Charlene Tabet, Larry Applebaum make the grade

Charlene Tabet, who benefited mightily from outside spending in the Burbank Unified school board race, handily won a seat Tuesday, joining incumbent Larry Applebaum as the two top vote-getters.

Of the 11,123 ballots cast, Applebaum claimed 5,858 while Tabet received 4,955. Steve Ferguson and David Dobson received 4,595 and 2,809 votes, respectively.

The tally was unofficial and did not count roughly 50 provisional ballots, but the outcome is not expected to change. The results are expected to be verified on Friday.

"I had so much support from so many people," Tabet said as the results came in.

That support, though, was anemic in terms of fundraising. Tabet raised the least amount of direct contributions — $650 — among the field of candidates. But in terms of outside spending by political action groups, she benefited the most, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

"I think there's people out there who appreciate my message," she said Tuesday night.

Groups largely outside of Burbank dominated the money race, with political action committees supporting both successful and unsuccessful candidates far in excess of the amount raised by the candidates directly.

The Sacramento-based Alliance for California Tomorrow spent about $12,000 for mailers and phone banking in support of Tabet's candidacy as of April 3, the latest filing deadline. Meanwhile, the political action committee of the Burbank Teachers Assn. spent about $2,000 on postage and postcards opposing her.

By mid-March, two political action committees of StudentsFirst, led by controversial educator Michelle Rhee, had spent $26,000 on promotional material supporting the campaigns of Tabet and Dobson.

The political action committee of the Burbank Teachers Assn. had sunk $26,479 into the race as of April 3. The group supported Ferguson's campaign from the start, as well as that of Armond Aghakhanian, who failed to move past the primary election.

Ferguson raised $4,485 in direct contributions. He also won the Burbank Teachers Assn. endorsement and that of the Los Angeles Democratic Party, which donated about $2,000 to his campaign.

His third-place finish capped a campaign that, toward the end, got mired by accusations of sign theft by his volunteers.

It marked his second unsuccessful run for the school board, and the end to what he called "a very long campaign."

"Congratulations to Charlene for winning tonight," Ferguson said. "I do wish her all the best because the district faces some really significant challenges."

But he also took a shot at the tens of thousands of dollars spent by outside interests.

"When you really look at what kind of resources that were put into this race, I think that's the travesty of the night," Ferguson said.

Over the next few weeks, Applebaum said he would meet with Tabet to discuss the recently approved $110-million school bond, along with budget issues facing the district.

"I look forward to working cooperatively with Charlene Tabet on the variety of issues facing our children and challenges in the district to provide kids with greater opportunity and access to technology," he said.


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

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