“As I’ve been door knocking and canvassing in the communities, meeting the parents has been so lovely and inspirational. They frequently say to me, ‘Well, how do you know that this is happening? I’m a parent and I don’t even know that,” said candidate for East Whittier School District Lisa Dabbs. “So I really believe that one of the things we need to work at is developing greater transparency.” Transparency is a word that comes up often around election time, particularly for challengers like Dabbs taking on incumbents while running on a platform of change or a fresh perspective.
The League of Women Voters of Whittier (LWV) will host a candidate forum on Thursday, Oct. 18 for the East Whittier City School District and the Rio Hondo Community College Board of Trustees for areas three and five. The forum will consist of questions from the audience, where the incumbents will have to defend their seats from challengers. LVW forums are typically well attended by community members. To preface the forum, the Quaker Campus sat down with three candidates taking on incumbents in the Nov. 6 election.
Dabbs had been an educator and principal for over thirty years before deciding to run for office. “In my years of teaching and principalship I had so much passion and so much enjoyment being able to serve the children, and then support those around them,” said Dabbs. After becoming an education consultant in 2010, she began seeking out ways to be involved in the city of Whittier, where she lives. “I decided in early August to throw my hat in the ring because I felt like this is a place where I have aptitude, a skill set, and passion,” said Dabbs. East Whittier School District encompasses 13 middle and elementary schools. Dabbs is running against three incumbents in an at-large election, meaning the top three vote earners out of the four total candidates will win.
Rio Hondo Community College (RHCC) Board of Trustees Area 5 encompasses most of Whittier and stretches into La Habra and Santa Fe Springs. The incumbent, Madeline Shapiro, has been in office since 2013 and is now president of the Board of Trustees. RHCC Trustees create policies that better the Rio Hondo campus. One of the Board’s official goals for the year is to “strengthen and enhance the college’s commitment to a campus culture that integrates equity, diversity, and inclusivity at all levels in an effort to close the achievement gap among disproportionately impacted student populations.” There are two challengers for Area 5; Oscar Valladares and Dylan Logas. Both candidates attended community college, and Logas graduated from RHCC in 2017.
Valladares is a Deputy Public Conservator for the Los Angeles (LA) County Department of Mental Health, where he works with those who have been deemed unable to care for themselves by the court system. “As a product of the community college system, community college was the foundation to what I consider a success story,” said Valladares, who attended East LA Community College before transfering to California State University of Long Beach. “For a moment, I was lost. When I graduated high school, I learned that I was undocumented, and that added another layer of obstacles in pursuing my dream of getting a university degree.” Valladares hopes to give back to the system that helped him move up in the world, and recognizes that 52.38 percent of Area 5 residents are Hispanic and may share some of the struggles he has faced.
Logas also spoke of struggles on his educational journey. “I went to school several times before Rio Hondo, and those didn’t go so well,” said Logas. When he began taking classes at RHCC, he was working 11 hours a day doing commercial air conditioning, and would attend classes from 7 – 10 p.m. “Through the two years of doing that, I noticed that night students have access to considerably fewer resources. Counselors aren’t available on the weekends. To get counseling I had to take a day off, or a half day off from work. I was able to do that, but for some students, losing a half day of wages could be the difference between having dinner or not.” During his time on campus, he advocated for more resources for night school students, including later library hours and a use of a faculty parking lot closer to where classes were held for a safer walk late at night.
When asked why he decided to run for office, Logas said, “It all kind of culminates into one particular moment that was a turning point for me. I was graduating, and Rio Hondo’s graduation is Thursday at 6 p.m., the same time finals are going on. I had a final from 7 – 10 p.m. that night. I was able to work it out with my teacher where I went to graduation from 6 – 8 p.m. and my final from 8 p.m. – 10 p.m.; that was tough.” Logas recognizes that not all students feel comfortable approaching their professors asking to be excused from a final, so he spoke to the Board of Trustees in the spring of 2017 about the issue. “The Vice President at the time, who’s no longer there, said afterwards, ‘I don’t know why you care so much, you won’t be here next semester anyways,’ ” said Logas. “That broke my heart, and shook my faith in the school. Little did she know, I was still working on getting my GPA up, and I was gonna have to stay another semester at least. When I got back in the fall, I saw that nothing had been done, and I knew I had to do something about it.”
Voters are less likely to be aware of the races for East Whittier School District and RHCC Area 5 than for a larger, more publicized race like the U.S. Senate, but the offices do have an impact on the community. RHCC is a common feeder school for Whittier College transfer students, and the pathway to transfer is specifically listed on www.riohondo.edu. Additionally, many Whittier College students may have attended an East Whittier City School District school or have family members that have. The decision of who will sit on these boards will affect funding allocation, prioritization of funding and programs, and, most importantly, the students that emerge from these schools.
The candidate forum will be held at Whittier City Hall. The East Whittier School District candidates will speak from 7:00 p.m. – 8:10 p.m, and the RHCC Areas 3 and 5 candidates will speak from 8:20 p.m. – 9:45 p.m. For those who are unable to attend, the forum will be available to stream at www.cityofwhittier.org.