In the three most contested races for the L.A. Board of Education, those candidates with support from a charter group held early leads. Two of those are incumbents -- Tamar Galatzan and Richard Vladovic. The third, candidate Ref Rodriguez, was leading one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser.
Kayser faced two challengers: Rodriguez, a charter school founder, and Andrew Thomas, a leader in local parent groups. In early returns, Rodriguez pulled ahead of Kayser, appearing to set up a May 19 runoff. Thomas was in third place.
The most closely watched race unfolded in that district, which encompasses Los Feliz and Eagle Rock and includes the cities of southeast L.A. County.
This contest became a proxy war between charter-school partisans (backing Rodriguez) and the L.A. teachers union (backing Kayser).
Charter schools are publicly funded and independently managed; most are non-union. In L.A., charters serve more than 100,000 students, about 15% of district enrollment and more than any other school system.
The charter group, California Charter Schools Advocates, spent the most in campaign filings through Tuesday, nearly $800,000. The group formed a campaign committee, Parent Teacher Alliance, which paid for campaign mail, radio ads, polling and phone banking. Nearly half the money went to negative ads against Kayser.
The teachers union has spent $555,133 for Kayser, according to filings through Tuesday. About 15% of that total went to pay for negative ads against Rodriguez.
The more intensively negative campaign from the charter group made a difference for Silver Lake resident Gene Bivins, a retired book and music seller who said he voted for Kayser.
“I wanted to see what both men had to say about what they were willing to do,” Bivins said. “From Ref, I got 90% ‘Kayser’s bad’ and 10% what he supports. After a while, I didn’t buy much of anything the Rodriguez campaign was saying.”
But the charter group’s campaign made inroads with watchmaker Robert Del Castillo, who voted in Eagle Rock.
“It is just too many things that’s happened since Kayser was put there,” Del Castillo said. As one example, he cited the district’s troubled $1.3-billion program to provide an iPad to every student.
Thomas had comparatively limited resources, but he impressed John Mengatti, an actor and writer in Eagle Rock: “There was something honest about Thomas that made me vote for him.”
Two other races featured incumbents, Vladovic and Galatzan; both have name recognition and superior financial resources behind them. Most observers expected them to finish first, but they still face a run-off if current patterns hold because they have not claimed a majority of votes.
In early returns, Galatzan was followed by Scott Mark Schmerelson, Elizabeth Badger Bartels, Carl J. Petersen, Ankur Patel and Filiberto Gonzalez, in that order.
The charter group spent nearly $100,000 on behalf of Galatzan. Another political action committee, Great Public Schools Los Angeles, spent more than $143,000 to support Galatzan. This PAC has endorsed the same candidates as the charter group and has a partially overlapping base of donors.
Independent spending for Galatzan totaled about $270,000. Her five opponents raised a combined $85,000.
Galatzan's district covers much of the San Fernando Valley; Vladovic's stretches from Watts to the Harbor.
Vladovic was ahead of Lydia A. Gutierrez and Euna Anderson in the early returns, but he, too, looked to be headed to a runoff.
The charter group spent $73,682 to elect Vladovic, far more than any other funding source.
The teachers union sat out both the Vladovic and Galatzan races.
The outcome of one contest offered no mystery: George McKenna was unopposed in a district that spans south and southwest L.A.
Also on the ballot Tuesday were four of seven at-large seats for the L.A. Community College District. For Seat 1, Andra Hoffman held a lead over Francesca Vega, who also was polling strongly.
The other seats were not as tightly contested in early returns. The leaders were Sydney Kamlager in Seat 3; incumbent Scott Svonkin in Seat 5, and Mike Fong in Seat 7. Svonkin was the only incumbent on the ballot. There are no run-offs for the college district; the top vote-getter wins.