Los Angeles Board of Education President Caprice Young, a key figure in the school reform effort launched four years ago, trailed Tuesday in her reelection bid against former teacher Jon Lauritzen, who was strongly supported by the teachers union for the San Fernando Valley seat.
The union appeared on the verge of regaining political clout on the seven-member school board since two of the other candidates it supported were ahead.
United Teachers-Los Angeles backed school board incumbent David Tokofsky, who was leading in his race against three challengers in a district that includes East Los Angeles and areas to the south. In second place was Nellie Rios-Parra, a Lennox schools administrator, who was the most likely to face Tokofsky in a run-off if he does not receive a majority of votes.
Young and Rios-Parra received financial help from Coalition for Kids, the political action organization backed by former Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaire Eli Broad that engineered a new reform-minded majority on the school board four years ago. On Tuesday night that majority appeared at risk.
The coalition supported two other incumbents, Genethia Hudley-Hayes, who was trailing in a tight race against Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, and Mike Lansing, who was well ahead. Both would have to win for the coalition to maintain a friendly majority on the board.
John Perez, the teachers union president, said: "I think it means the people of this city want a school board and not a Broad board. It means they want people on the school board who know something about education, about the needs of the classroom, the needs of the kids."
Riordan, however, criticized the attack ads Lauritzen ran against Young, who is a close ally of the former mayor. "They did a good job of demonizing the incumbents, particularly Caprice. It's a sad day for the kids," Riordan said in a telephone interview.
At his jubilant Granada Hills campaign headquarters, Lauritzen said voters turned against Young because they did not believe she was sincere in her advocacy of breaking up the school district into as many as 20 independent entities.
"They didn"t believe she had the interest of kids at heart," he said. He said his first efforts in office would be to cut back on bureaucracy and to help restore vocational education programs.
At her campaign headquarters in Studio City on Tuesday night, Young refused to concede. "It's still early. I hope I win," she said, surrounded by about 70 supporters. She referred to the negative ads the Lauritzen campaign produced against her. "It's been an out-of-body experience only because I'm not the person my opponent is running against," Young said.
The other three school board members include two who have received support from the Riordan-Broad coalition, Jose Huizar and Marlene Canter, and one strong union ally, Julie Korenstein.
United Teachers-Los Angeles contributed a total of $1.4 million to three candidates, including Tokofsky, and the Coalition for Kids gave about $1.1 million to Young and three others, according to campaign reports. All together, the 10 candidates for the four seats raised more than $3.5 million -- all for positions paying $24,000 a year.
The race in the San Fernando Valley's District 3 was the costliest of the contests, with the two candidates raising more than $1.8 million combined.
Young, 37, said she felt a district breakup would give more local control and would continue such recent successes as raising elementary grade test scores.
A resident of Studio City, Young was elected in 1999 with the coalition's backing; the group gave her about $780,000 for this year's race.
Young's campaign was especially challenging because remapping moved her from an East Hollywood-centered seat to the Valley, where 85% of her voters would be new. Young stressed her roots in the Valley, where she attended district schools.
Lauritzen, who previously lost two bids for the state Assembly, sought to blame Young for dirty school bathrooms, financial waste and the disastrous Belmont Learning Complex, a $175-million high school project stalled over environmental and seismic problems. The 64-year-old Chatsworth resident received $892,000 from the teachers union.
The former Canoga Park High teacher pledged to make sure board members could not hire firms that had donated money to their campaigns.
District 5 incumbent Tokofsky, 42, also had to appeal to a new constituency. Losing the East Valley, Tokofsky gained southeast cities such as Bell, Huntington Park and Vernon. But the former teacher kept his own Eagle Rock neighborhood and Los Feliz's Marshall High, where he had led the L.A. district's first championship academic decathlon team.
Tokofsky, who is white, faced three Latino candidates in a district where most of the registered voters are Latino. Tokofsky, who speaks fluent Spanish, has billed himself as a watchdog against L.A. Unified's bureaucracy. He received backing from the coalition in 1999 and about $41,000 from the teachers union in this race.
Tokofsky was reluctant to declare victory in the four-way race. "It was a lonely campaign," he said, referring to the more extensive aid the union gave to defeating Young. "A lot of the people who would be walking for us were walking against Caprice."
Tokofsky fell out of favor with the coalition. Late last year, Broad offered to donate $10 million to Occidental College at the same time he and Riordan were recruiting the school's president, Ted Mitchell, to run against Tokofsky. Mitchell declined and Broad denied the money had been offered quid pro quo.
Among Tokofsky's challengers was Lennox School District teacher and administrator Rios-Parra, 35, who received $121,000 from the coalition. Rios-Parra was criticized by opponents after The Times revealed that her husband had written a memo detailing a plan to ask the Coalition for Kids for $400,000 in campaign donations and additional funding for several pet projects in exchange for her candidacy. Alvin Parra, Rios-Parra's husband and an aide to L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, said that the memo was a joke and that he never sent it out.
Molina endorsed Jose Sigala, 33, an aide to Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles). Sigala, who raised $100,000 for his campaign, said he would focus on bridging the gap between rich and poor students.
The other candidate was Maria Lou Calanche, a teacher at East L.A. College.
In District 1, the teachers union hoped to oust incumbent Hudley-Hayes, who resisted teacher salary increases. Former Washington Prep principal LaMotte received $509,000 from the teachers union. LaMotte, who said she was in her late 60s, was critical of school bureaucracy.
Hudley-Hayes, 57, a former educator and civil rights leader, criticized her opponent for the poor academic standing of Washington Prep when LaMotte was principal. Of the $283,000 raised by Hudley-Hayes for this election, $100,000 was donated by the coalition.
In District 7, encompassing the South Bay and Harbor area, Lansing, 46, sought a second term. Lansing, director of the Boys & Girls Club of San Pedro, got $62,000 from the coalition. The $131,000 he raised in total eclipsed the $5,000 raised by his opponent, Gilbert Carrillo, 37, a tax auditor for the State Board of Equalization.
Also on Tuesday, four first-term incumbents on the Los Angeles Community College District's seven-member governing board were all leading.
Incumbent Sylvia Scott-Hayes, director of the University Testing Center at Cal State L.A., was running for office No. 1 against Mark Isler, a public school teacher, and Donna Warren, a grass-roots activist. Mona Field, a professor at Glendale Community College, sought to keep her No. 3 seat against businesswoman Joyce Burrell Garcia, minister Earl Raymond High and Wilma E. Bennett, a former teacher. Incumbent Georgia Mercer, a former instructor at UCLA, faced David J. Sanchez, a former part-time community college instructor, for office No. 5. In office No. 7, incumbent Warren T. Furutani, a former L.A. school board member and aide to Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson Jr. (D-Culver City), faced producer Mark Gonzaga and insurance adjuster David R. Hernandez.
Staff writer Duke Helfand contributed to this report.