SCHOOL BOARD - In a few months, four LAUSD school board seats will be up for grabs, including Board District 5. That contest is pivotal for two reasons. Since I live in that district, it’s also personal.
First, it will decide if promoters of privatizing education in L.A. through more charter schools get a majority on the Board, or whether advocates of accountability and keeping public dollars public can protect the majority gained last year with the win by Dr. Rocío Rivas.
Second, openly lesbian School Board President Jackie Goldberg is retiring. This June, her epic rebuke to hate-mongers making false and dehumanizing attacks on LGBTQ+ students, families, and educators went viral and made national headlines. As the mother of a transgender teen who recently graduated from LAUSD schools, I am relieved and grateful that 27-year teacher Fidencio Gallardo, an openly gay board deputy to Jackie for the past four years, has stepped up to succeed her. Jackie has endorsed Fidencio. He is the most serious “out” candidate for any of the four seats on the School Board next year. Given the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric that has been brewing in and around Los Angeles, including the recent senseless murder of Lake Arrowhead store owner Laura Carleton, a mother of 9 and LGBTQ+ ally who was shot and killed simply for displaying a pride flag, LGBTQ+ representation on our school board feels more important than ever. With Jackie’s upcoming departure, maintaining LGBTQ+ representation on our school board depends on electing Fidencio.
Fidencio is an inspiring candidate. His 27 years as a classroom teacher give him a warm, personable style, amenable to listening and engaging. He holds progressive views rooted in devotion to union jobs, public schools, multicultural classrooms, and equal rights. His dad was a World War II veteran who landscaped freeways. His mom, an immigrant from Mexico like her husband, worked in LAUSD cafeterias. She never imagined her son could one day become a decision-maker for the nation’s second largest school district.
Fidencio speaks with affection about the sacrifices of immigrant families and the immense value of early exposure to multiple languages. Coming out to his family as a gay man more than 30 years ago was not easy. But Fidencio refused to hide or deny his own soul and gradually built confidence along with a network of trusted friends. This support base allowed him to push back against hate crimes, the stigma that accompanied the HIV-AIDS crisis, and the threat of discrimination that can shadow even the most promising teaching careers.
Fidencio has impeccable credentials, including a master’s in education at Cal State-L.A., where he has also taught young teachers for the past 23 years as an adjunct professor. His fluency in both English and Spanish matches his fluency on the issues facing educators and the Board. Hearing Fidencio speak about how he has pushed for secure entrances to all our public schools in Board District 5 assures me he shares my passion for ending gun violence. Such essential measures to keep students and educators safe from mass shooters are a top priority for him.
I also like the fact that he has worked closely with Jackie these past four years. Last week, in an interview with EdSource, Jackie said her best guidance to anyone is “Always tell people the truth.” Her mentorship just enhances skills he already shows in fighting for public integrity.
Fidencio Gallardo, (center), Public school advocates Emiliana Dore on the left and Tracy Abbot Cook on the right.
Fidencio is a resident of the city of Bell, southeast of L.A. Beginning in 2010, he joined together with dozens of neighbors to clean up a long-running corruption scheme that bedeviled his community. For years, city staff gouged residents with fines and fees by aggressively impounding cars. So that this handful of insiders could pocket more of that money, a city manager induced a rule change to get around state limits on pay and benefits. He arranged an election on Thanksgiving weekend that only a small cohort of residents was recruited to vote in. That change gave him and city officials the power to pay themselves extraordinary salaries and benefits. Five years later, the city manager was making $1.5 million a year. The city of Bell was broke, and broken. The manager was eventually arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to prison along with others.
The work of rooting out fraud, restoring city services, and rebuilding trust among residents fell to community leaders. Fidencio stepped up to lead a recall effort that replaced the Council members complicit in enriching themselves while shaking down residents. In 2015, Bell residents elected Fidencio to the Council. He continued to work as a classroom teacher even while leading reform of his city. In 2020, voters re-elected him to Council and this spring he was chosen to be mayor.
In his campaign for School Board, Fidencio has built a broad coalition of support that, in addition to Jackie, features respected leaders like former Speaker Anthony Rendon and Supervisor Hilda Solis. They have both expressed admiration and gratitude for how Fidencio helped bring COVID testing and vaccination sites to the hardest hit areas of southeast L.A. County.
The teacher’s union has not yet endorsed a candidate to succeed Jackie. But choosing anyone besides Fidencio would seem strange, given his many years of union service and strong support in the community. That is a factor critical to victory. In 2022, Dr. Rivas was able to draw on an enormous and energized base of activists, including Eastside Padres contra la Privatización (Eastside Parents Against Privatization) and East Area Progressive Democrats (EAPD). UTLA’s candidate in Board District 5 will have to inspire this same level of community support in order to defeat the onslaught of funding and negative mailers that inevitably come in support of a pro-charter candidate.
Fidencio is clearly resonating with the community. There were more than 150 people at his kickoff gathering in August. That included a large and enthusiastic group of his former students. I was encouraged watching them sign up as volunteers to knock on doors and send text messages to activate voters.
Now more than ever, leadership like Fidencio’s as an openly gay man who can speak from the heart about public schools and local government is what Los Angeles needs. It’s what our democracy needs. The falsehoods, threats, and hate against LGBTQ+ people expressed at School Board meetings have no easy antidotes. But the courageous, inclusive, and truthful public service that Fidencio Gallardo has shown for years is essential for overcoming that challenge and so many others. I’m committed to working hard to make him my new Board Member.
(Emiliana Monahan Dore is a parent, ally of the LGBTQ+ community, and a copywriter. Residing in Atwater Village, she is the product of LAUSD schools in Board District 5 and a staunch advocate for public education.)