By Vince Echavaria
Kate Anderson envisions a Los Angeles Unified School District where every parent is given the choice to send their child to the school that best fits their needs.
As a parent of twin daughters, she believes she has the perspective currently lacking on the LAUSD Board of Education to help ensure that parents can be pleased with the local school their child attends.
Noting that providing those educational opportunities requires working with groups on different sides, Anderson points to her political experience as a former staff member in the offices of Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Jane Harman, saying she learned how to bring people together in the political world. The Mar Vista resident additionally credits her collaborative skills to her time as a member of the Mar Vista Community Council, an experience she feels has been invaluable in learning how to address issues that may arise in the school district.
Hoping to combine that political knowledge with her perspective as a parent to help improve Los Angeles schools, Anderson is seeking to represent District 4 on the Board of Education. The district includes schools in Westchester, Venice, Del Rey, and Mar Vista. She is vying for the seat against incumbent LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer in the March 5 primary.
“I want to take the motivation and perspective I have as a parent and combine that with the political skills I learned with the seats of Congressman Henry Waxman and Congresswoman Jane Harman and bring them to the school board,” said Anderson, the Los Angeles director of Children Now, a nonprofit child advocacy organization.
Anderson said she advocated for children’s programs in Waxman’s office by conducting a study on childcare and the importance of high quality childcare. As an attorney with the firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, Anderson said she helped open a daycare center at her workplace, the first of its kind at a law firm west of the Mississippi. Anderson, whose daughters attend Mar Vista Elementary School, became more actively involved in local schools as a co-chair of the community council’s Education, Culture and Arts Committee.
Her motivation to run for the District 4 seat was sparked by some actions by Zimmer that caused her frustration, primarily his call for a moratorium on charter schools. “I think we need to hold charter schools accountable and make sure they’re playing by the rules, but the last thing we need to do is put a moratorium on them,” she said.
Another source of frustration for Anderson was the board member’s proposal that she believes would block changes that are needed in the teacher evaluation system.
Anderson doesn’t believe that charter schools are necessarily the answer to the problems facing the district, but she says many have done a tremendous job and she hopes to support them in areas they may want to establish.
“I don’t see charter schools eventually proliferating such that they take over, and I don’t want them to,” the candidate said. “I want to strengthen and support our traditional public schools, and at the same time… I want to strengthen and support the charter schools that maybe want to branch out.”
She notes that she would be very skeptical of a charter seeking to establish a for-profit institution, and wants to hold charters accountable for having effective teachers and ensuring that students are learning.
The LAUSD race for three seats, including District 4, drew national attention recently when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $1 million to the Coalition for School Reform, a group supporting Anderson and two other candidates. The coalition is backed by billionaires A. Jerrold Perenchio and Eli Broad. Anderson, along with LAUSD School Board President Monica García and challenger Antonio Sanchez are contenders who are considered more sympathetic to charter organizations and Perenchio, Broad and Bloomberg are staunch supporters of the charter movement.
The Argonaut reported Feb. 21 that election reporting records show that the coalition has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on behalf of Anderson.
A primary focus for Anderson will be to allow parents to send their child to a school that best fits their needs, whether it be a traditional public or charter public school. Much of the work will need to be focused at the middle and high school level, said Anderson, who has heard concerns from parents about performance at middle and high schools.
She also wants to ensure that there’s an effective teacher in front of every classroom, there’s more local control and support for innovative school models, and that the district is adequately funding education at local school sites.
One issue that has been a subject of controversy in recent years, particularly in District 4, is colocation. Colocation is a result of Proposition 39, a 2000 ballot initiative that gave charter organizations the right to petition for space and facilities on traditional school campuses where classrooms are considered underutilized or vacant. While Anderson thinks colocation can work, she feels it has had problems of transparency, communication and not involving local stakeholders.
In regards to future colocation proposals, Anderson said she would want to talk with residents, parents and officials at the specific school site to determine if the plan should move forward.
Anderson believes she will provide a parent’s perspective and political experience necessary to bring about change in the district and to challenge the status quo she says Zimmer represents.
“I believe that LAUSD can and should provide a world class education to our kids,” Anderson said. “I generally believe that we’re on the precipice of real change and I can make that vision a reality.”