As the Interim President of United Parents of Culver City, Steve Levin stood on a chair at the May 24 meeting and spoke to a crowd of almost a hundred people. “We are just getting organized, so now is the time to sign up and get involved.”
The unforeseen offspring of the recent conflict between the parent-funded booster clubs, the Association of Classified Employees and the Culver City Unified School District, the UPCC is putting forth a Political Action Committee (PAC) with the motto of ‘students first.’
The organizers of UPCC, Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin, Scott McVarish, Steve Levin, Scott Kecken, Paul Blechner, Anne Burke, Dan and Beverly O’Brien, Bryan Tjomsland, Tom Crunk, and Jenny Manriquez have quickly put together a tool kit with all the needed elements; a mission statement, a website, and as of May 24, a list of members.
Many in the crowd were enthused and committed. El Marino PTA President Alisha Martin was outspoken in her support. “We need everyone to pull together.”
Three successive years of Associates for Language Learning at El Marino leaders were also present, with Jamie Wallace, Sara Kocher and Gina Marie Walker in attendance. Parents from the Middle Schools Panther Partners and Farragut Foxes were present, along with La Ballona leaders Heather Moses and Scott Kecken and several Lin Howe families.
The mission statement; “United Parents of Culver City (UPCC) gives parents a voice in the political process in order to positively impact the lives of Culver City families. We promote an educational culture that places the interests of students before those of adults. UPCC’s Political Action Committee (PAC) organizes the financial and political power of parents to support candidates and issues that promote a student-first agenda in our city and school district.”
But not everyone in attendance was impressed. “Sure, I’ll join,” commented George Laase, “but let’s see if I re-up when it’s time to renew.” Chris Ferreira, an AVPA parent and long-time school volunteer noted, “I want more information first. I’m going to wait and see what’s going on before I sign up.”
The proof that UPCC already has gravitas were the people present outside of the parent-activist demographic. Councilman Jeff Cooper was one who came and stayed, as well as Chamber of Commerce President Goran Eriksson.
School Board members Kathy Paspalis and Laura Chardiet were present; while they both qualify as politically active parents, they also personify the move toward a school district that is more responsive to families than to rules.
Eriksson thought the idea of a parent’s PAC was a brilliant strategy. “This is so unifying, so across-the-lines, it’s a great way to get things done.”
Former Mayor Sandi Levin, although not in attendance, posted this thought on the UPCC site ”As parents, regardless of our politics, regardless of which schools our children attend and regardless of how many years we have been in the District, we have a common purpose: to provide the best education possible for our children. That common purpose should be the most powerful force in the District, yet sometimes our individual voices are drowned out by all the other groups and special interests who lobby for attention. United together, speaking with one voice, we can be sure we will be heard.”
The political significance of UPCC may prove to be revolutionary for Culver City.
When the school district’s legal ruling on the ACE lawsuit offered to “grandfather” in the El Marino adjuncts, removing that school from the union’s conflict with parent booster groups, it might have been a moment to spread those parent booster groups farther apart. Instead, the parents involved in the conflict choose to reach out on a higher level, and create this PAC as a way of growing their activism in the district on a stronger and more effective level. Fostering connection, rather than competition, the group could prove itself a role model for parents in other districts as well.
The three motions put to the newly-minted members for a vote were to urge the district to allow after-school use of facilities at no or low cost; to urge the school board to pass the new language (originally proposed by Chardiet at the Feb. 28 school board meeting) for parent groups, having the right to place aids into educational programs; and lastly to urge the district to get the solar power system installed before the next school year starts in September of 2012.
How effective will UPCC be ? Time will tell. The hundred people who came to the meeting last night, both the committed and the hesitant, will be thinking about what to do next.