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Candidates pack field to replace former L.A. Unified school board member Ref Rodriguez

Candidates pack field to replace former L.A. Unified school board member Ref Rodriguez
The field to replace L.A. school board member Ref Rodriguez, who resigned in July, is getting crowded. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles school board has yet to set a special election date to fill the seat of Ref Rodriguez, who resigned in July, but potential candidates are lining up to take a spot that could shift the balance of power.

The six remaining board members are expected to set the election date at their Tuesday meeting. March 5 is likely, with a runoff if necessary on May 14. The board also will discuss whether to appoint a replacement to fill the District 5 seat until a new board member is elected.

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Rodriguez resigned July 23, the day he pleaded guilty to one felony and three misdemeanors for political money laundering.

The portion of the district that he represents zigzags from Los Feliz and Eagle Rock to the cities of southeast Los Angeles County.

The co-founder of a charter-school organization, Rodriguez was part of the first board majority elected with major financial support from charter backers. Charters are public schools that operate independent of the local school system, frequently competing with it for students and the state and federal funds that come with them.

This four-member majority, which effectively took control of the seven-member board just over a year ago, revised key details of how the school system oversees charters and was pivotal in choosing new Supt. Austin Beutner — with Rodriguez as a key vote. Rodriguez’s departure could lead to a board that is less friendly toward charters and more sympathetic toward employee unions, which also are influential in board elections. Most charters are non-union.

The best-known potential candidate is Jackie Goldberg, who has said she would like to be appointed to the seat until a special election is held. Goldberg served on the school board for two terms, from 1983 to 1991, followed by stints on the City Council and in the state Legislature. In an email, Goldberg did not rule out running to serve the remainder of Rodriguez’s term, until the next regular election in 2020.

Board member Scott Schmerelson, who is not in the charter-backed group, put Goldberg’s name forward nearly two weeks ago. The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, also has endorsed Goldberg, who has been critical of charter schools.

Goldberg could not win the necessary votes without backing from at least one board member elected with charter support.

Others also have expressed interest — in an appointment, in running to fill the seat or both.

One of them is Ana Cubas, a public affairs consultant in energy-efficient environmental design. She ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2013 and also served as chief of staff for L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar, a close ally of school board President Monica Garcia, who is in the charter-backed group.

Former Cerritos Community College trustee John Paul Drayer also is interested. Drayer, who taught in L.A. Unified for 30 years, served four years on the Cerritos College district board, representing portions of Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey and South Gate.

Also entering the fray are Rocio Rivas, a parent and neighborhood council leader who took part in protests calling for Rodriguez to resign; Huntington Park City Councilwoman Graciela Ortiz, a counselor in L.A. Unified; and Cynthia Gonzalez, who grew up in the district and now serves as principal of Communication and Technology School, a high school on the Diego Rivera Campus, south of downtown.

Heather Repenning, board vice president for the L.A. Department of Public Works, said she is considering running for the seat.

Charter-school backers have been the biggest spenders in recent school board races, followed by the teachers unions.

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