The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. Presently, governing board members are elected at-large in the LACCD, an area larger than any other elective office in California (2.5 million voters) except for statewide offices and the State Board of Equalization.
The “why” is complicated but boils down to an electoral truce between LACCD honchos and the faculty unions who want control over how the district is run at the expense of individual community voices advocating for their local colleges. The faculty unions handpick board candidates and spend the required millions to get them elected and deliver a board with no meaningful electoral accountability to any of the nine LACCD campus communities. This electoral truce undermines the very reason the legislature created the community college system in 1921—to empower local control over these schools to meet the needs of the local community.
Recently, the LACCD and the faculty unions publicly flexed their muscles in Sacramento to kill Assembly Bill 450—a bill that required them to adopt a district election system like the growing majority of community college districts in California. However, as virtually all of the surrounding districts have learned, the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) is a powerful tool to eliminate at-large elections and restore local control to the community college districts. It is no longer a matter of if LACCD will switch to district elections but when—and whether they will do so voluntarily or under a costly court order which will waste millions in taxpayer money.
I am proposing that LACCD start the process of adopting a nine-seat district plan that provides one trustee for each of it’s nine campuses. The plan requires residence in those districts and must be drawn fairly to insure that campuses like LA Southwest College, which has 53.7 percent African American enrollment, has a lasting electoral base capable of electing an African American member to a board that hasn’t had that community voice at the table for many years.
Complying with the CVRA isn’t just about minority rights; it’s also about community rights. Under my 9 District Plan, the San Fernando Valley will have three guaranteed seats on the board. Such representation will not only rally community involvement in their three Valley campuses but will allow for advocacy for community-specific projects like not closing the farm at LA Piece College—something the district has ham-handedly done despite vocal community opposition. Similarly, it will allow residents of Northeast Los Angeles to have a say in whether $100 million in district bond money is spent at the Van De Kamp Bakery Campus under the false promise of providing additional remote college classrooms only to see them repurposed to non-community college uses.
Residents of East Los Angeles would probably like to know from their trustee why they have double the number of students at ELAC than at any other similarly sized college campus in the district?
Opponents argue that districts will allow for the balkanization of the LACCD and thus create management problems. However, the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles have all survived with the representative democratic accountability that district elections bring. Plus, the CVRA mandates aren’t optional.
The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have a problem. LACCD has a really, really big problem with an unfair and unlawful electoral system and it needs to move with all deliberate speed to adopt district elections and restore the community to its college district. Only then will it begin to build lasting partnerships with local businesses, institutions, community organizations and voters to provide the collaborative energy needed to truly meet the needs of the local population.
Candidate for member of the LACCD Board of Trustees.
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