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LAUSD District 5 school board candidates face off in debate



LAUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
LAUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
Cheryl A. Guerrero for KPCC
LAUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
LAUSD Board of Education candidate Ref Rodriguez, far right, speaks with attendees after a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
Cheryl A. Guerrero for KPCC
LAUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
LAUSD Board of Education candidates Ref Rodriguez, from left, Andrew Thomas and Bennett Kayser attend a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
Cheryl A. Guerrero for KPCC
LAUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
LAUSD Board of Education candidate Andrew Thomas attends a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
Cheryl A. Guerrero for KPCC
LAUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
Attendees applaud after LAUSD Board of Education candidate Ref Rodriguez answers a question during a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
Cheryl A. Guerrero for KPCC
LAUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
KPCC Education Reporter Annie Gilbertson moderates an LAUSD Board of Education candidate debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
Cheryl A. Guerrero for KPCC
LAUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
LAUSD Board of Education candidate Bennett Kayser, left, speaks with an attendee after a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
Cheryl A. Guerrero for KPCC
LAUSD Board of Education District 5 candidates Andrew Thomas, from left, Ref Rodriguez and Bennett Kayser take a group photo after attending a debate at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
LAUSD Board of Education candidate Andrew Thomas, center, speaks with attendees after a debate, which took place at Eagle Rock High School on February 5, 2015.
Cheryl A. Guerrero for KPCC


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In a debate Thursday night featuring candidates for the Los Angeles Unified's school board District 5 seat, differences emerged on issues such as charter schools, testing and the problem-plagued student data system known as MiSiS.

Former teacher and school administrator Bennett Kayser, the incumbent in the race, defended his record, repeatedly pointing to what he described as the failings of former LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.

Lambasting Deasy for spending over $100 million to fix MiSiS, Kayser said: "I sent a letter and spoke with Dr. Deasy advising him, 'Don't go forward with this, it's going to be a disaster.' He didn't listen. He went forward anyway." 

The debate at Eagle Rock High School drew an audience of about 200 and was moderated by KPCC education reporter Annie Gilbertson. District 5, with one of three contested seats on the LAUSD school board this year, covers Los Feliz, East Los Angeles and Eagle Rock, and other adjacent neighborhoods. 

Related: LAUSD school board election: what you need to know

Through the debate, Kayser battled what were at times pointed critiques from his two challengers: charter school chain co-founder Ref Rodriguez and parent and education researcher Andrew Thomas. 

Rodriguez responded sharply to Kayser's comments on MiSiS, which in the past year scrambled students' schedules, failed to properly track grades and produced inaccurate transcripts for college applications.

"We've got to hold our school board accountable for that. They are the ones in charge of our budget. They are trustees and stewards of our kids' learning and $100 million is unacceptable to me," he said. 

Thomas criticized the district's handling of the data system, saying it probably shouldn't be developing its own software — a point Kayser disagreed with. He said that systems don't exist to serve districts as large as LAUSD and so officials have to develop their own software and adapt it.

Thomas said he would look to outside companies for solutions to the district's troubled data system.

"LAUSD for a long time, before Mr. Kayser was on the board, has liked to do everything themselves, invent everything themselves, and I think that that culture probably needs to change," Thomas said.

When asked whether he would support an expansion of charter schools in the district, Rodriguez said no, adding: "I think we've got to close schools rather than expand when we know that there are schools that are not working."  

Responding to a question about testing, Rodriguez said he preferred to do away with state standardized exams. Thomas disagreed, saying new tests give schools a way to gauge where a student needs help. With data, he said, the more the better. 

The audience included a large pro-charter constituency. High school senior Mireya Gonzalez, who attends the charter school Renaissance Arts Academy, was among those in the crowd.

"I think we need someone who is going to overlook all of the politics and actually focus on the students," Gonzalez said. "I think often students are overlooked and learning is overlooked, and I think it's time that that's not the case anymore."

Compare all LAUSD school board candidates on KPCC's election guide.