LOS ANGELES—At 26.9 percent, Los Angeles County’s population is the most impoverished in the nation, and the education system is largely to blame – which is why Nancy Pearlman says she’ll be running for her fifth consecutive term as a member of the Los Angeles Community College District’s (LACCD) Board of Trustees on Tuesday, March 7.

Thirty-one percent of people living in Los Angeles County have a bachelor’s degree or higher—just below the national average of 32 percent. The issue lies within how that number is spread amongst the city’s demographics, according to research published by United Way. Of that 31 percent of college-educated LA County residents: 14.5 percent are white; 7.8 percent are Asian; 4.4 percent are Latino; 2 percent are black; and 2.3 percent represent a mix of smaller demographics. These numbers are particularly significant, considering Latinos represent 48.8 percent of L.A. County’s population – more than white (26.4) and Asian (14.3) people combined, but Caucasians and Asians combined are more than five times more likely to receive a college education.

Los Angeles County residents with a bachelor's degree or higher.
Los Angeles County residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

It’s no coincidence that Los Angeles County’s poverty rates align with those findings; of the 26.9 percent of residents living below the federal poverty level, Latinos represent more than half at 15.6 percent; white – 3.7 percent; Asian – 2.7 percent; black – 1.6 percent; and a mix of smaller demographics – 3.3 percent, according to findings by the California Poverty Measure (CPM).

Los Angeles County residents living in poverty.
Los Angeles County residents living in poverty.

Reasons such as these are why the functions of the (LACCD)—which educates three times as many Latino students and four times as many African-American students than all of the University of California campuses combined—are pivotal, as well as why its Board of Trustees must be equipped with dedicated, compassionate and intellectual educators, according to Pearlman, who has held seat number six for the past 16 years.

“People say change is good,” Pearlman told Canyon News. “But in this instance, we’ve made so much progress and can’t afford to undo it.” Eighty percent of LACCD students are from underserved populations and the district’s primary objective is to provide them with high quality and accessible education – 51.2 percent transfer to four year institutions, while others successfully complete workforce development programs, designed to meet local and statewide needs.

Pearlman—an award-winning broadcaster, environmentalist and producer—has worked at five of the nine colleges in the district, teaching courses in cultural and physical anthropology, broadcasting, journalism, and mass communications. In 1972, she was appointed as the Executive Director to Educational Communications a nonprofit 501-c-3 organization – all before she joined the Board in 2001. She has been an innovative leader in sustainability, campaigned to cut wasteful spending, as well as received endorsements from several major unions, including, but not limited to: The Sierra Club LA Chapter; National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC); American Federation of Teachers, College Staff Guild, LA; and LACCD Board of Trustees.

As a world-renowned environmentalist, Pearlman began effecting change as early as 1970 when she coordinated Southern California’s first-ever Earth Day. She has created a network of non-profits, all ostensibly designed to educate the public on the importance of sustainability and dangers of climate change, including: The Ecology Center of Southern California (1972) – a regional conservation organization reaching over 15 million people; Project Ecotourism (1993); Campus Greening (1994); Humanity and the Planet (2001); and Earth Cultures (2004). In 1989, she was awarded the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global 500 Laureate – recognizing 500 individuals who have effectively combatted climate change despite “immense social, political and logistical obstacles.”

“I’ve been educating all my life,” Pearlman said. “In the classroom, through non-profits, on the airways.” Her radio show Environmental Directions is the country’s longest running ecological radio series, and her television series ECONEWS is a three-time EMMY nominee, airing on over 50 cable stations in more than 20 states, and reaching 19 million homes weekly.

“But the Board is my priority,” Pearlman said. “[LACCD] students are my priority.”

LACCD’s Board of Trustees is an independent policy-making body represented by seven members, all who are expected to reflect public interest in their actions and decisions. They meet twice a month on Wednesday, beginning with a public session at 2 p.m., and a closed session to follow – during which the trustees establish and approve long-range plans for student success and development, as well as determine the District’s budget; administer gifts, grants and scholarships; employ and assign personnel; and establish practices, salaries and benefits for employees. Members are elected at large for a term of four years, and elections are held every two years, however, in this year’s election, only three of the seven seats are open.

Pearlman will face challenger Gabriel Buelna on the ballot for seat number six on Tuesday, March 7. If elected, she will be an incumbent two decades for the Board, and undertake several new sustainability, education and infrastructure initiatives, which include: improving water and energy conservation; eliminating toxic cleaners and pesticides from LACCD campuses; implementing effective recycling programs; improving scholarship offerings; obtaining student passes for public transportation; and cutting wasteful spending to reduce student fees and loans.

“That’s why I love the Board,” Pearlman said. “I have a chance to actually make change.”