The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education District 7 is an open seat because LAUSD board member Richard Vladovic is termed out in December this year. Five residents are running: Silke Bradford; Patricia Castellanos; Lydia Gutierrez; Mike Lansing; and Tanya Ortiz Franklin.

The District runs along the heavily-traveled 110 Freeway and includes parts of Florence-Firestone, Watts, Gardena, Harbor Gateway and San Pedro. It also contains some of the 25 schools in the region that had to be pressure washed following the January Delta Airlines fuel dump over South LA. Pollution is a big issue that OW wanted all five candidates to address.

Dr. Silke Bradford has been a middle and high school alternative educational teacher; and a founding principal of Henry Clay Middle School, moving it to the number one ranked school for test score gains in California.

She testified before the Senate Education Committee regarding AB 1871, which increased equity and accountability in California charter schools. Those facilities now distribute free and reduced-priced meals for students.

She has served as the director of charter schools for the Compton Unified School District (USD); the LA County Office of Education; and Oakland USD.

“As public health and public education are often intertwined, it would behoove both sectors to work together to ensure that our kids get the social-emotional and mental health support that we know they need,” Bradford said in a recent interview with Random Lengths News.

Patricia Castellanos is deputy director of L.A. Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and co-founder of Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles. She also was on the harbor commission. Castellanos believes that pollution solutions lie in partnerships with government agencies and other stake holders, including parents.

“I would hear stories from mothers who rushed children to emergency rooms because their lips were turning blue,” Castellanos said. “It’s an experience that way too many families have had. The level of childhood asthma in our community is more than double the national average.”

Castellanos worked on the clean trucks program for the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports to address pollution, investing and making sure the standards get enforced and creating the technology that brings the community cleaner air without sacrificing good jobs.

“I think with the school board, the issue is partnerships,” Castellanos said. “It does require those partnerships at the grassroots level and those who have expertise on environmental issues. Also working hand in hand with labor.

She admits this is not always an easy thing.

“This is where it does require some engagement with the federal government and that is a challenge right now,” Castellanos said. “We still need to push, whether a friendly administration or not.”

Although expanding mitigation efforts, like double-panning windows and improving air filtration systems may help inside the school, Castellanos knows that’s not enough.

“At the end of the day the kids still need to go outside and play on the playgrounds,” she said. “We all actually want a vibrant economy, but we don’t want that at our expense or at the expense of our children’s health.”

Lydia Gutierrez resides in San Pedro and is a second grade teacher in the Long Beach Unified School District. She is a previous candidate for this seat, but lost by 6 percent. She believes that vocational trade skills should be taught to middle school youth who want to start seeing their futures and instructors need to be trained to teach those skills.

Gutierrez has been a victim of the pollution issues that the district grapples with.

“One of my schools in Long Beach I had to leave because I got so ill,” she said. “The diesel trucks lined up near the school before going to the port.”

“Legislation is now going through, targeting the port. So now diesel ships have to stop their engines and get tugged in instead of brining in those emissions. They’re working now on legislation for the truckers, to pass legislation to give incentives to drivers to change their trucks. That is something I can bring forward.

“As for the fuel dump, there should have been procedures in place immediately for students and hazmat teams. I don’t know if there were any hesitations, but we have to look at the safety standards. That’s something that can happen again.”

Mike Lansing was first elected to serve on the LAUSD school board in 1999 and re-elected to a second term in 2003. He retired in 2007. According to his website, Lansing is running in order to help balance the district budget and change the public focus from UTLA and Charter Schools and put LAUSD students first.

“Putting students first and balancing an under funded budget (New York receives $29,000 per student and LAUSD only $16,000) by making tough and strategic choices must be the discussion moving forward,” Lansing writes on his site. “As a member of the board from 1999-2007, I built a coalition of leaders in labor, business and local communities to overcome crowding, balance the district’s budget and improve academic performance.”

Tanya Ortiz Franklin taught sixth grade at Stephen White Middle School, but was laid off during the great recession. She became a lawyer and while working with the Partnership for LA Schools, Ortiz Franklin has supported high-need schools with restorative justice, social-emotional learning and the arts. She believes the district must prepare students for post-secondary options.

“The precarious future of our planet and of our people are deeply interwoven and must be a top priority for our district,” Ortiz Franklin said. “Schools I currently work with in Watts—near the 105 freeway and along the traffic pattern of LAX—have a greater number of students with asthma and respiratory challenges than schools near the ocean or mountains.

Health and environmental factors contribute to chronic absenteeism and make it harder to learn in school, which results in fewer students being prepared to excel in their chosen post-secondary path upon graduation from our district.

“I am committed to allocating more resources to our highest-need schools though the Student Equity Needs Index, a ranking of schools based on academic, social-emotional and neighborhood factors, to help address some of our most persistent challenges.

“With additional resources, schools can afford solutions to their unique situations, such as adding trees to offset pollution, or adding water and air filters, which recently have been shown to help students perform up to 2 percentage points higher on academic tasks.”