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LAUSD Board: What María Brenes — Running For District 2 — Would Do If Elected

A brown-skinned woman speaks into a microphone. She is wearing a black blazer over a bright orange sweater.
María Brenes is running for the open seat in Los Angeles Unified's Board District 2.
(Ryanne Mena

Located on L.A.’s Eastside, District 2 includes downtown, Boyle Heights, and Lincoln Heights. The current board representative, Mónica García, has reached her term limit.

María Brenes is the longtime director of the Boyle Heights-based activist group InnerCity Struggle, which advocates for better educational and health services on the Eastside. She's running for the open seat in the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board District 2.

It’s worth noting: at the end of 2021, the L.A. City Council altered the school board’s district lines. While much stayed the same, the council removed Koreatown from District 2 and added it to District 5.

Rivas and her opponent, María Brenes, both recently sat down for interviews with LAist.

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See Brenes’ full responses in the transcript below.

  • On Supt. Carvalho’s job performance: While Brenes says she aligns with the superintendent’s emphasis on equity and says his strategic plan includes many strong ideas, “there’s areas where the plan definitely needs to be strengthened,” especially in the specifics of how he will get things done. As an example: “Personalized instruction: how do we get there? What does personalized instruction actually look like and how do we expand learning opportunities?” Brenes says she has the political will to help Carvalho get things done.
  • On students who’ve fallen behind academically: Brenes says she supports the superintendent’s efforts to help students catch up in their learning and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. She says it’s important for the district to provide after-school programming, leadership development, and academic services. She emphasizes that community partnerships can help ease some of the burden on the district.
  • On LAUSD’s enrollment decline: Enrollment is “one of the biggest crises facing LAUSD,” Brenes says. At all levels, she says the district should offer a “comprehensive educational experience,” listing restorative justice, a focus on increasing graduation, and extracurricular enrichment programs as examples. She also says the district could focus more on middle school. Families “are fine sending their kid to LAUSD for elementary school,” but as parents decide they want to avoid big middle schools so as to get their kids more personalized attention, “they're going to start exploring their options.”
  • On LAUSD’s budget: “Public education in California is severely underfunded given the wealth in this state." She also wants more support for students with special needs and who have individualized education plans (IEPs).
  • On charter schools: “I'm going to represent all families in Board District 2, regardless of where they send their child to school,” Brenes says. She says she’s heard from families about challenges with transparency and accountability in the charter school system. “Are they meeting the expectations they're obligated to meet legally?”
  • On school police: Brenes is pleased with the district’s pivot away from suspensions for “willful defiance” over the last decade, and wants to keep pushing investment in alternatives to punitive discipline: “We need to continue to invest and redirect resources from surveillance and punishment to support holistic wraparound services.”

Also: Read our Q&A with Rocío Rivas, Brenes’ opponent in the LAUSD Board District 2 race.

For more on this and other races on your ballot in Southern California, check out Voter Game Plan.

Video: Hear From The Candidates

This live, virtual event took place on October 11, 2022 and featured candidates María Brenes and Rocío Rivas.

District 2 Map

LAUSD board district 2 is shown in white, reaching the border of Monterey Park to the east.
(Courtesy LAUSD)
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For more on this and other races on your ballot in Southern California, check out Voter Game Plan.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Kyle Stokes, who covers K-12 for LAist, asked the questions.

The Superintendent's Job Performance

KYLE STOKES, LAist: The most important job that school board members have is to hire and fire and evaluate the superintendent. So, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, how well do you think he is doing in the job so far?

María Brenes: I have read both the 100-day plan that he laid out, and I also read the strategic plan. I think there are some very strong components related to academic achievement issues, related to inclusivity, related to supporting LAUSD staff, and building partnerships to help the district advance its goals. And I have not met the superintendent formally, but look forward to and I have heard him articulate the value of equity very strongly. For that part, we have very strong alignment.

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I think he has big ideas. And if elected and given my track record of being an education advocate, being a community organizer that has taken big ideas and has implemented them and helped secure policy wins at LAUSD for the last 20 years, I know I will be a great asset to the superintendent. His ideas — I think many are strong, and there's areas where the plan definitely needs to be strengthened.

But in order to get things done in LAUSD, it has been my experience, you have to build collaborations, you have to build political will, and you have to build demand from the grassroots level to get things done at the grass tops.

LAist: In general, you said there are ways that it could be strengthened. Are you just referring to that political will piece or are there other elements that you see as not being present in his vision?

Yeah. So I think one of the areas, around personalized instruction, is how do we get there? There are a lot of strong components in this plan. What does personalized instruction actually look like and how do we expand learning opportunities? What I have heard from families is the need to create smaller class sizes, to do away with combination classes, to make sure that there's ratios where academic learning acceleration and intervention can actually occur.

LAUSD is going to need partnerships, it's going to need collaboration, it's going to need funding.
— María Brenes, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

And one other thing that I hear from families is expanding in-district options, whether it's STEM academies, whether it's magnet schools, pilot schools to ensure that there are models within the district that meet the learning needs of their child. I didn't see that come out strongly enough. So that's one area. And expanded learning opportunities, how do we make that happen?

In terms of tutoring intervention, in terms of academic acceleration, there's some very ambitious ideas and what I think the superintendent is saying; we don't want to just pick up in terms of where we left off before COVID. Because we were already behind, particularly for certain subgroups.

LAUSD is going to need partnerships, it's going to need collaboration, it's going to need funding in order to make that a reality, so that what happens in the classroom and what happens after school are very much aligned. So I think that's one area.

The other is around access to the whole child and wellness interventions. For me, contextualizing this in the moment that we're in, where there is an attack on reproductive rights of women, of young girls in our country, I think this is a moment for LAUSD to enhance and to expand reproductive services within our schools, within the wellness center model, expand sex education, education around choices and be a leader in reproductive justice.

I've seen first-hand how provision of reproductive services has helped to decrease unplanned pregnancies, has helped to decrease teenage pregnancies among Latina youth. And it has such a generational impact. And I think that is an area that LAUSD could be a leader on moving forward.

He mentioned the Student Equity Needs Index, which is great. We were an alternative funding model and now the funding model, and now it's in the strategic plan. So it's great to see that, an idea that came from the grassroots that I was involved in. We need to strengthen it and we need to grow it. I was also really excited about the special education component and the superintendent's goal of increasing special needs students in the general education program.

And something I want voters to know and the broader public is I am a proud mother of a special needs child, of a child with an IEP in LAUSD, and I am so grateful for the strengths that are in the district for special education. And there's more work to be done and inclusivity is, for me, the trajectory of the future for special education, inclusive environments, integration of our children so that everyone benefits. Everyone benefits when there is that integration. But it's going to take infrastructure, it's going to take resources, it's going to take training.

LAist: I hear that part of your point is, there's a degree to which he's in alignment with priorities of yours and also ways in which maybe he's close, but not quite on the right track. But let's pull back from some of the details and get your high-level impressions of how he's doing so far and get a sense of if you think he's on the right track in general.

Again, I think a lot of the ideas in the strategic plan and ones that I have heard him articulate are through an equity lens. So to me, there's a lot of alignment in terms of the work I've done around equity.

LAist: Maybe you can say more about what you mean by an equity lens. Let's unpack what that phrase means to you.

Yeah. Within the district, there are schools, there are student populations that have greater need. Historically, academic achievement has lagged behind under-resourced schools with under-resourced conditions. Not enough teachers, overrepresentation of substitutes, overcrowded conditions, not enough wraparound supports, whether it's guidance counselors or mental health counselors, social workers not having the infrastructure in our schools to meet the needs of our students. And that's been historic. And now it's exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic on families, by the impact of not being in the classroom for such an extended period of time.

Enrollment Decline

LAist: The strategic plan aims to make LAUSD a "district of choice." The premier district of choice, I believe, is the phrase. The school district's enrollment has been declining for years, as you know very well. How would you recommend that LAUSD reverse this decline?

Well, I think that's one of the biggest crises facing LAUSD is the enrollment challenge and the enrollment issue. And I agree the goal needs to be to bring back families to LAUSD and retain them. That's part of the work that I've done over 20 years: improving LAUSD, traditional public schools in the Eastside of L.A. To be learning environments that uphold excellence in places where you would send your child.

When you accelerate learning, when you invest in the school and change expectations of students and raise them, there is demand, and families want to send their child there. I know it's a big challenge, and there are particular schools that are facing more enrollment challenges than others, especially at the younger grades. It's partly in the strategic plan: communicate and engage families and provide excellent in-district options. Where families do want to enroll their child, they feel that the school is going to meet their learning needs.

For those families that have been disengaged, communicating, reaching out, connecting them to services and programs that may meet other needs, whether it's houselessness challenges, food insecurity — I think the whole child approach is what needs to be the future of LAUSD ...

Middle school is the place where you lose a lot of families.
— María Brenes, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

I think where the district could focus more on transformation is middle school. There's so much personalization that you find at the elementary level which attracts families. But middle school, I think, is still a big gap.

They're big comprehensive schools. I know my child, he just started 7th grade at a magnet. But within a big comprehensive school, a middle school, it's a big shift going from a school of under 300 to a school of 1300. I've been meeting parents of [Thomas Starr] King Middle School in Los Feliz — 2,000 students, it's a big shift. And I think I have met families who make different choices because there’s more of an opportunity to create personalized learning environments within the middle school.

It's the famous phrase that middle school is the place where you lose a lot of families. They're fine sending their kid to LAUSD for elementary school, but then they're going to start exploring their options when they see big, kind of, intimidating middle schools, right? Not everyone can. But I'm very grateful that in our neighborhood middle school, there was a magnet and we were able to apply, and our child got in. And so he's in a more focused, personalized environment, and we need to expand that. We need to expand that type of model.

LAist: Superintendent Carvalho has said that school closures could be difficult to avoid unless present trends reverse. It's conceivable that it could come up during your term, if you're elected. Do you think Superintendent Carvalho is correct in his assessment?

We have to try to avoid it. We have to try to avoid it and find sustainable, concrete solutions to avoid the closure of our schools, particularly the elementary schools. And I would want to help the superintendent think outside the box, think creatively of how we do that. So many of our families, we talk about enrollment, we talk about wanting to keep families in LAUSD.

And so many, especially families of our youngest learners, are relying on the small personalized learning environment to nurture their child, to teach their child. How do we utilize our campuses to provide other social services, to build affordable housing, and to attract more families in order to keep our schools open? But I think we have to put all the solutions at the table.

LAist: I hear that you want to avoid it. Do you agree with the assessment that we're getting closer to this brink, that the situation is that dire in our enrollment situation? I guess my question is, do you think he's right to say that within the next few years, this is a real possibility?

I think we have a window to find solutions and the window is right now. And that will be one of my priorities when elected: figuring out a plan and a set of strategies so we can avoid that crisis, because it will be a crisis, and I think it'll exacerbate the enrollment crisis that LAUSD is already facing. So prioritizing engagement with families, enrollment expanding in district options, accelerating academic achievement, all of that, some of which you laid out in the strategic plan, have to happen quickly.

LAist: How long is that window, do you think? I mean, are we talking a decade?

The next two years — within the next two years.

LAist: To that point, about two years, the superintendent has warned of potentially tough financial times coming for the district as pandemic aid runs out or expires and the state moves away from "hold harmless" provisions and state funding, where you're funded based on previous student numbers as opposed to the current student numbers, which are, of course, far lower. How concerned are you about the so-called structural deficit returning?

I am definitely very much concerned with the long term sustainability of LAUSD as it relates to its funding. I think we have a window right now to leverage the resources that the district does have available to make the greatest impact, to uplift the academic achievement and the wellness of the students that have been most left behind during this very challenging period of the last two and a half, almost three years. And show results. Getting more of the resources into the classroom. Having a robust acceleration of academic excellence and academic achievements so that we can demonstrate impact and we can make our case at the state level, at the federal level, that the second-largest school district shows results when we have resources, shows results when we use those equitably and strategically and in a targeted way. And then make our case to the larger public and to voters of why we need greater public investment in our educational system. I have been a leader in that work the last several years. My organization, InnerCity Struggle, we were an anchor of educating voters about Proposition 30, which then led to the Local Control Funding Formula, which has supported the Student Equity Needs Index.

... I think as a board member, there's an opportunity and an obligation to be a voice and to be an advocate for LAUSD, to push for more resources and more funding from the state, from the federal government, and to make our case to voters for future initiatives.

LAist: Do you think that's the primary lever for solving whatever funding issues still exist, going straight to the voters and doing tax reform type things, like Prop 13?

I think it's one very important one. I mean, public education in California is severely underfunded given the wealth in this state and given when you compare California to other states across the country, per people funding is underfunded. And so that is something we have to continue to educate the greater public about, the urgency to invest in our public schools. I also agree that special education needs, we need more support to support the education of our students with special needs, our students that have an IEP. And there's a case to be made there with the state, with the federal government.

It's so incredible to be at this place where the [Student Equity Needs Index] is referenced in the strategic plan of the superintendent of LAUSD as a viable tool for addressing inequity in LAUSD.
— María Brenes, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

And I'm someone that is open to listening to community stakeholders, to students, to parents. That's the work I've done in the last 20 years. And those are the areas that I've heard great urgency around: greater public investment in our public education system and making sure those resources are deployed equitably. And that's why I've been such an advocate of the Student Equity Needs Index.

Student Equity Needs Index

LAist: I’m reading this question the same to all candidates, for the record: LAUSD now distributes a huge portion of its funding for high-needs students through its Student Equity Needs Index, which includes school health, measures of neighborhood violence, and other nontraditional statistics. Do you think the district should allocate more funding through this index, or is there a better way to ensure high-needs schools' needs are met? María Brenes, author of the Student Equity Needs Index.

(laughter) I support it.

It's so incredible to be at this place where it's referenced in the strategic plan of the superintendent of LAUSD as a viable tool for addressing inequity in LAUSD. And I remember Prop. 30 passed in 2012. So in 2013, when we were advocating at the state for the Local Control Funding Formula and it was signed by the governor, we knew a significant part of the funding would come to LAUSD. And we were having the discussion with so many of the students and the parents that had done the voter mobilization education work around Prop. 30. And this concern emerged from, well, are the communities that have been hardest hit by historic disinvestment and structural racism going to benefit at the level that is needed to address those historic challenges and inequities? I didn't have the answer, but we started to brainstorm, well, how could we propose a solution? Because our organizing, my campaign approach and my leadership approaches, it's important to expose, to call out the injustices, articulate what's at stake, but also to propose solutions.

And I think that's why we've been so effective.

LAist: And just to annotate that, the funding formula at the state level does include extra funding for specific groups of students — low-income students, foster youth, English learners. But implicit in what you just said is that SENI came out of a feeling that it wasn't going to really direct money to the highest concentrated areas of the entire district. Large slots of the district qualify for concentration grants.

Well, that's what we've seen in the past. Newer funding may come into the district and then it's distributed more equally and doesn't have the targeted impact it could have. I mean, these were conversations we had had since the Quality Education Investment Act, and there was an equity component included in the deployment of that funding that we were a part of advocating for. So schools like Roosevelt and Garfield got some additional funding that staved off some layouts for those particular schools during that seven-year time period. But it was short term, and it wasn't a sustainable long-term institutionalized policy.

So with the LCFF dollars coming down, this was an opportunity to institutionalize equitable funding. So I was part of those conversations and developing the idea of an index, a funding formula, and parents and students from South L.A. and the Eastside were brainstorming what would be those indicators. And I thought what was so innovative with this was the idea of combining both academic and community indicators to hone in on need and uplift where the need is greatest.

And it's been so impactful. And I think there's a stronger index today with community indicators. I think the weight should be higher for the community indicators. And so that's part of the work I'm hoping to advance when I get elected and increase the pot — we got to $700 million. My plan would be to double that.

LAist: Yeah, those community indicators, one of the criticisms that you hear from principals is —

Some principals.

LAist: Well, the thing that is good is the flexibility. The thing that they say is difficult is that it can sometimes be unpredictable. And those community indicators tie in with that closely. You can have five shootings in your neighborhood one year, and then you go from five to zero. And that's a good thing, but then your school ends up with less money. I'm just curious what you would say to that concern that those community indicators can be volatile and it leads to a greater sense of opacity, that it's not transparent.

Well, I think it's transparent because we all know what the indicators are. We're clear on what the weight of each indicator is. And I think the principals have valid concerns. This is in one variation of the resolutions that have been passed, evaluating the indicators every three years or so. And so I think that's important to continue. But the indicators are research-based and data-driven. The severe childhood asthma rates, the gun-related violence, they still resonate. And they've been exacerbated by the economic and health challenges of the pandemic.

My focus is strengthening and stabilizing our traditional public school system.
— María Brenes, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

And then there was a COVID indicator that was added that I think would help mitigate some of those concerns. Because what I have also heard from many of the principals that I work with here on the East Side is, yes, the flexibility, but having additional dollars to meet ever-changing needs, particularly post-pandemic. Additional teachers. Social workers. Guidance counselors. Other technology needs that emerged because of the shift to virtual learning during a period of time. And now we're much more reliant on technology. So I have heard very positive feedback and I think it's an opportunity to continuously evaluate and strengthen the index, but it is a move in the right direction.

LAist: With those community indicators. How strongly do you want to weight those? I don't know the weights off the top of my head.

Right now they're about 20%. It should definitely be higher. Between 20% and 50%. Yeah. One thing impacts the other, right? So it'd be important to see how that increase interacts with the academic indicators. But given the challenges in highest need communities in the ongoing pandemic, I think they are powerful indicators for what are the challenges facing students in their communities.

The District Budget

LAist: Another budget question. You mentioned flexibility that's associated with these funds, but this is another thing that Superintendent Carvalho has brought up, concerns that not just SENI funds, but that principals are banking money year over year —

The carryover, right.

LAist: And he's started to make more noise about the idea that this money needs to be spent on the students who generated it, meaning you need to start spending this money this year. I'm curious, do you think that he's on the right track and that maybe the district should make more aggressive moves to “sweep the carryover” or at least try and prevent there from being carryover year to year and make sure that the money is spent in the year that it was generated?

I don't think it should be punitive because there are challenges in our schools with, as we know, staffing shortages. But to me, the perspective is that the funding belongs to the students, the funding belongs in the schools. And so I think the leading question the superintendent should be asking, and the Board of Education, is how do we more effectively support our school leaders and our schools to utilize the funding in that year? But I don't think the answer should be punitive. I don't think the funding should go back to the bureaucracy or to Beaudry. I think the funding should remain in our schools to be able to address the needs and the goals of that particular school the following year. I think there's an opportunity for capacity building, for training, for support so the funding is being utilized on time.

LAist: So it's more of a carrot-and-stick approach to the issue, like incentivize them or train them how to spend it all, but not necessarily —


LAist: — take it.

Yeah, I think that's counterproductive if we're punitive.

Charter Schools

LAist: What do you believe is the school board's role in overseeing charter schools? Do you think that it is the board's job to shut these schools down?

Well, the role is to provide oversight, to approve and to renew and to set expectations. For me, when elected, my priority will be to strengthen our traditional public school system. And there are so many challenges, as we've discussed, enrollment being one, funding being another. So that to me is the primary focus: strengthening, uplifting and getting the resources and the supports to strengthen and stabilize our traditional public schools. That would be my primary focus. And I know there's a role that the board of education plays in terms of charter schools. And so that is one area that definitely comes with the job. But in terms of my focus, my focus is strengthening and stabilizing our traditional public school system.

LAist: I think there are those who would say that the board has been too passive on the issue and that there are not only a bunch of active management issues around things like co-location, but also that the district has set aside its obligation to look closely at low-performing charters and make sure they don't continue to operate. What do you make of that?

Wow, people are really saying they're passive? Yeah. I mean, my position is, when I get elected, I'm going to represent all families in Board District 2, regardless of where they send their child to school. As a board representative for Board District 2, I want to look closely at: Where can we strengthen transparency, where can we strengthen accountability, where can we strengthen parent and community voice when it comes to the issue of approving or renewing charters? And are they meeting the expectations they're obligated to meet legally? And so we need to answer those hard questions, but taking into account the perspectives of students and families in that system and being responsive to that, and what are the necessary changes that, as a board, we can assure happen in the charter school system.

That, I'm a lot less familiar with, because, my work has been in the LAUSD context entirely. I'm a traditional public school LAUSD parent, so I have some areas to learn. But I know that there are legal obligations that charters have to fill. And as a board member, I would be very alert to that, aware of that. And also, I think it's important to listen to the students and families, how can we be helpful as a board to make sure their needs are being met.

LAist: One of the things I feel like I have to do is double check the premises of my questions. And maybe the premise of that last question is not correct. Perhaps it feels to you like the board is being pretty harsh on charter schools.

You know, I think I've heard the spectrum of feedback depending on who's sharing. Because in my role at InnerCity Struggle, we work with all families, we work with everyone in the community, regardless of where they send their child. So I have definitely heard a lot of feedback about where are areas that need improvement in the charter system. For sure. I have heard that a lot. And I have heard concern that their voices are not always represented in the debates and at the board level. And so I plan to be an advocate, as I've always been, for all families and all children.

School Police

LAist: Do you believe that L.A. Unified should run its own department of sworn police officers?

As you know, I've been very involved in the whole movement to dismantle the school-to-jail pipeline in LAUSD. And it's work that's been at the center of InnerCity Struggle’s mission and my own commitment to disrupting a pipeline that has been very harmful to youth in my community, to youth of color in LAUSD. And it's just amazing to see how much we've been able to transform the system that was so punitive in terms of school discipline, where you could be suspended for violating the dress code or talking back to a teacher and pushed out of your school. And we were the first organization to uncover that in the Eastside, most of the suspensions were due to willful defiance.

We had an alarming dropout rate when I first started InnerCity Struggle 20 years ago. So we've come to the work around school discipline with a great sense of urgency and powerful student and parent testimony that schools should not be guided by punitive measures when it comes to addressing discipline, when it comes to addressing student needs, that we need a holistic, restorative, nurturing, trauma-informed approach. And I think pushing on that for the last 20 years has had such a positive impact for our schools here and for LAUSD as a whole.

To prevent violence, you have to over-invest in nurturing relationships between students and adults.
— María Brenes, candidates, LAUSD Board District 2

And part of that is manifested in the School Climate Bill of Rights — [LAUSD] was the first district in the country, as you know, to ban willful defiance as grounds for suspension, instead having alternatives. Alternatives are essential. We need alternatives to support students, to resolve conflict, to provide interventions and services. And as a result of the School Climate Bill of Rights, we saw graduation rates go up, and it did limit the role of school police. That's when those conversations really started. I heard a lot from students, just the harm, the negative experiences, and not feeling safe when your school is under surveillance and when there's over-policing. And so I did actively support the redirecting of resources from the school police to alternative measures, specifically the Black Student Achievement Program.

And we know, and the research shows, that to prevent violence, you have to over-invest in nurturing relationships between students and adults. And for me, that's the direction LAUSD has to continue to go in: invest in the infrastructure to ensure safety and inclusivity for all, because the research shows that that's what prevents violence in our schools.

And as an LAUSD parent, of course I am very concerned with safety issues. But I know that when there are positive relationships, when there is investment, when students are getting the services that they need and the interventions that they need, that that creates the type of environment that all children feel safer in, and then adults feel safer in as well. So it's really just exciting to see the arc of change that LAUSD has gone through over the last 20 years and that students have been much more heard, their experiences have been much more validated, particularly students of color.

LAist: There are activists who it sounds like in large part you support, who will say the work isn't complete until the school police department is shut down and that money completely redirected. Can you get to what you want to do while the district has a school police department — should the district’s police department be shut down?

I think we need to keep pushing LAUSD to continue to invest in alternatives to punitive discipline and in the infrastructure of restorative justice and trauma-informed care within LAUSD. We need to continue to invest and redirect resources from surveillance and punishment to support and holistic wraparound services. The school police budget could be one resource for sure, and there's others. We have to completely transform the way that students experience school, continue to transform it.

A bigger investment is needed, and I definitely plan to continue to advocate for that. So we have school climate advocates, restorative justice counselors, restorative justice coordinators, conflict resolution programs, facilities within our campuses that create a more welcoming environment, greener environments, and modernization so that even students with disabilities feel included, and having more partnerships with community organizations, and that will take investment. I think we need to look at all streams of revenue to continue to uplift that infrastructure.

LAist: Do you see any role for school police within the district? From your answer, it sounds like maybe there is one that you see for them. Maybe it's different from what it is now. Maybe it requires less resources. But it sounds like you do see a role.

Well, the role in terms of creating safe and inclusive environments, that's not the role of school police. School police are not intended to be guidance counselors. It's not to be part of the wraparound social safety net for our schools. That's not their responsibility. And so what we do have to over-invest in is that system of inclusivity, of nurturing, of restorative justice, of mental health supports for our students. One area I know that has emerged from, for example, school principals or school leaders is security for facilities. But that does not require school police to be on campus, engaging, interacting with students. So that's one valid question, I think that could be looked at more closely.

LAist: Yeah. Could that same service not be provided by LAPD or the L.A. County Sheriff's Department? Why does LAUSD need its own agency to provide perimeter security?

That's a great question. I agree. Yeah, that's a great question to ask.

LAist: It is a great question, yes. What’s your answer to it?

In terms of surveilling facilities, buildings, not people?

LAist: Yeah. It sounds like you're saying there's a police role around perimeter security, and maybe their role isn’t on campus —

Potentially, potentially. But that would mean a reduction, for sure. That would mean a massive reduction. That's a potential scenario, a very focused reduction when it comes to facilities. But in terms of school discipline or safety of students, or support for students, there has to be a separation, complete separation.

LAist: LI think what you're saying is that we could still cut the department's budget further and they could still fulfill the role that you see them fulfilling.

Well, I see it as a redirection, a redirection toward reimagining school safety. I want to be really clear about that. A redirection ... These are very hard discussions to have, and they're discussions I have had with young people, with families, with school leaders. And so many agree that reimagining school safety is the right direction. We have to keep moving because it's showing better results for students.

I know there's been a lot of attention on the school police issue because of recent horrific tragedies. I just don't want us to lose sight of what young people have been telling us.
— María Brenes, candidates, LAUSD Board District 2

And so, from my perspective, it's a redirection and a reinvestment, and it has to be bigger than even what the school police budget is right now ... But how do we fill it? Is it through school police surveilling buildings, or is it another solution? And I think that's where we need to continue to have those very specific conversations. And they are challenging conversations, but I think we have some very bold and courageous young people throughout our district that are urging us to keep moving in this direction, and we have to continue to listen to them. That's how I've operated as a leader the last 20 years.

LAist: Not to completely oversimplify their views, but I believe that the student activist groups that you're referencing will see any future role that the district has for the school police department, even if it's a circumscribed role, even if it doesn't involve them being on campus, that's going to be a problem for them. I'm just curious whether you agree with them that any role for school police going forward is a problem.

I think they have valid concerns, ideas, and it's from not just lived experience, but from research and data that has demonstrated the harmful impact that school police have on students of color, particularly Black students with disabilities and LGBTQIA students. And we can't dismiss their point of view. We can't. We absolutely cannot. I've worked with many of those young activists the last few years. Their efforts are moving us in a very positive direction in terms of what LAUSD could be when it invests in programming and services. I mean, we're not in Texas. We're a very different state. But the school police there, the law enforcement there, did not prevent the violence that was unfortunately perpetrated by a former student of that school district.

LAist: You're talking about Uvalde.

Right, Uvalde. And we also need more gun control. And California is a different state, but I think it shows that we have to invest in our students, and we have to invest in their wellbeing to create safer learning environments and then work with our families, work with our students, our educators at every school to create a comprehensive safety plan. We need a comprehensive safety plan. It's not just one strategy. We need multiple strategies. We need communication among families, communication with the school, vigilance around the school perimeter, and investments in our students in order to have a comprehensive, safe environment for all of our students and all of our staff in our LAUSD schools. So I know there's been a lot of attention on the school police issue because of recent horrific tragedies. I just don't want us to lose sight of what young people have been telling us, and their lived experience, what the research shows, and the fact that safety is a comprehensive approach. And so investing in our facilities and then investing in our staffing is all very critical and over-communication among each other, I think, is essential.

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