Election 2020: Your Guide To The Race For LAUSD Board District 7

A sign at the Los Angeles Unified School District Transportation Services near district headquarters in Los Angeles, California on January 9, 2019. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Four LAUSD Board seats are up for election this year, but the race for District 7 — which includes Florence-Firestone, Watts, Gardena, Harbor Gateway and San Pedro — is by far the most competitive. It's an open seat; incumbent Richard Vladovic is termed out in December 2020.

Here's a recap on what the L.A. Unified School Board does: The seven-member board is ultimately responsible for the education of more than 587,000 children. It hires the superintendent (Austin Beutner currently fills the role), oversees a $8.2 billion budget, establishes the school district's priorities and policies, and opens or shuts down charter schools. L.A. Unified is the nation's second-largest district, but it's the largest in the nation whose board members are elected by voters.

The overarching theme of this race is the same one that hangs over most LAUSD elections: the ongoing power struggle between teachers' unions and charter school advocates. Money is being poured in from both sides, and the amount of outside spending on this year's school board races is on track to match that of 2017 — the most expensive LAUSD election cycle ever.

Below are the five candidates in the running for the District 7 seat, in alphabetical order by last name, along with a summary of their backgrounds and notable donations or endorsements. If nobody gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the March primary, the top two will advance to a runoff in November.

SILKE BRADFORD

Background: Bradford runs the Compton Unified School District office that oversees charter schools. That means she helps approve and reject charter school applications for the school district and keeps charter schools compliant with the law. She previously authorized charter schools for Oakland Unified and the L.A. County Office of Education. Before that, she was a teacher and administrator for both charter and district-run schools.

Endorsements and Funding: Bradford doesn't have backing from either UTLA or charter supporters, which the L.A. Times editorial board described as an asset in its endorsement of her.

Campaign Website: https://www.electsilke.com/

PATRICIA CASTELLANOS

Background: Castellanos is deputy for workforce and economic development for L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Previously, she was deputy director of the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). She was also a cofounder of Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles, a teachers union-allied organization that advocated to bring wraparound services into schools to turn campuses into community hubs. She's the parent of a first-grader who currently attends an LAUSD school.

Endorsements and Funding: With official support from the United Teachers of Los Angeles, she's the only District 7 candidate to have received a major endorsement from either the pro-union or pro-charter side. As of Feb. 21, UTLA has also spent around $493,000 in independent expenditures to support her candidacy. Castellanos also has endorsements from the L.A. County Federation of Labor, L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez and school board member Jackie Goldberg. See Castellanos' full list of endorsements.

Campaign Website: https://patriciacastellanos.com/

LYDIA GUTIÉRREZ

Background: Gutierrez is a teacher in Long Beach Unified who ran for the District 7 seat in 2015 before losing in the general election to current board member Richard Vladovic. She also previously ran for state superintendent and state senate as a Republican. She serves as co-chair of the California Teachers Association's State Legislative Committee for Adult, Alternative and Career Technical Education.

Endorsements and Funding: Gutierrez doesn't have any major backing from UTLA or charter supporters, but major pro-charter donor Bill Bloomfield has spent about $15,000 opposing her campaign as of Feb. 21.

Campaign Website: https://www.lydia4education.com/

MIKE LANSING

Background: Lansing is no stranger to the school board; he held the District 7 seat between 1999 and 2007. He currently leads the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor. Lansing told the pro-charter advocacy organization Speak Up that the current school board is "one of the most dysfunctional boards I've ever seen," and says if elected he would prioritize balancing LAUSD's budget.

Endorsements and Funding: Lansing has received endorsements from the Daily Breeze and current LAUSD District 7 board member Richard Vladovic. Major pro-charter donor Bill Bloomfield has also supported Lansing's candidacy, pitching in $295,000 in independent expenditures.

Campaign Website: https://www.mikelansing.com/

TANYA ORTIZ FRANKLIN

Background: Franklin works for the Partnership for L.A. Schools, an organization created by former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that operates 18 high-needs LAUSD schools in Boyle Heights, South L.A. and Watts. Franklin is also a lawyer and former teacher who spent time with Teach for America. In her role at the Partnership, she has focused on implementing restorative justice and social-emotional learning at the schools the organization runs.

Endorsements and Funding: Franklin has endorsements from current LAUSD board members Kelly Gonez and Mónica García. Pro-charter donor Bill Bloomfield has also spent about $611,000 to support Franklin's campaign. See Franklin's full list of endorsements

Campaign Website: https://www.tanyaforlausd.com/

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*Note: Some of the interviews and profiles linked in this section were conducted by activist/advocacy groups