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Education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century yet schools continue to fail Black students. Little is done to remedy the education establishments' near criminal failure, perpetuated by the silence and lack of accountability of school boards, educators, elected officials, parents and the Black community itself.
The issues in next week's (March 8th) election for LA School Board District 1 are a microcosm of the politics of education in the Black community. The candidates differ sharply but incumbent Marguerite LaMotte is, prima facie, the overwhelming choice of Black leaders. Why? Is it because she is again backed by the teachers' union (UTLA) that has reportedly poured more than $200,000 into her race? Is it because she trumps challenger Eric Lee in debates on critical issues such as the continuing achievement gap between Black children and others? Hardly, since LaMotte did not debate Eric Lee, and curiously, did not even respond to repeated requests from another Black local newspaper for her views on the issues.
Or is it simply because she is a Black incumbent and, therefore, entitled to the uncritical support she is again receiving from other Black politicians? Whatever the reasons, La Motte's refusal to debate or respond to requests for her position on the issues suggests a very troubling arrogance.
LaMotte is the only Black school board member, but her behavior raises questions about her priorities. Two examples: School board president Monica Garcia, board member Yolie Flores Aguilar and Superintendent designate John Deasy attended community Town Hall meetings on the "Crisis in Educating Black Students in LAUSD" sponsored by the Coalition for Black Student Equity (CBSE)-(NAACP, Urban League, National Action Network and the Black Education Task Force). Marguerite LaMotte was a no-show. One would think that the topic alone would have commanded her attendance, it did not. Why not?
CBSE presented the demands from the Town Halls to the Board of Education. Afterwards, LaMotte distanced herself from the Town Hall recommendations declaring, "I'm for all students." CBSE too is for all students, but don't Black students, LAUSD's lowest achievers deserve special attention? It is hard to fathom Marguerite LaMotte's response. Perhaps combined, a continuing lack of support, unwavering allegiance to UTLA, ongoing demands of the position and health issues may have taken their toll.
Eric Lee, on the other hand, is sufficiently outraged by LAUSD's failure to properly educate all children, to take risks necessary to bring about needed change. He looks forward to working collaboratively with other board members, elected officials, community groups and parents to provide a high quality education all children deserve. But he also recognizes the necessity for focused attention on Black students because they are the most neglected and most in need. He will fight not just to eliminate the achievement gap, but more importantly, to ensure that Black students are college, and career ready- that they receive an education that enhances their options for living.
Change requires moral, ethical and effective leadership that Eric Lee can, and will, provide. He believes improving academic performance for African American students requires caring, credentialed teachers in every classroom, teacher training and development that focus on effective, culturally relevant curricula and instruction, sufficient counselors and constant outreach and engagement of local communities.
Although Eric disagrees with UTLA's opposition to eliminating seniority as the sole basis for layoffs and teacher evaluation that includes student performance, he will work with UTLA to develop mutually agreed on processes that ensure the most effective teachers are assigned to schools with the greatest need for improvement. He will also push for centers that provide training that actively engages parents and guardians in student's learning experiences.
Eric believes that revenue generated by Average Daily Attendance (ADA) is sufficient to improve educational results for Black children if it is spent on the child, rather than bureaucratic waste, mismanagement and discriminatory redistribution of funds to West Los Angeles and the Valley with higher teacher salaries. He would propose a "Student Weighted Funding Formula" in which ADA would not only follow each student, but allow that school's administration to distribute the funds.
Many Blacks, including elected officials, think Eric is supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Not true. Villaraigosa has not contributed one dime to Eric's campaign. Is this surprising since not one Black elected supports his candidacy?
Voters can re-elect incumbent Marguerite La Motte and perpetuate a status quo inimical to our children, or elect Eric Lee who is committed to new, innovative approaches for improving student performance for all students, but unapologetically, for Black s students especially. A life-long union supporter, Eric feels strongly, however, that when it comes to education, students are first. He has the courage of his convictions and will always put children first; they are his commitment and passion.
Larry Aubry can be reached at email: