Two challengers, one incumbent, finish first in L.A. Board of Education races
Incumbents who faced challengers with money behind them fared poorly in L.A. school board races
L.A. school board challenger Ref Rodriguez surged to an early lead in election returns Tuesday. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
20 May 2015 :: In final, unofficial election returns Tuesday night, two challengers defeated incumbents to win seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education.
In District 5, well-funded challenger Ref Rodriguez bested one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser, winning with nearly 54% of the vote. That area includes neighborhoods north and east of downtown, as well as the cities of southeast L.A. County.
"It looks good," Rodriguez told a crowd of supporters before the final results were tallied. "I decided to run because I knew the system wasn't working for all kids."
In District 3, which covers the west San Fernando Valley, challenger Scott Schmerelson finished ahead of two-term incumbent Tamar Galatzan. His lead solidified over the evening and he ended with about 55% of ballots cast.
In District 7, two-term incumbent Richard Vladovic maintained a clear plurality over Lydia Gutierrez, claiming 56% of the vote. District 7 stretches from South Los Angeles to the L.A. Harbor.
The results will affect the direction of the nation’s second-largest school system. The next school board will choose a superintendent to run the L.A. Unified School District and deal with thorny issues such as a new teacher evaluation system and graduation requirements.
The campaigns in the two most expensive races were dominated by independent spending. In all, outside groups have poured in $5.1 million, compared with under $1 million spent by campaigns controlled by the candidates, according to reports filed through Monday.
The contest drawing the most attention and the most dollars was the Kayser/Rodriguez race.
Kayser was backed by the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which spent more than $1 million to keep him in office.
Rodriguez co-founded an organization that operates charter schools, and benefited from strong support by a group representing charters.
That group, California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, put more than $2 million into this race ($2.4 million overall) through Monday, the most of any outside group.
Charters are independently operated and free from some regulations that govern traditional public schools. Most are nonunion.
Kayser has been the board’s most persistent voice opposing the continued growth of charter schools in L.A., which has the most charters, 211, of any district in the country. About 15% of L.A. Unified students are enrolled in those campuses.
Both sides assembled grass-roots operations to make calls and knock on doors. The teachers union has been especially effective in gathering volunteers in the past, while its opponent relied significantly on paid canvassers.
But charter advocates insisted that they have caught up, by involving parents of students in charters as well as the students themselves in working politically for their schools.
At Rodriguez's campaign headquarters in Highland Park on Tuesday evening, Miquitzli Herrera, 15, had been on the phones since 8:30 am, calling volunteers and voters.
"I really admire what he's done in his years of educating people, opening up all of those schools and trying to help kids get an education," said Miquitzli, who attends a Pasadena private school. "It's very admirable and inspiring."
"If we have Dr. Ref Rodriguez he'll make the schools better," said Sabrina Gastelum, 13, another charter student making calls to voters. "We've already read a lot about him and I like what he's about."
At the posting of the early returns, the crowd erupted in cheers and exchanged hugs.
"Si se puede" (Yes we can), people shouted; others stood to snap pictures of the computer projection of the results.
Many volunteers also participated in the campaign for Kayser. His supporters said they are concerned that charters, by enrolling so many district students, are sapping the district funding base and making it more difficult to provide services, including for students who are harder and more expensive to educate.
The Galatzan/Schmerelson race also featured a face-off between the union, which backed Schmerelson, a retired principal, and Galatzan, who had support from the charter group.
In this race, Galatzan also received substantial backing from another political action committee, Great Public Schools Los Angeles. This PAC drew on many of the same donors as a PAC that associated in recent elections with former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
In the Vladovic/Gutierrez race, Vladovic was endorsed by all three big-spending PACs, but none of them devoted comparable resources to this race. Gutierrez is a Long Beach Unified elementary teacher.
Low voter turnout was expected; in most areas, the L.A. Unified contest was the only one on the ballot.
12:01 a.m.: This post was updated to reflect the final unofficial election returns.
11:28 p.m. Tuesday: This post was updated to reflect later returns that showed the same two challengers leading, but with Rodriguez's lead shrinking and Schmerelson's increasing.
10:30 p.m. Tuesday: This post was updated to reflect the continued strong lead by Ref Rodriguez and that Miquitzli Herrera attends a private school in Pasadena.
This story was first published at 9:50 p.m. Tuesday.
Election 2015: Ryu, Rodriguez poised to upset challengers in low-turnout vote (update)
KPCC Staff | http://bit.ly/1cOLUfi
Antonio Torres of El Sereno votes on election day at El Sereno Elementary School on Tuesday, May 19. The election includes runoffs for three Los Angeles Unified school board seats and one City Council seat. | Maya Sugarman/KPCC
19/20 May 2015 :: Voters headed to the polls Tuesday to elect three board members of the Los Angeles Unified School District and one member of the Los Angeles City Council. Check back here for updates as the results come in.
- 11:41 p.m.: Tough night for incumbents in low-turnout race
- 10:54 p.m.: At halfway point in count, few changes
- 10:06 p.m.: Early poll returns mirror mail-in results
- 8:35 p.m.: Ryu, Rodriguez lead in early returns
- 8 p.m.: Polls close
- Previously: Who's running for which seats and what's at stake
L.A. teachers unions may have lost one of their biggest advocates on the LAUSD school board, as incumbent Bennet Kayser appears poised to lose his seat in the 5th district to charter advocate Ref Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, L.A. City Council candidate David Ryu appeared to have upset Carolyn Ramsay, former chief of staff to outgoing councilman Tom LaBonge in district 4. Ryu had run as a political outsider against Ramsay, whose endorsements included a number of influential Democrats, including Mayor Garcetti and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. Ryu would become the first Korean-American to hold a seat on the council.
2-term incumbent Tamar Galatzan will likely lose her seat on LAUSD's board to Scott Schmerelson, a union-backed candidate who ran against Galatzan's support for the controversial iPad program currently under scrutiny by the FBI.
Of the three LAUSD board members who faced elections this year, only Richard Vladovic — an early supporter of the iPad program who raised concerns about its rollout, and eventually pulled his backing for the project — looked sure to hold on to his seat.
As of 11:41 p.m., with 100 percent of votes tallied, only 8.6 percent of registered votes had taken part in Tuesday's election.
10:54 p.m.: At halfway point, few changes
With 60 percent of votes in, community health center director David Ryu continued to hold an advantage over Carolyn Ramsay, the chief of staff of former councilman Tom LaBonge.
Dogged by the iPad scandal at LAUSD, board incumbents were having difficulty holding off their opponents. Union-backed boardmember Bennet Kayser held 47 percent of the vote to his opponent, charter school administrator Ref Rodriguez's 53 percent.
2-term LAUSD boardmember Tamar Galatzan gained some ground on opponent Scott Schmerelson, who leads with 53 percent of the vote to Galatzan's 47 percent. Incumbent Richard Vladovic led Lydia Gutierrez with 55 percent of the vote.
As of 10:54 p.m.:
- About 74,197 ballots had been counted, just 7.45 percent of voters registered for the election
- 56,729 votes had been counted in all LAUSD races
- 17,468 votes had been counted in the City Council District 4 race
The first returns from precincts around L.A. have come in, but the numbers haven't changed: City council candidate David Ryu held a lead of 54 percent of the vote over challenger Carolyn Ramsay.
LAUSD board race returns were similarly unchanged, with Scott Mark Schmerelson leading incumbent Tamar Galatzan 52 to 48 percent, and Ref Rodriguez leading incumbent Bennett Kayser 56 to 44 percent.
Meanwhile, board incumbent Richard Vladovic, an initial supporter of the iPad project who went on to push for an investigation into its rollout, kept his lead of 54 percent of the vote over Lydia Gutierrez.
As of 10:06 p.m.:
- 61,294 votes had been counted, or 6.16 percent of all registered voters
- 47,142 votes had been cast in the three LAUSD races
- 14,152 votes had been cast for the City Council District 4 seat
David Ryu picked up an early lead in the race for L.A. City Council District 4 Tuesday night. In early returns, Ryu had 6,623 votes; Ramsay had 5,728.
A total of 55,501 mail-in ballots, representing about 6 percent of registered voters, had been counted as of 8:30 p.m. in races for three LAUSD board seats and one city council seat, according to the Los Angeles City Clerk's office.
In perhaps the most watched of the LAUSD board races, charter school administrator Ref Rodriguez leads incumbent Bennett Kayser in mail-in balloting.
Incumbent Tamar Galatzan was trailing opponent Scott Schmerelson. Galatzan, an early supporter of former Superintent John Deasy's plan to provide iPads to every LAUSD student, found herself fending off criticism of the program from her rival's supporters.
Of the three LAUSD board incumbents, only Richard Vladovic maintained an early lead in the race over his opponent, Lydia Gutierrez.
As of 8:30 p.m., officials were still counting ballots from polling stations and had reported no results.
8 p.m.: Polls close
Officials were expected to begin counting votes in Tuesday's citywide general election to fill three seats on the Los Angeles Unified School District and one on the L.A. City Council.
KPCC will be updating this story with results as soon as we have them
LA School Report | http://bit.ly/UXHVhZ
Vladovic breezes to a third term with largest margin of board races
LAUSD school board President Richard Vladovic
LA Unified Board President Richard Vladovic successfully held his District 7 seat last night, winning a third term by the largest margin of the day’s three elections in a race with the lowest turn out.
He won with 56 percent of the vote to Lydia Gutierrez’s 44 percent.
Mike Trujillo, a campaign consultant to Vladovic, told LA School Report, that Vladovic’s appeal lies in his ability to strike the right balance on a range of issues.
“Dr. Vladovic’s educational career has always been about putting students, parents and teachers first, Trujillo saids. “His political career is much like that of Goldilocks where the porridge is never too hot, never too cold, always just right.”
Apparently, the mix also appealed to political action committees on the reform and union sides. Vladovic was the only candidate in all three of the races to receive endorsements from pro-charter advocates, including the California Charters Schools Association PAC and labor groups UTLA and SEIU.
Gutierrez had no major endorsements and little campaign money throughout the election.
Despite that she made an impressive splash in the March primary race finishing only five percentage points behind Vladovic. And as recently as April, an internal poll of District 7 voters by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates and Great Public Schools: Los Angeles, showed Gutierrez, leading by 37 percent to 34 percent, with 29 percent undecided, in a statistical tie. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.
Last night’s defeat marks her fifth failed bid for public office since 2008. In her most recent before now, she came in third in a run for state superintendent last year against Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck.
Vladovic was first elected to the board in 2007 and became president in 2013. Over most of that time the board slashed billions from the district budget.
But with more than $700 million in extra revenue coming in next year, he says he wants now to focus on leading the district into more prosperous and efficient times through priorities that include proper distribution of money to schools that need it most, a MiSiS system that works, a teacher evaluation system that’s fair and a better use of best practices districtwide.
In the most of expensive and vitriolic of all three LA Unified board races, Bennett Kayser lost to Ref Rodriguez in the battle to represent District 5.
Shortly after polls closed Rodriguez cemented an early lead, and Kayser, who had hoped for a second term, was never able to catch up.
“This is a historic victory, as Los Angeles embraces positive change for our schools,” Rodriguez said in a statement.
“The message of transforming middle schools and supporting innovation really resonated with voters,” he wrote, adding words of gratitude for the “community victory.”
The win is a game changer for the California Charter Schools Association, which contributed several million dollars to Rodriguez’s campaign through its political action committee. The organization paid for television, radio and direct mail advertisements championing the charter school founder and railing against Kayser. It marks the first time the CCSA successfully turned over a pro-union seat.
But it is only a partial triumph for the education reform group which was counting on Tamar Galatzan to hold on to her seat in District 3. In that scenario, charter school supporters would have regained control of the board with a 4-3 majority.
That is not what happened.
Scott Schmerelson, a former teacher, counselor and school administrator beat Galatzan by more than 10 percentage points. And although, Schmerelson resists the pro-union label, he acknowledged that he couldn’t have won it without UTLA’s support.
While UTLA campaigned aggressively for Kayser in the March primary races, the teachers union changed strategies for the general election.
“It became a different kind of race at that point,” Marco Flores, a member of UTLA’s political action committee told LA School Report.
“We were just trying to fend off racist and toxic accusations,” he said, referring to the attack ads directed at Kayser. “If we had more money maybe we could have been more effective.”
Kayser is expected to release a statement later today, according to his campaign manager Susan Burnside, who spoke to LA School Report from Schmerelson’s party. Burnside also worked on his campaign.
In a stunning upset, Scott Schmerelson handily defeated two-term incumbent Tamar Galatzan in the race for LA Unified’s District 3 seat.
Schmerelson beat Galatzan with more than 3,000 votes, 55 percent to 45 percent.
“I am very happy, very excited, and I’m ready for my five-year term,” he told LA School Report late last night, referring to the extended term school board members will be serving following a voter approved measure aligning local elections with state and federal races.
While many observers predicted the outcome of the election in District 5 — between Bennett Kayser and Ref Rodriguez — would determine the future ideological balance of the seven member board, it is Schmerelson’s victory that ensures the so-called “reformers” will remain in the minority despite Kayser’s loss.
“I intend to be perfectly fair,” Schmerelson said, unwilling to describe himself as either pro-charter, pro-union, or pro-anything specific.
“I am not a vehement anti-charter person,” he explained, then launched into a lengthy speech about how many charters engage in deceitful practices dumping students with disciplinary problems or before important testing. His conclusion: “They really need to be closely monitored.”
The teachers union threw its support behind the veteran educator after the primary race in an effort to elect “anyone but Galatzan” according to UTLA PAC official, Marco Flores.