Three contested Los Angeles Unified School District board seats are up for a vote in the March 3 Los Angeles city primary election.
KPCC surveyed the candidates for their thoughts and priorities on key issues facing the district. Here are candidate Ankur Patel's responses. (For information on other school board candidates as well as City Council candidates, visit KPCC's Los Angeles 2015 voter guide.)
1. What's the first issue you will tackle while in office?
My entire focus is to make sure taxpayer money is used efficiently and effectively to educate our young people. I can tackle this enormous issue by starting with the budget. The current LAUSD budget is too complex making it difficult to follow the money. I will make the budget more transparent and accessible so that community members, teachers, and parents can find out how much money is supposed to be going to their local school, how much is being spent outside of the classroom, and how much money we have wasted. By opening up the budget, we can refocus resources back to where they belong – the classroom.
2. What qualities will you look for in hiring the next superintendent?
Our next superintendent has to be able to work effectively with all of the different divisions and departments within the LAUSD. They must be able to avoid politics and ideology and focus on the best interest of the student and the day-to-day classroom experience. Personally, I would like a superintendent who is good with kids, is concise, and to-the-point. Another factor I think would be beneficial is someone who has experience working within the LAUSD system. A person who rose through the ranks and has been successful as a teacher, a principal, and in other district functions while building bridges and gaining the respect of their peers, subordinates, and superiors.
3. Do you support charter school expansion?
We have 136,000 students in independent and affiliated charter schools in LAUSD, with most of that growth coming in the last 10 years. We have the most charter schools in the country, and we have to use our current situation as an opportunity to study, research, and present data on different educational strategies. We need more accountability and transparency across the board because that will allow us to make informed policy decisions and focus on the classroom. I support slowing down charter school expansion. The job of the School Board is to make sure that we have high-quality schools so that they don't need to be converted to charter schools.
4. Do you support the iPad program?
I oppose the LAUSD’s iPad program. Throughout the program, important questions were not asked enough, and when they were, they were not answered properly. Instead of fixing the $40 billion backlog of school repairs, our construction bond funds were misallocated towards the iPad program.
My opponent, Tamar Galatzan, the most enthusiastic supporter of the iPad program, pushed forward the program even though it was not ready, which wasted millions of dollars. After the launch, Galatzan also pushed for the removal of Stuart Magruder, a watch dog who asked tough questions.
The program’s ongoing costs were not thoroughly considered, in fact, the program was only planned out for a few years without accounting for upkeep and maintenance costs. In addition, there were administrative costs including the hiring of 55 instructional support staff to help teachers utilize the iPads. We also have to consider the $100 million that was paid for the software, which was not ready and poorly designed. The US Department of Education, in January, issued a “damning report” on the management of the program. This is all without even mentioning that the FBI is currently conducting a criminal investigation of the program.
Technology can be helpful, but the immense cost paired with marginal benefit informs my view that there are better uses for taxpayer money. There are much more efficient ways to help students utilize and understand technology, such as supervised computer labs. Libraries on school campuses can be retrofitted with computers and technology and be turned into a more productive space for a fraction of the cost. The poor execution of iPad program and the subsequent hostility towards thoughtful criticism are some of the reasons that this particular program should be rolled back.
5. What priorities would you like to see reflected in next year's budget? Please be as specific as possible.
I will work to implement a budget that prioritizes classroom learning. This means smaller classes, better paid teachers, and less money spent on central district administration. The fact that we pay our teachers less than neighboring school districts and have more students per class drives students and teachers out of LAUSD. Over the last eight years the number of students and teachers has decreased, yet the number of administrators has increased. We need to have a capable and resourced administration, especially on school sites, but the fact that not enough resources are getting into the classroom needs to be addressed. We need to prioritize classroom learning in our budget.