A former school board member and an Eastside school principal appear to be the front-runners in the race to fill a seat in the new, predominantly Latino District 2.
Larry Gonzalez, a television executive who served one term on the Los Angeles school board in the mid-1980s, and Belvedere Middle School Principal Victoria Castro have each raised more than $40,000 and captured key endorsements.
The third candidate on the ballot, education activist Willene Cooper, has not sought endorsements and has raised less than $1,000, according to election records. Although Cooper has won praise among educators for more than 30 years of volunteer work on behalf of schools, some question whether she can win. "She doesn't have the money or the organization," said Ed Zschoche, south area chairman for United Teachers-Los Angeles.
A fourth contender, Los Angeles resident Gale Shanghold, plans to run as a write-in candidate for the Socialist Workers Party.
The 2nd District was created last year when the City Council assembled five densely populated cities in Southeast Los Angeles County--South Gate, Huntington Park, Maywood, Bell and Cudahy--into a single district designed for maximum Latino voting strength. It also includes the heavily Latino areas of Boyle Heights, Echo Park, Silver Lake and Pico-Union. Latinos make up 475,833, or 80%, of its residents and about half its 87,386 registered voters.
Gonzalez, station manager of Spanish-language KMEX-TV in Los Angeles, says business expertise will help him attack bureaucratic waste.
Castro, a 25-year educator with seven years as a math teacher, said her front-line experience has put her in touch with schools' needs.
Cooper, who has served on citizen education groups for more than 20 years, said she is the only one who speaks for parents.
The three have similar views on several issues.
All want increased school security, including metal detectors in secondary schools. All want more anti-gang education.
All three support the LEARN proposal to decentralize the school district's administration but say it falls short in involving parents and non-teaching employees. All oppose the proposal to break up the school district. And all three want more schools in the Southeast area, to reduce crowding.
Gonzalez has picked up support because of what supporters call his innovative ideas. He has suggested leasing space from universities for secondary classes. And he proposes a teacher corps in which teacher assistants and aides would gain bilingual skills in exchange for a commitment to remain in the school district.
Gonzalez said he brought such ideas to the school board during his 1983-87 term. He cites a proposal to expand bilingual education and his involvement in securing an agreement with a private company to build a medical magnet high school.
Critics say that Gonzalez did not spend enough time at schools he represented while on the school board. Some are suspicious about Gonzalez's political aspirations, noting that he left the board after one term to run unsuccessfully for the City Council. Gonzalez said he will not seek higher officer if elected.
"This is a personal issue for me," Gonzalez said of his bid for office. "I am not satisfied with the education my two children are receiving. We have to stop discussions of power and control that dominate the board and get down to discussions of teaching children."
The teachers union has endorsed Gonzalez, bringing the promise of help through its highly organized mailing system.
Also endorsing him is an ad hoc committee of Southeast-area city council members and educators, after hearing his ideas on overcrowding and other issues, said Huntington Park City Councilman Ric Loya, one of the group's organizers.
Castro has won support because of innovative programs she introduced at Belvedere Middle School during seven years as principal. She helped establish a 40-hour training program at an Eastside clinic to help parents cope with adolescents. About 450 adults, many of them Latino immigrants, have gone through the 3-year-old program.
Supporters say Castro is a capable administrator who understands the difficulties of implementing broad school board policies. They cite her extensive experience in the district, including work as a noon aide, teacher's assistant, administrative dean and assistant principal. Castro has been endorsed by the California School Employees Assn. Local 500 and several administrators organizations, including the Council of Mexican-American Administrators of Los Angeles.
"Education reform has been my life agenda," Castro said. "We need to stop denying that we have problems on campuses. Somewhere in the crises we forgot to talk about what the kids need."