Teachers Union Comes Out 1-1 in School Board Election

Times Staff Writer

In the two races it cared the most about, the Los Angeles public schoolteachers union emerged from Tuesday's election with a win and a loss.

School board President Rita Walters, although targeted for defeat by the union and challenged vigorously by a well-known and well-financed opponent, swept to easy reelection in her South-Central and Southwest Los Angeles district. But her colleague, John Greenwood, was ousted from the board by union-supported challenger Warren Furutani in a close race in a Harbor-area district.

A third incumbent, Jackie Goldberg, easily defeated two challengers in the downtown-Hollywood area.

In the race for an open seat representing the Eastside, nearly complete returns Wednesday showed that Los Angeles community college Trustee Leticia Quezada succeeded in her attempt to switch boards, capturing nearly 56% of the vote and defeating two opponents.

In a wide-open race in the West San Fernando Valley, educator Julie Korenstein, who was endorsed by the teachers union, led a field of seven candidates and will face schools activist Barbara Romey in a June 2 runoff.

The election was widely regarded as a test of political strength for the teachers union, United Teachers-Los Angeles, which made an all-out effort to defeat Greenwood and Walters because of the incumbents' unwillingness to meet the union's demand for a 14% pay hike for the current school year.

Volunteers, Campaign Cash

The union provided volunteers and campaign cash to Mark Ridley-Thomas in his attempt to unseat Walters and to Furutani. While the union was also displeased with Goldberg, it did not actively oppose her.

Some observers suggested Wednesday that Walters' big win meant the union had failed.

"They went after Rita with a vengeance, but she got . . . the highest majority of any of the (school) candidates," one ranking Los Angeles school official pointed out.

Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, charged during the campaign that Walters had lost touch with her district and had not done enough to improve student achievement scores.

But Walters said the election results are proof that she is doing a good job.

"My community and constituents are giving me another opportunity to continue my work on behalf of raising the quality of education," she said.

She was conciliatory toward the UTLA in her remarks to supporters Tuesday night, and UTLA officials picked up on that theme Wednesday.

"We want to put the past behind us," said UTLA President Wayne Johnson. "We just want a (pay) settlement and what's best for our kids. We got her (Walters') attention (by opposing her)."

Johnson and other UTLA officials preferred Wednesday to focus on a more positive result--Furutani's close win over incumbent Greenwood.

"It's just short of amazing," Johnson said, noting that the 39-year-old UCLA coordinator overcame several handicaps to beat Greenwood, who was seeking a third term.

In the closing days of the campaign, UTLA sent many volunteers into Watts and San Pedro, two Greenwood strongholds, to get Furutani, who lives in Gardena, better known throughout the district.

Tempers Flared

Tempers between Furutani and Greenwood flared in the closing days of the campaign, but the two exchanged pleasantries on the telephone Wednesday morning.

"I told him that with everything last night, I felt like I was dreaming," the victorious Furutani said. "And he said, 'Yeah, I wish it was a dream.' "

Furutani's victory made him the first Asian-American to be elected to the school board.

In the West San Fernando Valley race, UTLA did not devote nearly as much energy on behalf of Korenstein as it did for Ridley-Thomas and Furutani. But union officials said they will work hard for Korenstein, a student volunteer project coordinator at Chatsworth High School, in the June runoff against Romey, an accountant.

Romey's celebration Tuesday night was reminiscent of the 1977 school board victory of another conservative San Fernando Valley parent, Bobbi Fiedler. The former school board member and congresswoman was at Romey's side at her headquarters as they celebrated her making the runoff. Paul Clarke, the strategist who shaped Fiedler's political career (and who this year became Fiedler's husband), served as a consultant to the Romey campaign.

On the Eastside, where the union made no endorsement, losing candidate Raul Ruiz criticized Quezada because of the support she received from many prominent Latino political officials. "She should reject machine politics," he said.

'Politics of Solution'

Quezada replied that her winning effort was not based on rhetoric. "It was based on the politics of solution to the overwhelming problems facing this community," she said.

School officials said the outcome of Tuesday's election is unlikely to affect the stalled pay talks between the school system and UTLA, which is the bargaining agent for the 26,000 teachers in the district.

A non-binding study by a fact-finding panel of three people will be issued early next month for the consideration of the current board. It may decide the pay issue long before Furutani and Quezada take their school board seats in June, officials said.

Times staff writers Pamela Moreland and Alan C. Miller contributed to this article.

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