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Early Results Of LAUSD’s Most Expensive School Board Election Ever: What Do They Mean?

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The candidates running in November's L.A. Unified school board races. From left: in Board District 3, Marilyn Koziatek, incumbent Scott Schmerelson; in Board District 7, Patricia Castellanos, Tanya Ortiz Franklin (Campaign photos)
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Charter school advocates appear to have blocked Los Angeles’ teachers union from electing a friendly majority to the L.A. Unified School Board.

The union, United Teachers Los Angeles, had hoped to replace the board’s retiring “swing vote” in District 7 with a more reliable ally. But in early counts, UTLA-endorsed Patricia Castellanos trailed opponent Tanya Ortiz Franklin by more than 17 percentage points.

In District 3, however, incumbent and UTLA favorite Scott Schmerelson appears in a strong position to hold on to his seat — despite the California Charter Schools Association outspending the union by a 6-to-1 margin hoping to elect Marilyn Koziatek.

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THE BALANCE OF POWER

For years, charter advocates and UTLA have competed to elect LAUSD board members they view as friendly to their respective causes. Three of the board’s current members — Schmerelson, Jackie Goldberg and George McKenna — were endorsed by UTLA.

No candidate has conceded or declared victory, but if early results hold, UTLA’s hopes of winning a majority on the board would be dashed.

WHAT THE RESULTS MEAN FOR LAUSD — A FEW THOUGHTS:

  • Charter politics influence who educates your kids: In LAUSD, one out of every five students attends a charter school. Teachers unions view charters as an existential threat to district-run schools. A new state law was supposed to ease tensions in districts like LAUSD. Already, charter advocates have accused the current LAUSD board of using this law to hassle charter schools. The board also holds sway over charter school “co-locations” — fraught, forced space-sharing arrangements on LAUSD campuses, which sometimes have sparked protests.
  • Reopening strategy? During the campaign, charter-allied parent advocacy group Speak Up claimed a UTLA-friendly board majority would be less likely to reopen schools for in-person instruction. It’s not clear how the board’s makeup would affect LAUSD’s reopening strategy — but it’s worth noting board members have ceded broad emergency powers to Superintendent Austin Beutner, allowing him to make many pandemic-related decisions. Speaking of which…
  • The superintendent: Schmerelson has suggested it’s time to “modify” the superintendent’s pandemic powers — which Beutner has used to enter fast-track deals to offer COVID-19 tests, free meals, laptops and internet connections.
  • How the district spends money: During the campaign, Franklin and Koziatek stood out for their bold talk about LAUSD’s finances. Franklin said LAUSD must at least consider cuts to employee benefits or even school closures if — and she says it’s a big “if” — such cuts would shore up services for students. By contrast, Schmerelson endeared himself to many UTLA supporters by breaking with the district during the 2019 strike, urging LAUSD leaders to spend more on the union’s demands.
  • L.A. School Police: Over the summer, board members voted to cut the budget for LAUSD’s dedicated police force. Schmerelson voted against that cut. As racial justice activists continue to push for disbanding the department, Schmerelson’s victory would be a big deal: he’s been a staunch supporter of the department in other board fights

BY THE WAY…

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  • Much higher turnout. Up until this year, LAUSD board races were decided in odd-numbered years; turnout was very low. But for the first time since 1906, L.A.’s holding municipal elections in an even-numbered year. Whatever happens, turnout will be much higher: in LAUSD’s Board District 3, according to Political Data, Inc., officials have already received more than 243,000 ballots — which would nearly equal the number of votes cast in all Board District 3 elections between 2003 and 2015.

KEEP FOLLOWING THIS RACE:

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