LAUSD School Board Elections Matter to Commuters, Property Owners, and People with Lungs

Parents outside of Aldama Elementary in Highland Park wait for their children to be released.

Parents outside of Aldama Elementary in Highland Park wait for their children to be released.

Why vote in a local school board election? If you don’t have kids it doesn’t matter, right?

Wrong.

First, the quality of local public schools can drastically affect the value of surrounding private property.

Second, schools generate lots and lots of car trips and in California schools are exempt from air quality and traffic congestion laws that apply to most government agencies and private entities alike. In other words: your commute time, quality of life, and air quality are in the hands of the school board.

A homeless man under a bridge during a 2009 LAUSD teacher protest.

A homeless man under a bridge during a 2009 LAUSD teacher protest. All rights reserved by dogwelder on Flickr.

It should not take me pulling out reams of data and economic studies to prove the truism that quality public schools have a direct and positive impact on local property values. A quick google search turns up lots of great academic literature confirming this relationship. If you own property near a school it is in your direct interest to ensure that school is doing a great job. Putting aside all other concerns (charter schools, school bond oversight, labor negotiations, disabled access to education, common core, standardized testing, etc.) if your local school is failing so too is your investment in real estate adjacent to that school. Having public elections for the people who set the budget and policies of your local school is your one direct means of making sure your local school has what it needs to keep your property values up.

Beyond the interests of property owners and the value of their land and buildings are the interests of the common working stiff. We come in all shapes and sizes and most of us are stuck in single occupant cars. Some of us take buses or trains and a few of us walk or ride our bikes to work each day.

Have you ever noticed how, during Spring Break at your local school (it is Spring Break for LAUSD this week),  the roads are practically empty? How traffic no longer queues up for a few blocks at every major intersection?

Tell me again how management of your local schools does not affect your every day life.

School districts in California are exempt from a lot of air quality laws. Think about that for a moment. If you work at a large employer in the state, every year the HR department sends out a survey to ask how you get to work each day. If your company or public agency doesn’t reduce the number of single occupant car commuters it faces financial penalties and legal trouble. School districts get to skip over many of these laws and as a result they can off load all the costs of their bad planning and decision making onto the public streets and the surrounding air.

There are no incentive programs to help faculty and staff at local schools walk, ride a bike, or take transit to work. There are no parking cash-outs, or bike commuting incentives for district staff working in offices or schools across the county and in Downtown LA. There are no systematic efforts made by LAUSD to get streets and sidewalks around schools clean and safe enough to allow kids to walk or ride a bike to school.

In fact, in most of LAUSD, anything other than driving a car to work is discouraged. There is ample employee parking at district facilities and school sites, there are no showers, nor safe bike parking, and the same crappy sidewalks that discourage kids from walking also discourage employees from doing the same. At local schools, kids face reprimands, shaming, and disciplinary action for daring to walk, skate, or ride a bike to school. Teachers, PTA members, and staff stand out in front of schools with orange vests on in the morning; helping kid after kid hop out of mom or dads car in so-called “Safety Valet” zones. During pick up and drop off times, drivers make illegal u-turns, speed off into short gaps in congestion to unleash their frustration, and generally act in a lawless manner while behind the wheel. In the afternoon, parents double and triple park their cars, park in red zones, block crosswalks, and park in front of fire hydrants.

Once you pull the blinders off, it becomes apparent that local school management is deeply important in your day to day life. If your local schools are failing it is likely that so too will any real estate investment nearby. If your local schools continue to stuff our streets full of preventable car trips and our air full of pollution your health and your commute will continue to be horrible.

I have listened to, and read coverage of, our local school board elections for a couple of years now and nobody in the local media seems willing to talk about the significant impacts school have on our quality of life and economic fortunes. I can’t blame you for having blinders on given the horrible job the media has done in keeping us informed on how school district management impacts our lives. Now that you know, however, you have to stop pretending that school board elections don’t matter. They do matter – and not just to parents with children but to anyone with lungs, with property near a public school, or a commute in the morning that sucks.

There is a run-off election coming up on May 19, 2015 for 3 of the 7 seats open on the LAUSD school board.

You can find out more information about that election here:
http://www.smartvoter.org/2015/05/19/ca/la/ballot.html

Local volunteers have organized to Bike The Vote in LA and endorse various livable-streets friendly candidates:

http://bikethevote.com

You can register to vote here:
http://registertovote.ca.gov/

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