Jackie Goldberg, a veteran politician and educator who served on the Los Angeles school board three decades ago, will once again have a voice in the nation’s second-largest school district after a resounding win Tuesday for a seat in a special election.
Goldberg’s victory over candidate Heather Repenning was also a win for the teachers union and will mark a shift in the board’s power dynamic that had recently tilted toward pro-charter-school alliances.
She vowed to work to bring more funding to the district and its neediest students, and improve conditions that teachers fought for during a January strike.
In the last 40 years, Goldberg told supporters Tuesday night in Echo Park, “We have raised class sizes, lost nurses, lost the class size that was appropriate, lost teaching assistants, lost assistant principals, lost counselors and psychiatric social workers.”
Goldberg won with 71.6% of the votes counted after polls closed Tuesday, not including provisional and some mail-in ballots.
“I do believe in the deepest part of my heart that it was the strike of the teachers … who woke up the public to what has happened to public education since 1978,” Goldberg said.
Repenning called Goldberg around 10:30 p.m. to concede.
“I’m very proud of the campaign that I ran — that we ran,” Repenning told supporters who gathered at a Silver Lake restaurant Tuesday night. “I’ve never run before. I didn’t have any name ID. So I was really at a disadvantage.”
The seat has been vacant since the July 2018 resignation of former board member Ref Rodriguez, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to campaign finance violations.
Goldberg is entering a fraught time in the district, where leaders are struggling with declining enrollment, a fight over the expansion of charter schools and questions about how to meet the district’s financial commitments.
Her win could weaken the power of pro-charter school forces in L.A. — Rodriguez was one of four on the seven-member board elected with financial backing from charter school supporters. Goldberg gained support by speaking out forcefully against the growth of charter schools and said she was running to prevent the school board from being controlled by charter interests.
Though most charter reform requires state action, Los Angeles Unified is by far California’s largest district and adding as vocal an opponent as Goldberg could have far-reaching significance.
Beyond state lobbying, the board “could call for more, tougher oversight of the charter schools,” and more aggressively seek payment for use of district property, within the boundaries of existing law, UCLA education professor Pedro Noguera said.
Repenning had proclaimed she did not oppose charter schools and would have been an independent voice. She had also highlighted that she would have been the only board member with a child who currently attends a district school.
“I’ve tried not to play into the normal, endless war between the teachers union and the charter association,” Repenning said Tuesday night. “I ran because I wanted to bring the best ideas to our school board and ... make sure our students have more academic support from pre-K all the way to college.”
The California Charter Schools Assn., which has offered heavy financial backing in past elections, did not endorse a candidate in this race. But two pro-charter philanthropists, Eli Broad and Bill Bloomfield, donated to support Repenning.
The election was a war of unions that have often historically been allies. Political action committees sponsored by the two largest labor groups in the district, United Teachers Los Angeles and Service Employees International Union, Local 99, had each spent upward of $1 million on the race. The teachers union supported Goldberg, while SEIU backed Repenning.
During the January teachers’ strike over pay raises and other working conditions, Goldberg, 74, supported the teachers union’s claim that the district could use its reserves to meet teachers’ demands. L.A. County officials have warned, however, that the district may not be able to fully pay the costs for raises, modest class size reductions and other resources won in the contract agreement for several years.
L.A. Unified is trying to raise more revenue through a parcel tax, which Angelenos will vote on next month.
Repenning, 44, and Goldberg both support the tax levy.
“The challenges facing the district are complicated and they’re not going to be easily resolved no matter who’s elected,” Noguera said.
The demographic makeup of Los Angeles Unified has also shifted in recent decades — 9 of 10 students are nonwhite — and a key question was which of the two white candidates would persuade voters they would best represent a district in which nearly 90% of students are Latino. No matter who prevailed Tuesday, four of the seven board members will now be white.
That has caused some consternation among advocates and has highlighted that, while Latinos now make up nearly half the population of Los Angeles, they still lag behind in voting rolls and political clout in parts of the city. District 5 is an oddly-shaped swath including gentrifying neighborhoods north of downtown such as Silver Lake, Highland Park and Eagle Rock and the lower-income, majority-Latino cities of Bell, Huntington Park, South Gate and Cudahy in the southeast. It was redrawn about 15 years ago in part to ensure the Latino vote would not be diluted.
Goldberg was the front-runner, having collected 48% of primary votes, just short of the majority needed to win outright. She had high name-recognition thanks to her previous experience on the school board, the L.A. City Council and in the California Assembly.
Repenning, who most recently served on L.A.’s Board of Public Works, earned 13% of primary votes and Mayor Eric Garcetti’s backing — she was a longtime aide when Garcetti was a councilman and in his early years as mayor.
Around 10:50 p.m., as a monitor revealed that 90% of precincts had reported and her lead was holding steady, Goldberg pumped her fists in the air and declared victory to supporters.
She reminded them that they had more work to do in the morning, to turn out votes for Measure EE, the parcel tax election just weeks away: “Of course you know that what this means is that none of you will ever have a peaceful night again.... I expect that all of you will be organizing.”