have a new board coming in. I think one of the tasks of the board is to oversee the performance of the superintendent.

When two of those members [,eamom didn't have access to some of the internal performance indicators, I thought that was a little disrespectful. And as responsible board members to our constituents in district 4 and 6, we have to make sure our superintendent is meeting performance goals and leading the district in the right direction.

Is she doing a good job?

Nobody to my knowledge – I know I wasn't – was talking about getting rid of her.

I think there are things where I've been impressed with her leadership on leading to the direction of universal enrollment, moving the district to central administrative cuts to put more money in classrooms. But to me, it's just a start.

I'd be eager to sit down with the board and with her to set our vision and then see how she executes it. But I have confidence that she will do a good job.

What's your to-do list starting from Day 1?

Some of the priorities of our office is going to be financial transparency, student achievement transparency, facilities transparency and making sure we're shining a light on what's happening in LAUSD.

A second one would be to really try and turn the heat down on the charter-district division, and see how we can work together on behalf of all kids.

A third piece is going to be more local control, and I'm interested in what some districts are doing about having non-profit boards sit over their local public schools as a way to really engage with the community.