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I'll Be Voting For Andreas Farmakalidis in LAUSD BD3

In an imperfect field of six candidates, I am impressed by his willingness to evolve as he learns more about the issues facing the School District.

By Carl J. PetersenPublished 3 months ago 6 min read
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Farmakalidis from his campaign website

He believes in creating safe, inclusive and welcoming schools that prioritize student well-being and academic success.

– Andreas Farmakalidis’ website

For the past three elections in LAUSD BD3, I have endorsed and voted for incumbent Scott M. Schmerelson and had anticipated doing so again this year. While he is often too timid a leader for my taste, he was at least usually on the right side of public education issues. His extensive experience as an education professional provided an important voice on the Board, even if the majority was in the pocket of the Charter School Industry and refused to listen.

Going into 2023, I had high hopes for Schmerelson. Dr. Rocio Rivas’ victory in the 2022 election had finally given pro-public education Board Members a majority and the chance to bring needed change to the District. Freed from the minority, Schmerelson would have his time to shine.

Unfortunately, my optimism was quickly dashed when at an LAUSD Board meeting on January 17, 2023, Schmerelson supported the notorious North Valley Military Institute (NVMI) charter school and was the lone vote in their favor. While he would later reverse course and write a letter in favor of their charter revocation by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, his original position was very concerning. The history of NVMI was well documented and no Board Member should have been supporting them, especially one who ran on a platform of holding privately operated charter schools accountable for the public funds that they receive.

My concern was further heightened when I received an email from Schmerelson’s Chief of Staff taking the position that my proposed “Improving Special Education Within the LAUSD” Board Resolution “runs counter to and does not align with the IDEA, [and] as a result, it is not feasible for the District to pursue.” It is hard to understand how a proposal to protect the ability of parents to fully participate in the IEP process could run counter to the law that enshrines the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)for students with Special Education needs.

Schmerelson has since backtracked from this email and promised to look into the possibility of sponsoring a resolution that addresses at least some of the concerns expressed in my proposal. While some preliminary steps have been taken, the lack of progress has been disappointing, considering that I have been pushing the proposed resolution for over 14 months. While I hope that he will eventually follow through as promised, the results at this point are uncertain.

Schmerelson answered questions about PROP-39 Co-Locations, Student Safety, and Governance for the LAUSD Candidate Forum series. Unfortunately, he did not answer the questions about Special Education, which would have given insight into his position on my proposed resolution. He also skipped the questions about the budget.

With the concerns expressed above, I cannot bring myself to vote for Schmerelson in this election. Can any of the other five candidates seamlessly replace the current Board Member?

Dan Chang is “Definitely Not.”

While he is running as a change agent, Chang is embracing endorsements from past LAUSD Board Members who have brought dysfunction to the district while pushing for the expansion of charter schools without ensuring that they were properly regulated. Since he did not answer any of the 25 questions in the LAUSD Candidate Forum series, potential voters are left wondering what his positions are for these issues facing the school district that he wants to help lead. His website is also short on specifics.

Perplexingly, Chang has made a point of emphasizing his involvement in the “turnaround” of Locke High School even though the record shows that the Green Dot takeover of this public school was a failure. Furthermore, his bragging about his role in the success of this charter school chain is undermined by the fact that it has closed several of its franchises, disrupting the families whose children attended the schools.

Elizabeth Badger is also “Definitely Not.”

A perennial candidate, Badger is making her third attempt for the BD3 seat (in addition to candidacies for State Assembly and City Council). Unfortunately, she has made no visible effort between races to promote change within the LAUSD. During the 2020 race, I noted that her answers to my candidate questionnaire showed a lack of specificity that made it apparent to me that she had not used the previous five years to immerse herself in District issues. This time around she did not even bother to answer any of the questions in the LAUSD Candidate Forum series.

Raquel Villalta is the final “Definitely Not.”

As I showed in my endorsement of BD7’s Lydia Gutierrez, under the right circumstances I am willing to overlook a difference in political values as long as there is an underlying support for public education. Unfortunately, Villalta is not only a right-wing extremist who supports bigoted groups like the one that violently demonstrated in front of Saticoy Elementary School in June, but she is also supportive of charter schools.

Most concerning is Villalta's refusal to vaccinate against COVID-19. This showed that, as a teacher, she was willing to put her political views above the safety concerns of families, like mine, who have members that were immunocompromised and faced life-threatening dangers during the pandemic.

Villalta answered questions about PROP-39 Co-Locations, Student Safety, and the Budget for the LAUSD Candidate Forum series. She skipped the questions about Special Education and Governance.

Janie Dam is “No.”

To vote for Dr. Dam you will have to write in her name, but due to my experience with her as the testing coordinator at Granada Hills Charter High School, I will not be doing so. To her credit, she answered all of the questions in the LAUSD Candidate Forum series: PROP-39 Co-Locations, Special Education, Governance, Student Safety, and the Budget.

Can Andreas Farmakalidis seamlessly replace the current Board Member? “Probably not, but...”

There has been a definite evolution as Farmakalidis has answered all of the questions in the LAUSD Candidate Forum series (PROP-39 Co-Locations, Special Education, Governance, Student Safety, and the Budget). All of his answers have been thorough, but earlier in the series they tended to be more encyclopedic, more based on research than experience. However, in his later entries, he shows an ability to apply what he has researched to what is happening on the ground. To me, this shows that he has been listening to potential constituents during the campaign.

The area where Farmakalidis has shown the most growth is charter schools. Not surprisingly for someone who has a background with the Chamber of Commerce, he is supportive of these publicly funded private schools. However, as the campaign has progressed he has realized that there is not enough oversight on these schools. This will not make him very popular with the California Charter School Association, but it is essential if I am going to consider voting for him.

Farmakalidis’ experience as a musician (with an affiliation with the prestigious Berklee College of Music) is also intriguing to me. As someone who struggled as a high school student but found refuge in music class, the Board needs someone who understands the importance of music education and other classes outside the realm of academics.

No, Farmakalidis does not have the experience with the District that the incumbent has. However, his experience as a parent, musician, businessman, district vendor, and someone who has received Special Education services will make him a unique voice on the Board. Should his campaign be successful he will need to make sure that his staff has the District experience needed to make up for his shortcomings, but his behavior during the campaign shows that he is smart enough to take this advice.

PROP-39 Co-Locations:

Special Education:

Note: Incumbent Scott Schmerelson did not return the questionnaire, but his office has said that “it is not feasible for the District to pursue” passage of the resolution.

Governance:

Safety:

The Budget:

As a constituent of BD3, I will be voting for Andreas Farmakalidis on March 5, 2024. While relatively inexperienced with the LAUSD, he will fight for students with Special Education needs and hold charter schools accountable for the public funding that they receive.

___________________________

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for public education, particularly for students with special education needs, who serves as the Education Chair for the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him “a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.

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About the Creator

Carl J. Petersen

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with SpEd needs and public education. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Opinions are his own.

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