Jackie Goldberg appears headed to reelection on the Los Angeles Board of Education, but little else has been settled Wednesday in hard-fought, expensive and pivotal contests to influence the direction of the nation’s second-largest school system.
With many ballots yet to be counted, two races seem on their way toward a November runoff, but it is not yet clear who will be in those contests.
In the west San Fernando Valley, incumbent Scott Schmerelson was leading in ongoing tallies, making him a good bet to be in a runoff against either Marilyn Koziatek, who was in second place, or Elizabeth Bartels-Badger.
For a board seat that takes in parts of South L.A. and the harbor area, four candidates are in a tight contest over the two spots in the runoff. Leading the pack early Wednesday was Patricia Castellanos, but many votes are yet to be tallied.
Throughout the campaign season, these contests were a battle between between supporters of charter schools and the teachers union — and that scenario is likely to continue until the November general election. The stakes are high for both sides on a board that has divided closely over issues affecting charter schools.
The four seats up in this election have all been held by board members friendly to the teachers union — and the union has been campaigning to keep it that way. Charter advocates are concerned about new state laws that give school boards more authority to limit charter growth and have been campaigning for candidates more likely to support their schools.
Charters are privately operated and compete with the school system for students. Most charters are nonunion.
“The new rules for charter approval would let a pro-union board cut back on charter growth in L.A. in a big way, but the unions, to take advantage of that opportunity, can’t afford to lose either of these last two seats,” said Dan Schnur, who teaches political communications at USC and Pepperdine. “This is going to be a classic charter-versus-union faceoff. Both sides are all in.”
District 1, parts of South and southwest L.A.
The easiest race was in District 1. One-term incumbent George McKenna was opposed only by write-in candidate Michael Batie.
District 5, parts of east and north L.A., southeast cities
In District 5, Goldberg was the presumed favorite. But that did not stop businessman Bill Bloomfield from swamping the race with positive mailers about opponent Christina Martinez Duran and negative mailers about Goldberg.
Goldberg had a comfortable majority in incomplete returns.
Bloomfield spent more than $600,000 in support of Duran and more than $744,000 in negative mailers that distorted Goldberg’s record of pushing for increased funding for schools and supporting gun control. Unions spent about $232,000 on behalf of Goldberg, who already was well known in areas of her district north and northeast of downtown. She’s less well known in the cities of southeast L.A. County.
Goldberg first served on the board in the 1980s and later on the L.A. City Council and in the Assembly. She returned to the Board of Education last May in a special election to complete the term of Ref Rodriguez, who resigned after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations.
The switch from Rodriguez, the cofounder of a group of charter schools, to Goldberg, a union ally and charter critic, altered the board’s ideological balance. Charters are privately operated public schools that compete with district operated schools for students. Most charters are non-union.
In her first year, Goldberg has suggested that she would look with some skepticism at petitions for new charters, but also insisted she would not target existing charters — more than 200 — for shut down.
District 3, West San Fernando Valley
To tilt the board toward supporting charter growth, backers needed only one win, and they pushed hard in District 3. In this race, one-term incumbent Schmerelson — a retired principal backed by the district’s employee unions — was opposed by charter-backed Koziatek, a district parent who has led community outreach efforts at a local charter school.
Charter backers spent more than $1.6 million to boost Koziatek and more than $1 million against Schmerelson. Unions spent more than $671,000 in support of Schmerelson and also tried to flood neighborhoods with teachers who volunteered to walk precincts.
District 7, South L.A., harbor area
This competitive seat opened up because term limits prevented incumbent Richard Vladovic from running again.
In early returns, the leading vote-getters included the three candidates who benefited most from outside campaigns: Mike Lansing, Tanya Ortiz Franklin and Castellanos. But Lydia Gutiérrez, who had no significant funding support, also was in that tight grouping.
As in District 5, the campaign spending pitted charter ally Bloomfield against the teachers union and its allies. And, as in District 5, Bloomfield’s dollars swamped what either the unions or individual candidates were able to do on their own.
In this race, Bloomfield backed two candidates: former two-term school board member Lansing and education-program administrator Franklin. Bloomfield’s apparent goal was to edge out union-backed candidate Castellanos from making a runoff.
Bloomfield also funded negative campaigns against both Gutiérrez, a teacher, and Castellanos, a veteran labor organizer and district parent.
Also running in District 7 was Silke M. Bradford, a school district administrator who evaluates the performance of charter schools.