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Race to lead L.A. teachers union headed to runoff

Race to lead L.A. teachers union headed to runoff
Warren Fletcher, right, is president of United Teachers Los Angeles, though he gained less than a quarter of the votes needed to secure a second term. Above, he speaks during a candidates forum in Boyle Heights. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

The contest to head the nation's second-largest teachers union will go to a second round, pitting incumbent Warren Fletcher against challenger Alex Caputo-Pearl.

Fewer than 1 in 4 teachers cast ballots. Caputo-Pearl received 48% of the votes and Fletcher, 21%.

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Ten candidates had been vying for the office of president of United Teachers-Los Angeles. They sought to lead a teacher corps that is substantially dispirited and divided, with common grievances, but no clear consensus on how to move forward.

The candidates' ideas included becoming more -- or less -- adversarial with the district and changing the color of union T-shirts from red to pink or orange to seem less aggressive.

The leader of the union not only affects its 31,552 members but also half a million students. The union president speaks for the membership publicly and is a crucial figure for setting priorities and negotiating contracts. But the union's structure also is cumbersome and, without a strong president, it's difficult to bring the factions together.

Fletcher was seeking a second and final term for a three-year position that pays $101,000 annually. The ballots were mailed out in late February and tallied Thursday.

In his campaign, Fletcher, 54, noted that since he became president, teacher layoffs and furlough days have stopped. And he insisted that he made no major concessions to L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy on issues critical to teachers.

Veteran community activist and social studies teacher Caputo-Pearl, 45, told teachers that he could revive a union that had become too passive -- a theme of most of the candidates. Caputo-Pearl offered as proof of his ability the endorsement of 250 campus union representatives and a slate of candidates for other union offices.

Caputo-Pearl represents a left-leaning activist wing that rejected Fletcher.

The candidate who finished third, Gregg Solkovits, was the standard bearer for some traditional union stalwarts who also deserted Fletcher.

The L.A. Unified School District is slowly recovering from years of budget cuts that forced thousands of layoffs of teachers, counselors, nurses and others. UTLA, other unions and the district are battling over how best to use moderate increases in funding. There's also contention over the growth of charter schools, most of which are non-union, and a new teacher evaluation system that relies, in part, on student test scores.

Against the backdrop of perennially low student achievement, the district must decide how to achieve new state learning goals, while it also embarks on a $1-billion technology program and prepares for new state tests.

Twitter: @howardblume | howard.blume@latimes.com

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