Thursday, March 05, 2015


By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News |

3/04/15, 8:20 PM PST  ::  While Los Angeles Unified School Board member Tamar Galatzan handily defeated a field of five challengers in Tuesday’s primary election, the teachers union said it will now consider supporting her opponent in the May 19 runoff.

Galatzan won 39.34 percent of votes in her bid to represent the western San Fernando Valley for a third term, while retired principal and teacher Scott Schmerelson finished in second with 20.06 percent, according to unofficial results.

Despite that margin, United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said he’s encouraged by Galatzan’s failure to claim an outright victory in Tuesday’s primary. Over the next three weeks, union leadership will consider endorsing Schmerelson.

“We feel very good about the results in Board District 3,” Caputo-Pearl said. “It represents a sharp rejection of Tamar Galatzan’s involvement with John Deasy and the iPad deal; she wasn’t able to get to 40 percent of the vote.”

Galatzan’s challengers pointed to her support throughout the campaign for embattled former Superintendent Deasy and LAUSD’s troubled effort to put iPads in the hands of every student under a then-$1.3 billion plan. Galatzan, however, has said Deasy publicly announced his iPad initiative before telling his elected bosses.

In a written statement, Galatzan said, “I’m grateful to my supporters and am looking forward to the opportunities to share my successes and vision for LAUSD with voters.”

Galatzan raised $37,314 in direct contributions, while outside organizations – primarily groups supporting charter schools — spent an additional $271,988. Schmerelson raised $31,609, as his campaign went without outside support.

UTLA has focused its efforts on re-electing its most vocal ally, Bennett Kayser, to the Board District 5 seat amid an onslaught of attack ads from charter school organizations. Kayser is about three points behind challenger and charter school founder Ref Rodriguez with mail-in ballots and provisional votes yet to be counted in the unofficial results.

Kayser’s campaign was backed by $480,645 in outside support and $80,046 was spent opposing Rodriguez, the lion’s share from UTLA. Rodriguez, meanwhile, received $442,259 in outside support largely from pro-charter school organizations, and an additional $373,762 was spent opposing Kayser.

“We have held the out-of-state billionaires at bay, and together, we live to fight another day,” Kayser said in a written statement. “Our children are counting on us, we must succeed in stopping this attempt to hijack our school district by wealthy interest groups.”

The two were more evenly matched in campaign funding directly under their control, with Rodriguez raising nearly $126,000 and Kayser collecting about $101,000. Most of Rodriguez’s direct donors are educators, campaign spokesman Mike Soneff said.

A third candidate in the District 5 primary, Andrew Thomas, siphoned off votes from Rodriguez by running a reform campaign, Soneff said.

“Sixty-four percent of voters in District 5 voted for change, for our kids,” Soneff said.

UTLA will boost its efforts to re-elect Kayser over the next two and a half months, UTLA political director Oraiu Amoni said.

“We’re going to have to add resources to that campaign, but we have a strong foundation and we feel confident he’ll win the runoff,” Amoni said.

In District 7, incumbent Richard Vladovic bested a field of three challengers, winning 42.9 percent compared to second-place finisher Lydia Gutierrez’s 37.75 percent, according to unofficial results. While three of the seven seats on LAUSD’s school board were up for grabs, board member George McKenna ran unopposed in District 1.

The key to victory in the May 19 election will be picking up voters whose first choice didn’t make it out of the primary election, said Raphael Sonenshein, director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. The crowded field in District 3, he said, likely stopped Galatzan from obtaining the 50 percent-plus-one vote majority needed to skip the runoff election.

“If it had been a two-person race she probably would have won outright,” Sonenshein said.

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