Why is there an election?
Tuesday’s vote is a special election to fill a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education. It’s been vacant since July 2018 when board member Ref Rodriguez pleaded guilty to campaign finance crimes and resigned.
Ten candidates were on the ballot in the March primary. None of them captured a majority, so the top two finishers are competing Tuesday.
Who gets to vote?
In L.A. Unified, voters elect school board members by geography. This election is in Board District 5, an oddly shaped district that includes upscale areas in Silver Lake, Highland Park and Eagle Rock, as well as the lower-income cities southeast of downtown, such as Bell, Huntington Park, South Gate and Cudahy.
If you are a registered voter living in that area, you are eligible to vote. Polls close at 8 p.m.
Jackie Goldberg, a veteran L.A. elected official who has served on the school board, City Council and in the state Assembly.
Heather Repenning, who most recently served on the Los Angeles Board of Public Works and worked for Mayor Eric Garcetti when he was a councilman and in his early years as Los Angeles mayor.
Who is expected to win?
Goldberg is the front-runner. In the primary she captured 48% of the vote, while Repenning scraped her way to second with 13% of votes and a lead of just 31 votes over the third-place finisher.
But anything could happen, as the two have been battling to maintain support in neighborhoods north of downtown, where most of the voters are, while scrambling to capture the primary voters who supported other candidates.
What are the issues people care about?
Charters: Before Rodriguez resigned, charter-backed candidates held a slim one-seat majority on the board. Charter schools receive public funding but are run independently. Most are not unionized. Teachers unions and other critics say they erode district-run schools by vacuuming up funding and students.
Goldberg is a critic of charter schools. She says she is running to prevent charter interests from exerting too much control over the school system.
Repenning paints herself as a neutral voice who does not favor one type of school over another. She says the district should focus on making each school one that parents and students would choose.
Money: A major issue facing L.A. Unified is how to balance the budget. The district has received warnings that it may not be able to meet its financial obligations in three years. Both candidates support a parcel tax that will be put to voters in June.
The underserved: The southeastern part of the district is home to some of L.A.’s neediest children. Many of the mostly Latino parents there are concerned about having equal resources and access for students with special needs.
But most votes — and both candidates — come from the district’s northern wing, which is wealthier and whiter than the south. Both candidates acknowledge this mismatch and vow to commit time and resources to the south.
Who’s bankrolling the race?
The biggest funders are the two biggest unions in L.A. Unified, and they’re on opposite sides.
Goldberg has the backing of United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. teachers union, which asserted its power during a January strike to improve working conditions. Many teachers and parents who picketed also teamed up for Goldberg, who union leaders see as the best chance to end a series of losses at the ballot box.
Repenning, meanwhile, has the support of Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents classroom aides, janitors and cafeteria workers. Some in that union’s leadership felt that Goldberg was too focused on teachers at the expense of students and other workers. Repenning also has the backing of her former boss, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Two pro-charter philanthropists, Eli Broad and Bill Bloomfield, donated to support Repenning. Charter school supporters have been the biggest spenders in recent school board elections, but a political action committee affiliated with the California Charter Schools Association did not endorse in this election.