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Meet the L.A. school board candidates

March 3, 2013 |  1:19 pm

Ten candidates are on the ballot next Tuesday for three seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Four of them are backed by high-cost independent campaigns on their behalf; the others have had difficulty getting their messages out.

The campaign also has been marked by misleading negative campaign mail as well as by exaggerated claims. Here are thumbnails of all the candidates:

BOARD DISTRICT 2

Monica Garcia, 44, incumbent, elected in 2006

Details: Previously a senior school board staffer and school counselor

The record: Board’s closest ally to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Will not oppose his wishes; he also takes guidance from her. A power broker: Helped engineer the firing of former Supt. David Brewer, the hiring of his successor, Ramon C. Cortines, and the hiring of the current superintendent, John Deasy. Sometimes uses her authority to bypass district procedures, as when she engineered the hand-over of a high school campus to Villaraigosa’s nonprofit group.

On Supt. John Deasy: “I am proud that we hired John Deasy.… He knows that we are on the kids’ side.”

Abelardo Diaz, 51, high school Spanish teacher

Details: Taught at Washington Prep High, where he helped to organize a bilingual academic decathlon. Certified as a teacher through the National Board process. Later became founding teacher at the Cortines High School of Visual and Performing Arts, where he is the union representative.

Of note: Has a particular issue with Garcia over her insistence that the arts high school be named after former L.A. schools Supt. Ramon Cortines, bypassing pledges and policies to include the school community in the naming process.

On  Deasy: “I feel he doesn’t listen to the people he needs to listen to, including the teachers. He judges without going deeper and makes decisions based on that.”

Isabel Vazquez, 52, first-grade teacher at Queen Anne Place Elementary

Details: An elementary teacher for 10 years who became an aide to board member Jeff Horton and then rose to senior administrator in the adult school division, helping oversee $80 million in programs. Returned to teaching after being laid off.

Of note: Vazquez has particularly articulated her support for adult school and early childhood programs that are outside the K-12 framework but crucial, she says, to supporting it.

On  Deasy: “Dr. Deasy and I are same age. He’s been to different districts and hasn’t stayed as a permanent employee. As a student, parent and employee in this district, I see how all of these elements are connected, especially with low-income students and English learners.”

Robert D. Skeels, 47, writer and researcher for technology firm

Details: A Long Island, N.Y., native who became a sonar technician in the Navy. Later worked as a commercial art director and, for 17 years, has been a technical writer and researcher for a company that manufactures computer parts and camera memory.

Of note: Among the candidates, he is the most aggressive critic of standardized testing, charter schools and the direction of education reform in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. He is a longtime critic, through his writings, of current trends and influential foundations that have shaped many school-improvement efforts.

On Deasy: “He’d be a difficult person to work with because he’s overbearing. We really want a superintendent that is from here and is sensitive to the local needs.”

Annamarie Montanez, 40, adult school teacher

Details: Started as a teaching assistant and then was a teacher at Glen Alta Elementary, which she’d attended. Later became a coordinator at the school for services to students from low-income families and for students learning English. Has worked as teacher in adult division for 13 years.

Of note: Says she organized a delegation of adult school students to go to Garcia’s office to urge against budget cuts but said Garcia would not meet with them. The site where Montanez taught was ultimately shut down. Since then, Montanez has worked part time at two different sites.

On Deasy: “It would be unfair to say that I would not take the opportunity to work with him.” If it didn’t work or their values were different, “that would have to be addressed.”

DISTRICT 4

Steve Zimmer, 42, incumbent, elected in 2009

Details: A Teach for America instructor who stayed in the classroom and also worked as a counselor at Marshall High. Helped in the founding of a nonprofit to help low-income families in Echo Park area.

The record: Zimmer first ran with backing both from teachers union and mayor’s coalition. Tried to bring both sides together but often ran up against ideological hard-liners in union and a board majority resistant to compromise because it had the votes. A disenchanted union returned to his corner when faced with the alternative of challenger Kate Anderson.

On Deasy: “With a leader as powerful, urgent and brilliant as John Deasy, a moderating influence becomes more important. He could become a little bit dangerous in terms of any one person wielding that much power.”

Kate Anderson, 41, L.A.-based staffer for Children Now advocacy group

Details: Out of college, she became a staff researcher for Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills). Later worked as attorney at prominent downtown L.A. firm, where she organized a child-care center for employees. A member of the local neighborhood council. Parent of twin third-graders.

Of note: Formerly ran unsuccessfully for state Legislature. Unreservedly supportive of  Deasy.

On Deasy: “He’s putting in place a teacher evaluation system which will allow us for the first time to meaningfully evaluate and then celebrate and support our teachers. Because of the kind of leader he is, he has helped cement and unite a civic community that is coming together to take another look at LAUSD, to reinvest and to demand better for our kids.”

DISTRICT 6

Maria Cano, 43, former regional project manager for school construction program

Details: A paralegal for legal-aid firm from 1995 to 2002; worked for L.A. Unified construction program and rose to project manager, addressing community concerns and building support for projects, until laid off in 2011 with work winding down.

Of note: Her interest in the school construction program stems in large measure from her experience as a child who was bused out of her neighborhood because of overcrowding. Says her work in that division took her to every corner of her board district, informing her deeply on community needs.

On Deasy: “He’s an intelligent man, but in terms of including stakeholders he’s done very little. He does a lot with very little buy-in, and it doesn’t help to bring together the community.”

Monica Ratliff, 43, fifth-grade teacher

Details: A legal-aid attorney —  also worked briefly for the Riverside County district attorney — who decided to become a teacher. Serves as her school’s union representative.

Of note: Opposed a tentative agreement on teacher evaluations (which passed) between the union and school district because she had concerns about individual teachers being judged based, in part, on the performance of the entire school. Says she once considered starting a charter school.

On  Deasy: “I’m hesitant to evaluate job performance based on articles in the newspaper…. I’ve read that he’s a hard worker…. I would need to know more” based on her own experience working with him.

Antonio Sanchez, 30, former campaign worker and staff member for elected officials

Details: A mid-level staffer in last fall’s campaign to defeat the anti-labor Proposition 32. After college, hired as a field representative for state Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez; then was hired as scheduling aide for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and later served as personal assistant to mayor and a field representative in the San Fernando Valley.

Of note: Says he’s used to being the youngest person in the room and underestimated or judged as too inexperienced. Says he can be an example to current students because he’s lived their experience,  being from an immigrant family and entering school unable to speak English.

On Deasy: “Everyone tells me: ‘Your first vote will be to keep or fire the superintendent.’ I would keep him.… I love his sense of urgency and his passion.… No one can deny that he is working day and night.”

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— Howard Blume

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