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LAUSD Board Candidate Interview, District 6: Marvin Rodríguez

A man in a gray sweater sits in a green chair. He is speaking into a microphone. Facing him is a man in a gray suit, also sitting in a green chair. A small table sits between them.
Marvin Rodríguez is running for the LAUSD Board of Education.
(Ryanne Mena
/
LAist)

Marvin Rodríguez has been teaching in public schools for the last 17 years, including for the last nine at the L.A. Unified School District’s Cleveland Charter High School. Before he entered the classroom, Rodríguez was called from the U.S. Marine Reserves into active duty, serving in Kuwait and Iraq from 2002 to 2003.

Now, Rodríguez is running for the L.A. Unified School Board, hoping to unseat incumbent Kelly Gonez from her seat representing the East San Fernando Valley.

Both Rodríguez and Gonez recently sat down for interviews with LAist.

Highlights

See Rodríguez’s full responses in the transcript below:

  • On school police: Rodríguez said school police officers should be on campuses as little as possible — only in serious incidents where an arrest is necessary. He said the presence of officers on-campus undermines the sense of empowerment he hopes schools instill in students. He called complete defunding of school police a “goal,” but he also acknowledged the advantages to employing a force of sworn officers who are trained in working with youth.
  • On Supt. Alberto Carvalho’s job performance: Rodríguez described Carvalho as an educator who says the right things, but he hopes the superintendent backs his words with actions.
  • On students who’ve fallen behind academically: LAUSD should continue its moves to embrace the community schools model, saying that the model addresses students’ holistic social and emotional needs with wraparound services and after-school supports. Once those needs are addressed, Rodríguez contended, students’ academic needs will take care of themselves.
  • On LAUSD’s enrollment decline: Rodríguez pledged to strive to avoid school closures, especially in the most vulnerable communities. While some factors driving the student exodus have to do with cost of living and fleeing neighborhoods in search of quality education, Rodríguez again pointed to the community schools model as a potential solution for luring winnable families back.
  • On LAUSD’s budget: The pandemic finally alerted the state and federal government to an educational emergency that has long existed, and Rodríguez said that LAUSD must appeal to the consciences of budget-makers in hopes they’ll fund K-12 schools as though that emergency will continue. He also scoffed at concerns that LAUSD could soon return to dire fiscal straits, saying district budget officials have been crying poverty for years.
  • On charter schools: Rodríguez said LAUSD can do more to hold charters accountable. He said the board could lean heavily on new state laws to push back on charter schools’ request to share space. The district could also more aggressively seek to financially penalize charter schools that take up more space than necessary on LAUSD-run campuses.
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ALSO: Read our Q&A with Rodríguez’s opponent, Kelly Gonez.

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

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Superintendent's Job Performance

KYLE STOKES, KPCC/LAist: The school board’s most important job is to hire and fire the superintendent, and to manage his or her job performance. How well do you think Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is doing in the job?

Marvin Rodríguez: Every time people ask me that question, I always say, he says the right things. That, I can appreciate about the superintendent. He says the right things, and it looks like he's headed in the right direction.

The only thing I would say is we have to back up what we say with the actions we pursue. Hopefully, in this plan that he's come up with — his strategic plan, which is a big investment of $1.9 billion — it's not just money he's throwing at our communities.

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I hope that that money is used to create meaningful opportunities for our kids, where it's not just money that they're getting, but they're also getting a sense of pride, a sense of being inspired to do things in school; so that school can represent for them more than just showing up on a daily basis to learn curriculum, but a place where they feel as though they're part of a community and the community is taking care of them and making sure they are successful.

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I hope that along with that money we are spending and the superintendent is pushing, I hope it comes with a lot of action, because part of his plan is a call to action, and I think that's very important.

LAist: Do you think that he’s sending that money in the right direction, at least?

The way it's set up on the budget, it looks like it's going in the right direction. He's talking about joy and wellness. He's talking about academic excellence. He's talking about the operational effectiveness of the district. He's also talking about investing in staff. Those are good things. Those are good starters. Those are things we want, especially coming back from the pandemic — investing in staff.

The district is losing great teachers, and they're having a hard time recruiting good teachers. So if you're going to invest in staff and that's part of the strategic plan, I'm all for that. When we talk about joy and wellness, what does that mean? It needs to mean something. It can't just be something you say, but hopefully the money that's being spent on that will actually have meaningful changes not only for students and teachers, but for the communities that we serve.

Our children need to find inspiration in what they're learning. They need to find that they like going to school, that they like engaging their peers and their teachers.
— Marvin Rodríguez, candidates, LAUSD Board District 6

LAist: You mention that disconnect between money and policy, between throwing money at the problem and having your values in the right place. You've been a teacher in the district for going on 18 years. What kind of initiatives have you noticed where money didn't match values? Is there anything that comes to mind as proof that the district always doesn't put their money where their mouth is?

I mean, when we talk about just spending in general with the district, sometimes you're hopeful. Like, I was just describing to you how that strategic plan is set up — you're hopeful. And then when it’s put into practice, sometimes it winds up being that the people executing the plans that those higher powers have in mind, they wind up in the lap of the teacher, and the teacher is expected to become this superhero and fix all the elements of the public education system.

So sometimes they spend a lot of money, but ultimately the policies and initiatives that the district implements, they wind up being thrown at the teacher, and the teacher is the one that has to be in charge of making sure they're implemented.

Improving Student Learning

LAist: Last spring, LAUSD students took statewide standardized tests for the first time since the pandemic. Superintendent Carvalho has told us to expect those test scores to show vulnerable populations likely fell behind. Whatever you call this issue — “learning loss, interrupted learning, pandemic slide” — how urgent of a problem is it, and what should LAUSD do about it?

Yeah, you do hear “learning loss” and “the learning gap.” I think it's a big problem, especially because 85% of the district is made up of students who come from vulnerable communities. We have to address the learning loss, but not by continuing to demand from our kids so much academics and ignoring all the other things our children need — like the social and emotional support.

Our children need to find inspiration in what they're learning. They need to find that they like going to school, that they like engaging their peers and their teachers. I think that the district, with all that money we're spending, I think we could spend more money on creating a wholesome student. And when we talk about the learning loss, I think that gets lost in all of that.

A test will not tell you the obstacles a child is facing, whether they're social or economic obstacles. A test is not going to tell you that, but a teacher can.
— Marvin Rodríguez, candidate, LAUSD Board Candidate District 6

I think we focus a lot on academics, and I feel academics are important, but all the other things are important, too. How do we built the identity, the confidence of the student so that they come in back to in-person learning so that they could be successful? I think we need to do a better job at addressing that and spending the funds on doing that for our students. And then, I think, academics are ultimately going to take care of themselves, but we have to take care of the whole child, along with their academics.

LAist: What do “whole child services” look like? When you're talking about ensuring students have a holistic, creative experience in school, what does that look like to you?

The district is moving in a direction for community schools, and those are wraparound. Those community schools will have or should have the wraparound resources for our students. We talk about mental health services, we talk about nutrition services, we talk about health services. Everything that our children, especially in our vulnerable communities, need before they come into the class, more while they're in the classroom so that they have that support and they feel that those challenges that they face, they have an ally that could help them overcome those challenges. And that ally, that's who we become, the district leadership in the district all the way down to the teachers in the classroom. And then along with that, we're talking about reaching out to communities, nonprofit organizations, to our allies that are so willing to do some of that work, bringing mental health services and use them so that we can deliver those services to our children.

We talk about kids who are experiencing homelessness or experiencing a financial hardship, but we reach out to people in the community who want to help out, and we extend our hand and we bring them in and we collaborate with them so that together, as a community, it's not us just doing because if it's just us doing it, then it becomes a white savior perspective. Right. So we have to work with the community, and with the community, we have to empower them so that they feel that they are part of it, and together we succeed in overcoming those challenges.

LAist: You said we're focusing too much on academics. And I'm curious when you say academics, do you mean test scores? Is that what you're talking about?

That's what I mean. We're focusing too much on test scores, and I think ultimately, we start pretending that our children are their test score. That's their worth. And when we send that message to our kids and some of our kids are struggling academically, what that does to a child's confidence, is not what we want to cause in our children. We want our kids to be confident in the classroom. We want them to believe that whatever they have to contribute is just as valuable as any test score that's out there that's going to validate them and whatever it is, that their best effort they're putting forth.

LAist: I take that point; test scores can be overemphasized.  Are there also real problems that the test scores indicate? As a hypothetical example, “My kid was bumped out of advanced math because of the pandemic disruption.” Or maybe, “My kid is at risk of dropping out because of their social and emotional needs.” Might a test score be an indicator of struggles like that?

Yeah, absolutely. The test can serve that purpose too. But you also have to listen to the teachers in the classroom. They’re the biggest observers of what's going on with the student. No test is going to tell you something different than what the teacher sees in the classroom. Sometimes the teacher is more adept at recognizing what the students need.

A test will not tell you, like you said, will not tell you the obstacles a child is facing, whether they're social or economic obstacles. A test is not going to tell you that, but a teacher can. So I think we have to do a better job at listening to our teachers. That's why we need more support for teachers. We need to start depending on what our teachers are saying and not depend so much on what a test is going to say about our children.

LAist: You mentioned before that the learning is going to “take care of itself.” There may be some people who hear that who think,  “I don't know that it's going to take care of itself.” Where's the evidence for that?

We all have a role to play in the success of our students? I think we all need to take on that ownership of the success that comes with uplifting and empowering our children.

When I said “the learning will take care of itself,” I meant that academics will become something that our kids enjoy when they have all the other motivators — when they have all the other resources, when they have all the other support.

I've been doing this for 18 years now and every day I see that the kids who have all those things in place or who have that support, who have that desire — they do better and they're more open to learning. And that's what I mean when I say the learning will take care of itself. We have to take responsibility for the success of our children and make sure that together we work to provide all those resources for them.

Take care of that first, and then we can demand from our kids all the academic success that we want from them. We can't focus too much on academics and pretend that we can get away with not giving our children that.

LAist: So you’re saying we should have to these wraparound services and community services. The community schools model is very interesting. Are there any instructional or academic strategies that stand out to you that you would push for if elected as a board member?

I think I would push for more extracurricular activities because I think our students need to enjoy time away from the classroom in order to be able to feel that they can succeed in the classroom.

When I say extracurricular activities, I'm also talking about things that we could bring in that they can enjoy, like art, music — things that sometimes we think our students don't find valuable. But it's almost like a give and take. When we give our students something that they're passionate about, then they're going to give us something that we want from them. Those are the strategies we need for motivating our kids to want to be in the classroom.

I believe in education. I believe in a postsecondary education. I just believe that education should be about something more than just financial gain.
— Marvin Rodríguez, candidate, LAUSD Board District 6

Sometimes we think that all our students are passionate about a certain subject — and that's not true. Our students are different. Some of them enjoy the arts, others enjoy history, others enjoy math.

We have to have enough of those opportunities for our students to find something that they love, because ultimately, not all our children are going to go to college. We know that not all our children are going to go to college. And we have to understand that, and when we start putting worth or value on the idea that, “You need to go to college, and if not, you're a failure,” we need to be careful with that. We have to provide opportunities for our students to understand that whatever they decide to do at a professional level, whether it's through education or something else, that they can make contributions to society. So yes, I will bring opportunities like that to the district.

LAist: I'm curious if the high school where you teach  has all those college pennants hanging up everywhere — a common sight at many high schools trying to instill a college-going culture. When you say that we've got to kind of wrap our heads around the fact that not every kid is going to go to college, and if we overemphasize college it might make some students feel like failures, do you think that LAUSD is striking the right balance there?

I think that's an over push. I think we like to pretend that all our kids are going to go to college and all our kids want to go to college. The reality is a lot of our students have not bought into the system of education that we are selling. I always say that you don't have to have a college education to make money in this country. Yet our students keep hearing that the only way to be successful financially is to go to college, to go to college, to go to college. But the reality is that's not it. Our students can find a path to success.

And listen — I believe in education. I believe in a postsecondary education. I just believe that education should be about something more than just financial gain. It should be something that our kids are passionate about because they want to learn, because they want to feel empowered.

Enrollment Decline

LAist: LAUSD’s enrollment has been declining for years. How would you push LAUSD to respond to this drop in enrollment?

I think that there are different reasons why people are leaving the district. Some of them are leaving for better educational opportunities. Public school is constantly being bashed; the narrative around public education is not a positive one all the time. Right? So people are leaving for that reason. Other people are leaving because it's becoming too expensive to live in L.A.

But if we focus on building our schools in a way that it's going to provide meaningful learning opportunities for our students, then we are going to change that. We have to change that narrative. It has to change and it has to change up top.

Especially in our vulnerable communities, I always find it tough that people always wind up leaving to different neighborhoods outside of their own in order to find quality education. But if we create through the community school model, if we create something that allows us to build our schools in a way that provides meaningful opportunities for our students and their families, I think families are going to find that they believe in their schools, and they want to come back, or even stay. The whole point is to inspire and motivate people to come into our schools because we provide wonderful education or opportunities.

LAist: The superintendent has said that school closures could be difficult to avoid in coming years unless the present trends reverse. If those trends don't reverse and school closures become more likely, it's not hard to imagine this grim scenario playing out during your tenure, if you’re elected. Do you agree with the superintendent with this idea that school closures are going to be very difficult to avoid?

It's going to be very difficult to avoid. It's going to be an uphill battle, but we have to get creative.

There's going to be extra space in some schools, but that doesn't mean you have to close them down. We could use that space for all the other resources that we can bring to our students; to create spaces where kids have access to more music, more art, more curriculum that they enjoy.

We got emergency money for COVID, but honestly speaking, our communities have been dealing with an emergency for a long time in public education.
— Marvin Rodríguez, candidate, LAUSD Board District 6

It's going to be an uphill battle, but I just don't agree. Anytime you tell me you're going to close the school down, I think that's detrimental to communities. If we want to talk about empowering our most vulnerable communities and making sure that it's an equitable education system, we have to make sure that we protect the schools, because those are the heart of a community. And once we take that down, what do our communities have?

If we're true about protecting and empowering our students, then we have to not think about closing schools, but about more creative ways of dealing with extra space and making sure that we have the resources to keep those schools open.

LAist: What if the school’s enrollment is too low to support those extra services? For example, fewer students means there may be more classrooms available to create a music room, for example. But fewer students also means there may not be enough enrollment to support the salary of a music teacher. Who provides the resources if enrollment is so low that it doesn't generate the funding for it?

That's a good question. I think we have to get creative.

There's so much red tape in the district. Sometimes I feel that we don't bring in some of the key resources simply because we don't want to bring in someone who is willing to provide those services simply because they don't have certain requirements. We talked earlier about reaching out to a nonprofit, to our partners in the community; sometimes we don't need to pay exorbitant amounts of money in order for us to bring some of these resources into our schools.

I think we do have to get creative. We have to for the sake of our students and keeping schools open. Because like I said, it's very detrimental to close down our schools. And I understand the fiscal implications of trying to keep a school that's under enrolled open.

But there are options. That's why you have think tanks, that's where you have decision makers. That's why you listen to the communities, you listen to parents. We can come up with ideas on how to make sure our schools are open.

LAist: Are there any shorter term strategies? We've been talking about, like, maybe in the next couple of years, schools will close and maybe community schools, which will take some time to stand up. The superintendent talks about attendance initiatives. I'm wondering if there's anything in the near term that sticks out to you is that we should be doing this to boost attendance and enrollment in the short term.

You know, we had $122 million put to extended days for school, and I think we could have used those $122 million to create those opportunities within schools, to bring in and create community with the communities they serve. [Editor’s note: LAUSD spent a total of $122 million to add instructional days and teacher training days to the 2022-23 school year. It’s the extra, optional school days that have proven most controversial; they cost LAUSD closer to $70 million.]

If we were to divide that $122 million, that could’ve meant about $100,000 per school. That's a lot of money for you to create community with your parents, with the people that surround your schools.

We could use that money to create those opportunities for our families, for our students, for our communities. I think that would be an immediate way of addressing that.

The District Budget

LAist: Pandemic aid from the federal government plus strong budgets in Sacramento have meant more money for LAUSD. But in front of both local and national audiences, Superintendent Carvalho has warned of tough times looming not far down the road — after the aid money expires, after the state starts basing LAUSD’s funding on its actual enrollment. He frames it as a “perfect storm.” How concerned are you that many of the same structural concerns about LAUSD’s budget will return?

We've been crying broke. “In a few years, we're going to experience some fiscal problems” — that's what we always hear. But we can overcome those things. I mean, as board members, we become advocates for the communities we work with.

We got emergency money for COVID, but honestly speaking, our communities have been dealing with an emergency for a long time in public education. We have to start treating it like an emergency that our children do not have access to equitable opportunities in schools.

If we start treating it as an emergency, we need to start advocating at the state and federal level for funding, not in a way where we fund schools based on average daily attendance, but in a way that we bring money because we're dealing with an emergency with our children. The COVID pandemic just came to highlight the problems that we were having to begin with; the pandemic didn't create the problem. The problem was already there. That's where our district and our state government, they become very reactive.

But our communities have been demanding for our district to be more proactive and fund our schools in a more wholesome way, right? Bring in more money to schools, fund them in a way that allows them to have equitable opportunities. That's always been the emergency. And we have to continue believing that that's an emergency. If we think that when COVID goes away, the emergency or the needs of our students have gone away, then we're going to fall back into the same place we were before.

LAist: It feels like the state might reasonably counter, ‘We've done a lot to increase ongoing education funding.’ Lawmakers have approved huge, permanent increases in education funding through Proposition 98 and the Local Control Funding Formula. Locally, voters rejected more funding for LAUSD when they voted down Measure EE. Given those developments, where do we find that additional money you’re seeking?

I know of course, they're going to say, “We've reached out to the voters and they denied us, we can only do so much.” But we could appeal to their conscience because, again we have to understand the severity of the issues that are plaguing our most vulnerable communities in education.

We have to live with the consequences of saying we don't have enough money. And I know that budget hawks are always going to say that we don't have enough money, but we have to find money because not doing so is going to cost us more. It's going to cost us more to send our kids off without anything that they could fall back on. And that's going to be a bigger cost in society as a state, federal government. We have to advocate using the correct lingo. We have to use the correct terminology. We have to appeal to their better senses because that's what it takes.

Ultimately, in education, I think we can be cynical sometimes, but we have to stop being cynical about our students.

LAist: You said, this is an emergency we've been living with for a long time, and then the pandemic just highlighted it. Can we unpack that? What do you think that the emergency was that we were facing that the pandemic just uncovered?

The emergency there was that our kids of color, our disadvantaged kids, were already struggling to meet the demands of the education system. If we get to the philosophical approach about the education system, we're selling our students. I believe that the education system has become a tool for an economic system that wants to exploit the labor of our students as they move on and take advantage of their social, emotional well being.

That has been going on for a while. That pandemic has highlighted it, but that has been going on for a while. Our kids have been struggling. They've been hungry for educational opportunities.

Learning loss has been around. It's nothing new. It just became worse.

LAist: “Take advantage of their social and emotional well being.” What you mean by that?

I think sometimes our education system, inadvertently maybe, knocks down students’ identity and confidence.

When we talk about grades, when we talk about test scores, sometimes we send a message to our students that they aren't worth as much as the students who perform well on standardized tests or the kids who get A's and B's. So sometimes our kids are going to quit because they don't have that confidence. Schools take advantage of their lack of confidence, of their lack of identity.

Student Equity Needs Index

LAist: LAUSD now distributes a huge portion of its funding for high-needs students through its Student Equity Needs Index (SENI) — which includes school health measures, measures of neighborhood violence and other non-traditional 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?

The district should be allocating more money to our schools with more need. But again, we can't just throw money at our kids. If we're going to put money into initiatives and policies, we have to make sure we follow them up with the proper support at the human level — with having leadership staff and teachers buy into what we are trying to do for our students. It's going to take a collective shift in the way we view education, because we focus a lot on academics, and that's what we do.

But we have to have our staff and our teachers buy into whenever we're going to spend money, especially in SENI, we have to make sure that where we put that money, we also put our heart.

LAist: Yeah, but do you think that the index is a good idea? I hear that you want to have teachers buying in on a human level to district spending initiatives. But is the index a good idea? Does the index distribute that money in a way that achieves the district’s goals of equity and progressivity in schools’ funding? Do you think that the index is the right tool for doing that?

In a system like ours, it is a good idea because a system devoid of the human aspect. We can't force people to love other people, right? We can't force other people to labor on behalf of the needy of the people who are most in need of our vulnerable students and do so in a way that's genuine with their heart in it. That's why the index is a good idea, because we have to make sure that these things are getting to our kids, because if we didn't have an index, what would happen? We probably wouldn't have it. It would just be talk. It's like, OK, we'll leave it to your goodwill to make sure our kids are getting more funding.

Charter Schools

LAist: What do you see as the school board’s role in overseeing charter schools? Do you think it’s the board’s job to find ways to shut these schools down?

The board does have that power. But I believe that if other institutions were doing their job when it came to charter schools, all the board would have to deal with is the schools that are under their service — meaning, the district schools, because ultimately that's what we serve.

Any school that's outside of that, I believe it should be handled by the state or by the county. But since board members have to deal with that, then yes, I believe the board has to do a better job at making sure that we hold our charter schools accountable.

LAIst: Why do you believe charter oversight would be better handled at the state or the county level?

I don't believe it would be better. The reason I say that is because shit rolls downhill usually. To me, that's the date the state abdicating its responsibility. The state created charter schools — they're the ones that came up with the idea to let charter schools into our public school system. I think they should deal with it before it even has to get to the local school board level. I think that's something extra the board has to deal with. The board has a lot of issues already trying to serve the schools in the district, the ones that belong to them.

But because it is here now and yes, we have to do a better job as a board at making sure that charter schools are playing by the same rules that our schools are. Yeah, charter schools don't like it, but that's what it has to be.

LAist: The implication there is that you don't think charter schools are playing by the same rules. I mean, obviously there are regulatory differences between the two types of schools, but it sounds like there's something deeper than that in that accusation.

I don't have anything against charter schools.

LAist: Well, the first line of your platform is a call to “resist privatization efforts,” specifically calling out the “weaponization” of charter schools.

Yeah, but that's the thing. I believe some people come into our communities with good intentions.

Charter schools are here to stay. We only have a say as to which charters operate under the district.

It's not that I have anything against the charters that are doing the things the right way, where they're managing their budget the right way and they're not creating budgetary problems for the district. That's what I mean. We need to hold charter schools accountable, making sure that they are following the rules so that they don't become a burden on our neighborhood schools.

Our schools are already struggling in our most vulnerable communities. And I think charter schools exacerbate that problem even more, right. They usually don't wind up in affluent areas. They usually wind up in our hard hit communities. And I think that's why it's important for us to make sure that they are following the same rules we are.

LAist: If charter schools are here to stay, how do you, like, achieve the goal in your platform of “resisting privatization efforts in our schools that want to choose winners and losers”? How do you avoid that zero-sum game?

We have to have to stop privatizers from weaponizing charter schools because when we allow charter schools that are not following the rules, we're allowing them to undermine even more our public education. And when they undermine public schools, what they want to see is that narrative shift where like, ‘Schools suck anyways. Let's bring our schools into your neighborhoods because we could do a better job.’ That's what I mean weaponizing.

LAist: I hear that. Is there anything the board can do? Do you view the board member as having a role in curbing that? If charter schools are here to stay, does that mean that you believe the board doesn't really have much authority to regulate any of this?

At the individual school level, yeah, the board can do a lot to curb that.

We can talk about Prop 39 — Prop 39 is another thing that's here to stay. But when we talk about co-locations, just because we have space and the space has been identified for co-location, it doesn't mean that we can't use that space for other services that those schools need.

Our board can also lean on Assembly Bill 1505, and they can deny a request from a charter if they're going to have a negative fiscal impact on the school or the area where they want to operate or on the district as a whole.

So yes, the board should be able to curb that. And if I'm a board member, that's exactly what I'm going to do. I am going to lean on [AB 1505] because charter schools lean on Prop 39 all the time. time. When charter schools fail to abide by the rules that are set in place for them to follow, we have to hold them accountable.

Sometimes you also have charter schools who don't pay the fees that they owe to the district. The district hasn't done a good job at collecting that money, so we have to do that too.

And going back to the state and county, if the district denies a charter, the school can go and appeal to the county, and the county might approve it. If the county denies it too, the charter can then appeal to the state. And then the state, for the most part, the state probably is going to approve it because the state is more relaxed in their approach to a charter school.

School Police

LAist: Should LAUSD run its own police force?

I always say there's never a right time for police officers to be on school campuses and stay there. There's a role for police to play in schools, but we have to identify that role that they're going to play. Our police officers do a good job when they serve as mentors, when they create programs that provide opportunities for our at-risk children.

I know that we cut back on some of their budget, and we put it to good use.

Does the district need to be running their own police department? Getting rid of it would have fiscal consequences. It might be more money to us — but sometimes if they're going to be operating outside of schools just like LAPD does, then there's no need for us to have school police because we can always just call LAPD.

I think there are parents who want school police in our campuses because they're afraid of their child's safety and security. What I say to that is we have to start building up our children at an early age so that in the long run, we don't have this sense that we need cops in order to take care of the issues that our students experience in middle school, high school, and even elementary. Because ultimately what winds up happening is there's going to be over policing of our students of color — and that's never a good thing, especially if we're talking about empowering our children. We have to avoid situations where they're going to be targeted.

LAist: I just want to make sure I'm understanding: When you say you said “there's never a right time for school police officers to be on campuses, to be there and stay there,” does that mean are you saying, like, we should just get rid of the police department, because if there ever is a need for a cop on campus, we can just call LAPD? Is that what you mean by that? I just want to be clear.

If we're going to have school police in our district, I think we have to know what we're going to use them for. I'm involved with the program — with Students Run L.A., we have in some schools, you actually have police programs. We have cadet programs for LAPD, and they do a wonderful job in those programs.

That would be the goal — to get to a place where we don’t depend on school police to manage the low-level, little issues with behavior.
— Marvin Rodríguez, candidate, LAUSD Board District 6

What I'm saying is there never is a right time for cops to be in our schools to take care of the perceived criminal behavior from our students unless the issue is so egregious that we have to bring in police to arrest someone and take them out. But if it's just to curb the behavior of our students, we need to do a better job at doing that. We can't be using police to curb the behavior of our students. We have to be more empathetic and compassionate.

LAist: So what I'm hearing you say there is: “We shouldn't be using police in the place of a teacher, a behavioral specialist, a campus aide, a security guard... We don't want police doing low-level security work.”

Correct.

LAist: OK. Do you think that the police department's budget should be bigger or smaller? Because you're going to get pressure if you're elected by advocates who will say, this district shouldn't run a police force. It should not exist altogether. We should reinvest this money. So what do you think?

Well, the goal is to decrease that budget because I can't be telling you here that I want to empower my students and also tell you I want to increase that police budget.

I believe that we have to take different approaches in the way we deal with our students, especially our students of color. I believe we should minimize the budget. It should be lower, because if it's not lower, it means that we're continuing down the same path where we keep criminalizing our students and we keep pretending that the school-to-prison pipeline is not a thing.

LAist: There was a proposal by outgoing school board member Mónica García to completely defund the department over the course of three years. Board members rejected this in 2020. Is that a plan you would support?

That would be a goal in our schools. That would be the goal — to get to a place where we don’t depend on school police to manage the low-level, little issues with behavior. By the way, we still have access to the police. But if we're going to continue to have access to police, it's got to be for, you know, criminal acts that are grievous and that are not at the low level that we can't handle.

LAist: The argument that's made by some of the defenders of L.A. School Police is:  do we really want L.A. County sheriff’s deputies or LAPD officers on our campuses? They also say  school police are trained in a different way — that if there’s a necessity to bring a police officer on campus, you’d rather have one who was trained to be around kids. What do you make of that argument?

It's a valid argument. In my mind, we shouldn't have police, period — our educational institutions should be a place for students to learn, to enjoy, to create community, to collaborate with one another.

Now, if there's a crime that occurs, and there’s no way somebody else could stop it, then we have to call the police, because that's the role of police in society. But our schools cannot be a microcosm of society, especially when it comes to police force.

LAist: So there's an ideal world in which police don't exist, but we don't necessarily live in that world. And we can't pretend that there's no need for police officers, but we should be minimizing their involvement on campus as much as possible.

Exactly.

LAist: Any final thoughts?

Moving forward as a board member, every decision, every decision I'm asked to make is going to be consistent with my ideas, my belief, and my philosophy that we have to empower our students to buy into an education system that works for them so that any time they have something to contribute, they're confident that whatever they will contribute is going to be a value, and it's going to be valued by society.

I started this campaign with that in mind, and I continue with it with that in mind. I want to talk about something different. We constantly talk about the same stuff. I'm not a politician. I'm a teacher who has been in the classroom for 18 years. I've gotten to see the things that motivate our students, that inspire our students — and the things that have the potential to just turn off that light and extinguish that soul.

That's what we're trying to light up — to light up that soul so that they are motivated and inspired to learn and to believe that the role that they play or the relationship that they have with society in a positive way is always possible.

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