The winners of three L.A. school board races next March will have to help run a system facing a long-term financial crisis, lagging academic performance and declining enrollment.
Still, 15 people want the jobs and this week turned in paperwork that they hope will get them on the ballot.
The election could prove pivotal because the seven-member board is divided on key issues, including the growth and monitoring of independently operated charter schools. L.A. has become a widely watched battleground for competing special interests and conflicting visions of reform, so campaign spending is expected to be in the millions of dollars.
Wednesday was the deadline for turning in petitions that are part of the process for getting on the ballot, and 15 of the 19 who had signed up to run followed through. Signatures on some petitions still need to be verified, so it's possible that the final list of candidates will shrink.
In two of the three seats on the ballots, incumbents are running for reelection.
In District 4, which stretches from West Los Angeles into the west San Fernando Valley, current school board President Steve Zimmer is seeking a third term. He is expected to receive strong support from employee unions, and draw well-funded opposition from donors who oppose union-backed candidates and want to limit union influence.
What's not yet clear is where the major non-union money will go. Attorney and former teacher Nick Melvoin is one possibility. Another is Allison Holdorff Polhill, a parent and former board member of Palisades Charter High School. It's possible that both will draw significant resources from the same group of donors.
In early campaign filings, Melvoin led all candidates with $161,742 raised, but the biggest spending is likely to come in independent expenditures, either from the teachers union or from its opponents. This spending is not controlled by the candidates.
Also in the District 4 race is parent Gregory Martayan, who describes himself in election filings as a "police specialist" based on his experience as a reserve police officer who served as a liaison with the Armenian community.
In District 2, the non-union money will go to longtime board member Monica Garcia. She's likely to receive support from some district employee groups, but not from the teachers union.
The teachers union still is deciding whether to engage in a costly, uphill battle to unseat Garcia, whose district stretches out from downtown.
Also in the race are parent activist Carl Petersen, who recently ran unsuccessfully for a board seat in the west San Fernando Valley; perennial Republican candidate Manuel "Manny" Aldana Jr.; veteran Roosevelt High School teacher Lisa Alva, and education and immigrants rights attorney Miho Murai.
District 6, in the east San Fernando Valley, is open because one-term incumbent Monica Ratliff opted to run for L.A. City Council. Four years ago, Ratliff, a teacher running without union muscle, beat the odds against an opponent with comparatively unlimited resources.
Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez now hopes to make that move from teacher to board member in this district, though she could turn out to be the well-funded candidate in the race. The seventh-grade science teacher, who works at a charter school, could pull in support from pro-charter forces. In the last election, the political arm of the California Charter Assn. was the primary conduit for non-union money.
The teachers union is backing community activist Imelda Padilla, who serves on the county's Commission for Women and works for a grant-writing firm.
Also in the race are Gwendolyn R. Posey, a parent who has been involved in county efforts to improve early childhood education; Jose Sandoval, who in filing papers described his background teaching families about the importance of spaying and neutering pets; Araz Parseghian, a parent and loan officer, and Patty Lopez, who just lost her bid for reelection to the state Assembly.
Candidates needed at least 1,000 signatures from registered voters in their districts, unless they paid a $300 filing fee, which cut the required number of signatures in half.