L.A. Now

Voters go to polls today to decide L.A. school board races

Races for L.A. school board dominated by outside money, totaling about $5.1 million, to be decided today

Voters are going to the polls in Los Angeles on Tuesday to decide three school board races that will affect the direction of the nation’s second-largest school system.

The campaigns have been dominated by independent spending. Outside groups have poured in $5.1 million, compared with less than $1 million spent by campaigns controlled by the candidates, according to reports filed through Monday.

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 contest drawing the most attention and the most dollars is in District 5, which includes neighborhoods north and east of downtown, as well as the cities of southeast L.A. County.

One-term incumbent Bennett Kayser, backed by the teachers union, is running against charter school cofounder Ref Rodriguez, who is supported by a group representing charter schools.

The charter group, California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, has put in more money than any other organization.

Charters are independently operated and free from some regulations that govern traditional public schools. Most are non-union. Kayser has been the board’s most persistent voice opposing the continued growth of charter schools in L.A., which has more students in such schools than any district in the nation.

District 3, in the west San Fernando Valley, also features a face-off between the union, which backs challenger Scott Schmerelson, a retired principal, and two-term incumbent Tamar Galatzan, who has support from the charter group.

In this race, Galatzan also is receiving substantial backing from another political action committee, Great Public Schools Los Angeles. This PAC is drawing on many of the same donors as a PAC that was associated in recent elections with Antonio Villaraigosa, who was mayor at the time.

L.A.’s current mayor, Eric Garcetti, has avoided that level of involvement and also has declined to align with one camp or another.

In District 7, two-term incumbent Richard Vladovic is running against Lydia Gutierrez, an elementary school teacher in Long Beach Unified. He’s been endorsed by all three big-spending PACs, but none of them has devoted comparable resources to this race.

District 7 stretches from South Los Angeles to the L.A. Harbor.

Low voter turnout is expected; in most areas, the L.A. Unified contest is the only one on the ballot.

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