Louise A. Perez, an education advocate who led a community-based organization and served on a contentious Sacramento City school board, died May 8 of cancer, her family said. She was 65.
Ms. Perez retired last month after more than 25 years as executive director of Community Resource Project Inc., which advocates and provides housing, health and education programs for families in need. Under her leadership, the nonprofit organization grew from a $300,000 budget to provide more than $30 million in services to clients in Sacramento, San Mateo, Sutter and Yuba counties.
"Louise was always dedicated to giving members who are disadvantaged with dignity the tools they need to be successful," said Joan Graham, CRP executive director. "She knew they need housing, education and a job, and health care."
Ms. Perez began her career working with programs to prevent dropouts in local schools, including the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento.
She went on to serve on many community and educational committees, including a White House commission on education and dropouts and the board of the National Dropout Prevention Association.
She also spent 14 years as a trustee of the Sacramento City Unified School District. First elected in 1982, she championed the needs of low-income families, including tutoring for Latino students and programs to show parents how to help their children succeed in school. She served as president of the California School Boards Association.
Her efforts were overshadowed when sharp divisions among trustees on controversial issues including a late-night, closed-door vote to fire Superintendent Terry Grier angered the community and prompted efforts to remove her and other majority members. In 1996, she and another incumbent soundly lost re-election bids to reform candidates backed by Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna.
"Louise took her position on the board very seriously," Graham said. "She honestly felt that whatever decision she was making was driven by what was right for the kids for them to get a good education."
The former Louise Adriana Alejandre learned the importance of education from her parents, a farm laborer and cannery worker who sacrificed to afford to send their three children to Catholic schools. A Sacramento native, she was born in 1946 to Ruth and Jesus Alejandre.
She grew up in the Southside Park neighborhood and graduated from Bishop Armstrong High School in 1964. She married Jose de Jesus Perez and had a son.
"She was on so many boards and task forces and always involved in something," said her sister Esther. "She was a lady with a mission in life, to help her community and anyone in need."