Ref Rodriguez’s guilty plea to charges related to political money laundering marks the end of his career in the Los Angeles school system.
But it is the beginning of challenges for NELA schools in Board District 5, the area Mr. Rodriquez represented on the school board.
The job of a school board member is to set policy on matters related to public education, a mandate that ranges from curriculum to teacher standards to student health and safety to resource allocation. But that definition does not capture the nitty gritty of the job: Board members are responsible for ensuring that people and procedures are in place to teach, feed, protect, counsel, inspire, coach and discipline students. In addition, they must be available and responsive when parents feel that their concerns and demands are not met by a given school.
With Mr. Rodriguez’s guilty plea and subsequent resignation, NELA does not have its own board representative to see to all that. The Board president, Monica Garcia, has said that the needs of Board District 5 will not be ovelooked. But that raises the question of who will fill Mr. Rodriguez’s seat and when.
The Board has 60 days from when it accepts Mr. Rodriguez’s resignation to make a move. If four of the six remaining Board members can agree, they can appoint someone to fill out the remainder of Mr. Rodriguez’s term, until mid December, 2020. Or, the Board can leave the post empty and call for a special election to replace him, which probably would take place in March 2019. Or it can appoint someone to serve until the special election is held.
The problem with an appointment is political. School board members are elected officials, so naming an appointee effectively substitutes the judgment of the Board for the will of the people. Another political problem is that an appointee, by virtue of having the job, becomes known to the public, which could give him or her an unfair advantage when the election is held.
The political difficulty is compounded by the split on the board between supporters of charter schools and supporters of traditional public schools. Mr. Rodriguez was a prominent charter school advocate and his presence on the Board created a 4-3 majority in favor of charter schools. The tendency of the
remaining charter school advocates will be to appoint one of their own. Similarly, the tendency of traditional public school supporters will be to choose one of their own.
As the Board decides its next moves, principals, teachers, parents and students in NELA and the rest of Board District 5 will have to speak up and advocate for themselves and their schools.
It is not an ideal situation. But neither was the year-long shadow cast by the now resolved case against Mr. Rodriguez.
T.A. Hendrickson, a native of Eagle Rock, is the editor of the Boulevard Sentinel, and a former member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times. Hendrickson is committed to local news reporting and to finding a way forward for local news outlets in today's challenging media markets.