L.A. middle school teacher joins race to succeed Tokofsky

Times Staff Writer

The race to succeed school board incumbent David Tokofsky got a second candidate Saturday.

Bennett Kayser, 60, a veteran middle school teacher and neighborhood activist, will go up against Yolie Flores Aguilar, 44, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Children's Planning Council.

Kayser got his chance to enter the race when Tokofsky's withdrawal Dec. 9 triggered a reopening of the filing period. But prospective candidates had just one week to gather 500 signatures of registered voters who live in District 5, which stretches from Los Feliz to the cities of southeast Los Angeles County.

Among four new applicants, only Kayser had turned in his signatures by Saturday's noon deadline. The signatures must still be checked, but he turned in 643, giving him some margin for error, he said.

Previously, Kayser won a seat on the elected Charter Commission, which helped write the major revision of the Los Angeles City Charter in 2000. He's also the vice president of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council.

Kayser works as technology coordinator at the City of Angels School, which specializes in independent study. He previously taught seventh-grade science and health at Irving Middle School.

In the last two redistricting efforts, District 5 was drawn to maximize the odds of electing a Latino. But it never has -- because the Spanish-speaking Tokofsky won election three times. In 1999, he narrowly beat Flores Aguilar.

Kayser said he doesn't speak Spanish well, but knows the academic territory: "At Irving, I had 184 12-year-olds each day. I loved every one of them, but trying to read 184 homework assignments and get them back was not my favorite part of the job.

"There needs to be ways to figure out how to get funding down into the classroom. It seems that's not always a priority."

To compete, a candidate will almost certainly need the endorsement of United Teachers Los Angeles or Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Kayser said he would seek both, though he has disagreed with the mayor's desire to supplant the authority of the school board.

"I think the mayor has a good heart in what he wants to do," Kayser said. "I'm sorry it's come out in a combative way."



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