On May 19, when Angelenos head back to the polls for runoff elections, there will be three L.A. Unified school board seats in play. Technically, four seats are being decided, but incumbent George McKenna is running unopposed.
This is an especially important election because it is the members of the new board who will pick a permanent superintendent to replace former Supt. John Deasy. They must find someone who shares Deasy's sense of urgency about improving the future of impoverished and minority students, but who also is a pragmatic and collaborative leader, which Deasy often was not. They then must empower the new superintendent to do great things, while providing wise and informed oversight.
These are the candidates best suited to the job:
District 3: Tamar Galatzan. Galatzan, who had been one of Deasy's biggest supporters on the board — at times so unwilling to challenge him that she failed to heed warning signs — has been less reflexive in her thinking since he left and frequently asks tough questions that other board members avoid.
Her opponent, Scott Schmerelson, was the strongest among her challengers in the primary. A knowledgeable and congenial former school principal, he is a moderate and independent thinker, but one who has not been able to translate his experience into a larger vision for the schools, especially when it comes to the district's projected budget shortfall.
District 5: Ref Rodriguez. Though opponents try to paint him as antiunion and overzealous on standardized testing, Rodriguez is actually an innovative thinker and a fresh voice. A co-founder of the Partnerships to Uplift Communities, a charter school operator, he articulates a helpful vision for improving the district's often-neglected middle schools. He wants to strengthen teachers' performance evaluations, but not by using the state's annual standards tests as a measure of their worth. He also favors firmer oversight of the district's charter schools.
Though incumbent Bennett Kayser is intelligent and caring, he generally votes his union-aligned ideology instead of analyzing each issue on its merits or considering practicalities. He complains about shortcomings of charter schools, but instead of leading the way toward better oversight, he votes against almost every charter petition, no matter how good the school's record or how many students it has helped.
District 7: Richard Vladovic. As school board president, Vladovic has been an unsteady hand on the tiller. He has failed to set a direction for the board and tends to vote with the prevailing winds. But his opponent, Long Beach teacher Lydia Gutierrez, is a weak candidate who lacks the necessary grasp of the district's major issues. So Vladovic it is.