LAUSD School Board: The ABC's Of November's Runoff Races

Published Oct 12, 2020

There are two runoffs on the November ballot for seats on the L.A. Unified School Board. The seven-member board is ultimately responsible for the education of more than 579,000 children. It hires the superintendent (Austin Beutner currently fills the role), oversees a $8.9 billion operating 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.

JUMP TO: DISTRICT 7 | DISTRICT 3

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DISTRICT 7

District 7 on the Los Angeles Unified School Board starts in the South L.A. neighborhoods just south of downtown, then cuts south through Watts, Gardena, Harbor Gateway and Carson on its way to San Pedro.

Richard Vladovic has represented this elongated district since 2007. But this year, Vladovic is ineligible to run for another term -- and two candidates emerged from a competitive March primary to fill his soon-to-be open seat.

The March primary reflected a dynamic that has dominated how many LAUSD elections have played out in recent years: the ongoing power struggle between teachers' unions and charter school advocates. Money pouring in from both sides made the March race the most expensive LAUSD primary election ever, outpacing even the record-breaking 2017 campaign.

But the pandemic could alter the November vote in ways that aren't easy to predict. Even the widespread policing protests could play a role: activists have called for LAUSD to disband its force of sworn school police officers.

Below are the two candidates in the running for the District 7 seat, listed in alphabetical order by last name, along with a summary of their backgrounds and notable donations or endorsements:

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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. 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.

TANYA ORTIZ FRANKLIN

Background: Ortiz Franklin is on leave from the Partnership for L.A. Schools, an organization created by former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that operates 18 high-need LAUSD schools in Boyle Heights, South L.A. and Watts. Through the Teach for America program, Ortiz Franklin taught in LAUSD for five years before attending law school. In her role at the Partnership, she has focused on implementing restorative justice and social-emotional learning at the schools the organization runs. Ortiz Franklin has also worked on the organization's campaigns to urge LAUSD to distribute more funding to the highest-need schools.

Endorsements and Funding: Ortiz Franklin has endorsements from current LAUSD board members Kelly Gonez and Mónica García. In the primary, pro-charter donor Bill Bloomfield spent thousands to support Ortiz Franklin's campaign. See Ortiz Franklin's full list of endorsements

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DISTRICT 3

This year could potentially be the most expensive LAUSD election ever, and it's in part because of the spending going into the race for District 3. Both the L.A. teachers' union and charter school advocates are vying for control of the board, and together have spent millions on the effort.

Below is a brief guide to the two candidates in the running for the seat in District 3, which encompasses the West San Fernando Valley, plus Sherman Oaks and Studio City. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name, along with a quick summary of their backgrounds and notable donations or endorsements.

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MARILYN KOZIATEK

Background: Koziatek leads the community outreach department for Granada Hills Charter High School, and chairs the education committee for the Valley Industry Commerce Association. She has two children who attend an LAUSD school in Chatsworth.

Endorsements and Funding: Koziatek has the endorsement of the California Charter Schools Association, making her the only LAUSD board candidate in this year's elections to do so. The L.A. Daily News endorsed her in the primary. See the full list of Koziatek's endorsements

On the Issues: Koziatek recently sat for an interview with KPCC/LAist. You can read a summary of her responses below. Jump to the full answer by clicking on a section.

  • On Supt. Austin Beutner: The superintendent has done a fair job handling the COVID-19 pandemic, Koziatek said. She praised the creative partnerships he entered to help vulnerable families. She also indicated his emergency pandemic spending powers can't last forever.
  • On distance learning: Koziatek said that requiring teachers to provide more hours of live instruction means little if they're unable to deliver high-quality lessons.
  • On reopening campuses: While epidemiologists and public health experts should drive any decision to reopen campuses, Koziatek said LAUSD needs to first consult parents and stakeholders. She said many parents are wary of sending their children back.
  • On school police: Koziatek said determining the role of the L.A. School Police Department will require nuanced discussion. She feels the nation's gun laws make the threat of on-campus violence real. She also said solving the root causes of racial injustice requires attention to issues beyond the role of school police. When pressed, Koziatek declined to say whether she would have supported the board's move this summer to cut the LASPD budget by 35%.
  • On LAUSD's funding formula: Koziatek supports an LAUSD formula redistributing dollars to the neediest schools. She said funds for school programs are scarce because of administrative waste. She supports Proposition 15.
  • On charter schools: Koziatek bemoaned how charter school politics have come to dominate LAUSD board debates, saying the issue distracts attention from other issues.

» Read the full Q&A with Koziatek

SCOTT SCHMERELSON

Background: Schmerlson is the incumbent for the District 3 seat, having won the election in 2015. He's a former LAUSD principal, counselor and teacher. Schmerelson voted against the hiring of current LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner, and has become a reliable vote on the board for allies of L.A.'s main teachers' union. He openly supported United Teachers Los Angeles during their 2019 teachers' strike.

During the campaign, Schmerelson faced criticism over his failure to properly disclose personal investments on standard campaign finance forms. Critics filed several formal complaints against Schmerelson. One case was resolved with a warning; others were dismissed outright. But after yet another complaint -- which centered on whether Schmerelson had filed up-to-date disclosure forms meant to inform the public of potential conflicts of interest -- the state's Fair Political Practices Commission announced in August it had fined him $400.

Endorsements and Funding: Schmerelson has the endorsement of UTLA. The L.A. Times endorsed him during the primary. See the full list of Schmerelson's endorsements.

On the Issues: Schmerelson recently sat for an interview with KPCC/LAist. Here's a summary of his responses. You can click on a section to jump to the full answer.

  • On Supt. Austin Beutner: Schmerelson was troubled by some of the consultants Beutner hired early in his tenure, but says those concerns have lessened recently. Schmerelson praised the superintendent's pandemic response, while adding he has pushed Beutner to be more transparent with the board.
  • On distance learning: Schmerelson is satisfied with the balance of live lessons with "asynchronous" instruction spelled out in the latest agreement with LAUSD's teachers union -- which he considers an improvement on last spring's sideletter.
  • On reopening campuses: There are too many outstanding questions to consider reopening campuses now, in Schmerelson's view. He also suggested it's not clear the district has enough personnel to lead small group instruction for all truly needy students.
  • On school police: Schmerelson voted against cutting funding for the L.A. School Police Department. As a former school principal, Schmerelson found officers were well-trained and restrained -- and says the department's role has become misunderstood.
  • On LAUSD's funding formula: Schmelerson supports an LAUSD formula redistributing dollars to the neediest schools. He acknowledged the formula might mean some schools in his relatively-affluent board district might get somewhat less funding.
  • On charter schools: Schmerelson worries about the effect of opening more new charter schools when so many LAUSD-run campuses and existing charters are not fully enrolled.

» Read the full Q&A with Schmerelson

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

Brianna Lee contributed to this report.