LAUSD Board Races: What The Results Tell Us So Far

L.A. Unified School Board candidate Patricia Castellanos (right) addresses supporters during an election night party at her campaign headquarters in San Pedro on Tues., March 3, 2020. Castellanos is one of five candidates hoping to win the open LAUSD Board District 7 seat. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)

For Los Angeles' influential teachers union, Tuesday night could've been a lot worse.

Despite being badly outspent by rival charter school advocates, United Teachers Los Angeles' endorsed candidates appear to have held their own in the most expensive primary in the history of the L.A. Unified School Board.

UTLA-backed incumbent Jackie Goldberg appears on track to fend off challenger Christina Martinez Duran in Board District 5.

In Board District 7, early returns show the union's pick, Patricia Castellanos, has a shot at emerging from a crowded five-candidate field to make the November runoff between the top-two finishers.

Three others are vying for the second runoff spot: Tanya Ortiz Franklin, Lydia Gutiérrez and Mike Lansing — a former school board member aiming to reclaim the BD7 seat.

UTLA had hoped Board District 3 incumbent Scott Schmerelson could avoid a long slog to November in his bid to retain his seat. Instead, early returns show Schmerelson leading challengers Marilyn Koziatek and Elizabeth Badger — but not quite by enough to avoid a runoff.

IT'S STILL EARLY

The early vote tallies reported Tuesday night reflected the earliest vote-by-mail ballot returns as well as some results from in-person voting.

If the November 2018 midterms are any indication, union-backed candidates are likely to win greater shares of the vote from candidates who voted later or in-person. (In 2018, teachers unions' preferred state schools superintendent candidate, Tony Thurmond, trailed Marshall Tuck in early counts; but later returns broke in Thurmond's favor.)

"The votes we work to turn out," said Castellanos, "are primarily working class, communities of color, that typically vote at the polls so I do expect our numbers will go up."

Regardless, the process of counting mail-in ballots takes days if not weeks — which means especially in BD7, clear results might not emerge for some time.

(KPCC/LAist Analysis)

THE MOST EXPENSIVE PRIMARY EVER

Across the three races, UTLA only mustered $1.8 million in spending on advertising or phone-banking. The largest chunk of that money — almost $800,000 — was spent supporting Castellanos in BD7.

Compare that figure with charter school advocates' totals: they spent $6.5 million attempting to sway the three races — including $3.8 million from frequent political donor and noted charter school ally Bill Bloomfield.

Bloomfield spent most of that money in the race in BD7 — a constituency that runs from South L.A. to San Pedro. He spent almost $2.5 million trying to sway this race, including $1.3 million to support Ortiz Franklin's candidacy.

Ortiz Franklin herself found Bloomfield's support baffling, saying in an interview Tuesday night that she'd never met the Manhattan Beach businessman.

"I'm not exactly sure why he chose to spend money on me," the first-time political candidate said.

While the campaign finances of LAUSD elections often pit charter schools against teachers unions, the actual operating dynamics of the school board are much more nuanced — and Ortiz Franklin said she finds the "false dichotomy" to be "frustrating."

"A school board member," Ortiz Franklin said, "really needs to serve all of their students, all of their schools, all of their communities, regardless of model [charter or district-run school], well. ... The overwhelming majority [of students] are and will continue to be in our traditional schools."

Meanwhile — unable to keep pace with charters' pace of spending — UTLA officials say the union focused on its traditional strength: its in-person outreach or 'ground game.'

"We believe in people," said Cecily Myart-Cruz, the union's vice president, in an interview Tuesday. "We have educators, students, parents that are out in the streets and actually talking to people and to folks in the neighborhood."

NEGATIVE ADVERTISING

This year's LAUSD campaign was not only the most expensive primary ever — the race saw unprecedented amounts of negative advertising for an LAUSD primary.

Since January, charter school advocates have spent more than $2.6 million on attack ads in this year's Los Angeles Unified School Board races.

No candidate was hit harder than Schmerelson in the West San Fernando Valley.

The California Charter Schools Association's political arm has endorsed a challenger, Marilyn Koziatek, and also poured more than $1 million into ads attacking Schmerelson.

One CCSA ad portrayed Schmerelson, who's Jewish, in gold chains with a fanned-out wad of cash. Schmerelson's campaign has called that mailer "anti-Semitic."

And in BD5, which covers areas north and southeast of downtown L.A., Bloomfield paid for $744,000 in attack ads against Goldberg.

"Garbage politics," Myart-Cruz called it.