By Nick Antonicello
If you didn’t know any better, you would think LA school board member Nick Melvoin was twenty-points behind and fighting for his political life, instead he is the odds-on favorite seemingly coasting to a second-term, but working just as hard to gain the necessary 50% plus-one to avoid a runoff and get back to the business of public education here in Los Angeles.
But the business of politics can’t be avoided as school members are elected by district, so the part policy wonk, part politico incumbent is working hard, making the case why a second term makes sense for teachers, students, parents and taxpayers.
For incumbent Nick Melvoin is assuming nothing as he is taking an “all politics is local” approach as he sets his sights on a second four-year term.
A disciple of the Obama Administration, this “new-kid-on-the-block” candidate four years ago took-out then incumbent Steve Zimmer in lieu of a messy I-Pad scandal and a crisis in leadership that saw this new brand of educational leadership that is defined by accessibility, practicality, vision and always, a plan to make schools better.
Now four years later, Nick Melvoin has played a true leadership role in navigating the school district through a complex COVID-19 crisis that remains on the table, while technology and security issues have come to pass in other venues as once again, another senseless school shooting reared its ugly head in Texas last week claiming the lives nineteen elementary schoolchildren and one teacher.
With a new mayor assuming office soon, Nick Melvoin has a passion for public education that is demanded in times of political turbulence as he keeps his eye on the prize and that’s kids first and foremost as a custodial trustee of a large bureaucracy like LAUSD.
We spoke over the phone and covered several issues in a “rapid-fire, short time frame” that spoke to his accomplishments and priorities as he prepares for a second four year term should things go well for him on June 7th.
As part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan that represents $1.9 trillion in direct federal aid, $122 billion was dedicated to COVID-19 relief to the nation’s school districts, yet 93% of those dollars have yet to be spent.
Because the dollars are one-time and short-term, Melvoin believes the district should be cautious how those dollars are invested.
“Ninety-percent of our spending is on people. Some funding has different expirations and with a shortage of teachers we need to think hard how these dollars are spent. There is a real pressure to show something for it,” noted the school trustee in another interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Melvoin explained that the district could seek waivers so the dollars could be invested in programs like Saturday school days and expanding summer school initiatives.
One district need is the hiring of psychiatric social workers that will be deployed moving forward as he forecasts the after effects of COVID-19 will be long-lasting as the priorities of students diversify from neighborhood to neighborhood.
The incumbent stressed that LAUSD public schools are safe, and best practices will be applied to maintain a sense of comfort and security within the district’s campuses.
While stating there is no one best approach, Melvoin supports single-buzzer entry systems and ensuring school police patrols are maintained. Melvoin pointed to the fact that 85% of these shooters are students or former students and alumni.
“Our best intelligence is from students. We can stop threats by staying in close contact with our kids.”
Melvoin stressed that “physical access to tangible books matter,” and libraries of tomorrow will reflect co-working areas for students as well as a place for collaboration and group projects for students and teachers.
PARENTS AS PARTNERS IN PUBLIC EDUCATION:
Melvoin stated his contact with students and parents is very high, and thanked parents for their service to public schools in the form of fundraising and volunteerism that is taking place everyday in making the district functional and operational.
Melvoin credited parents and the district’s volunteer network as responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fundraising as well as active booster clubs as a great source of school support.
“I want to be accessible to parents. My teacher/student contact time is critical.”
Melvoin dedicates a large part of his Friday schedule to the tune of roughly six hours a week meeting with parents and their children.
SCHOOL RENOVATION & MODERNIZATION:
Melvoin pointed out some $7 billion dollars in bond monies successfully approved by voters and noted that over 100 schools are now 100 years old and safety plays a major role in evaluating renovation as well as new construction.
The issue of “need versus resources” is always a management challenge, and the dual issue of declining school enrollment has the district rethinking the use of new space in a creative way moving forward in facility planning and construction.
Noting that state dollars are appropriated by attendance and enrollment, only 80% of a student’s education is fully-funded.
Melvoin indicated he would support lobbying Sacramento for an improved school funding formula.
The incumbent noted the current collective bargaining agreement has expired with educators and they are currently back at the table to seek out a new agreement.
Teachers are seeking a two-year, 20 percent pay hike (10% & 10%), and Melvoin wants to reform the process by introducing “total compensation bargaining” that includes salaries as well as healthcare benefits and pension obligations.
Melvoin, long a supporter for tenure and collective bargaining reform, noted that teachers currently receive lifetime tenure after just 18-months of service.
The former school teacher spoke about his own time as a teacher who was laid-off due to seniority, and not instruction performance.
“I’m not a supporter of tenure.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nick Melvoin received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and graduate degrees from New York University (NYU) and Loyola Marymount University (LMU).
A former Obama Administration official, he worked on education and civil rights issues as well as equal pay for women. Endorsed by former US Education Secretary Arne Duncan in his initial run for the school board, he has been endorsed for reelection by US Congressman Ted Lieu, California Senator Ben Allen, LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, as well as numerous Democratic Club organizations and labor unions in his bid for a second term.
Improved transparency, keeping schools safe and open, while supporting teachers and principals with smaller class-sizes and retaining the district’s most valued educators are his top priorities in a second school term.
You can visit Melvoin online at www.nickmelvoin.com
Nick Antonicello is a 30-year Venetian who served as an elected school trustee and board president in northern New Jersey (1989-92). A member of the Outreach & Oceanfront Walk Committees of the Venice Neighborhood Council (www.venicenc.org), Antonicello is covering the 2022 race for CD-11 as well as the local school board race. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com