Union to Reinforce Its Efforts for Korenstein in Runoff With Romey

Times Staff Writer

The largest union in the Los Angeles Unified School District has turned its attention and resources to the race for the West San Fernando Valley seat on the Los Angeles School Board, its president said Wednesday.

Wayne Johnson promised to increase the United Teachers, Los Angeles role in working for the election of educator Julie Korenstein, the candidate the union endorsed in March.

Barbara Romey "is a formidable opponent, but we think that Korenstein can win," Johnson said.

The union has been flexing its political muscle in this year's school board elections in an attempt to break the eight-month stalemate in wage-and-benefit negotiations with the district.

UTLA poured money and an army of volunteers into the campaigns of Mark Ridley-Thomas and Warren Furutani, who opposed well-entrenched incumbents Rita Walters and John Greenwood. It also withheld its support from another incumbent, Jackie Goldberg, who previously received UTLA backing.

Race Got Less Money

Although the union also endorsed Korenstein over six rivals, it contributed less money and fewer volunteers to the Valley race than to the contests involving incumbents.

Wednesday, when the political dust settled, UTLA had a winner, Furutani; a loser, Ridley-Thomas, and Korenstein in a runoff.

With only the West Valley race on the June ballot, Johnson said, the union can focus its efforts on the runoff between Korenstein, 43, the coordinator of a student community service volunteer program at Chatsworth High, and Romey, 39, an accountant who opposes expansion of year-round schools.

If Korenstein is elected, UTLA representatives believe they will have three--possibly four--board members who favor the union's wage-and-benefit proposals. Four votes are usually needed to approve proposals brought before the school board.

In Tuesday's primary, Korenstein and Romey finished in almost a dead heat. Only 541 votes separated the two. Korenstein ended the election with 25% of the vote, compared to Romey's 23%.

Because neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote, they will face each other in the June 2 runoff.

Whereas Romey and Korenstein agree on many of the issues, in the next few weeks they will try to distance themselves by emphasizing differences in style and philosophy. Romey said she will stress being "an aggressive" representative, one willing to fight for West Valley positions.

Korenstein said she will press for West Valley proposals while being a representative who can work with other board members.

Romey is an heir apparent to the tradition of conservative Valley elected officials. Korenstein, who has been active in state Democratic politics several years, comes from a more liberal legacy.

Much of Romey's strength came from parents who know her from their mutual involvement with groups that opposed plans to increase the number of year-round schools and fought unsuccessfully to stop the district from closing low-enrollment Valley schools.

For example, in the precinct that includes now-closed Prairie Street Elementary School, Romey received 35 votes. The next highest vote-getter was Korenstein, with 11.

Korenstein proved to be a strong vote-getter in traditional liberal areas. In one Encino precinct between Ventura Boulevard and the Ventura Freeway, Korenstein had 32 votes to Romey's 3.

Both women made a concerted effort for absentee votes. Korenstein, with the help of UTLA, gave campaign literature and applications for absentee ballots to hundreds of teachers at their West Valley schools.

Got Bernson's Backing

Romey sent out two requests for absentee votes. One of her mailers was included with campaign material from Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson. Bernson, who easily won reelection Tuesday, was an early supporter of Romey's candidacy.

On Wednesday, Romey held a press conference at which she outlined a six-point plan that she said she will implement if elected.

Her first priority, Romey said, will be to work against proposals for year-round schools. Other issues she plans to push include reopening closed Valley schools, increasing teacher salaries, initiating a state audit of district finances, creating a community advisory board and improving community access to the West Valley representative.

Korenstein said Wednesday that, in the next few days, she will begin meeting with community leaders and elected officials to secure their assistance in the June election. She added that, in the upcoming campaign, she will continue to stress her positions, which include opposition to year-round schools, reduction of class size, encouragement of curriculum innovations and increasing teacher salaries.

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