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Politics

LAUSD Board: What We Know So Far About The Elections For Districts 2, 4, And 6

An overhead shot of a space where a public meeting — a meeting of the L.A. Unified School Board — is taking place. There's a half-circle-shaped dais at the front of the room where several public officials are seated. The front rows of theater-style seats below are filled with people wearing red. One of the red-clad attendees of the meeting is addressing the board.
L.A. Unified School Board members meet in 2016.
(Kyle Stokes
/
LAist)
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Note
    • We'll have live results shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m.

District 2 Results

District 4 Results

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District 6 Results

A runoff election this fall will be necessary to settle at least one — and perhaps even two — of this year's Los Angeles Unified school board races.

Preliminary results show teachers union favorite Rocío Rivas will face María Brenes, the longtime director of an advocacy organization on L.A.'s eastside, in November's general election to decide who fills the soon-to-be-vacant Board District 2 seat.

A runoff election also may be necessary in the east San Fernando Valley, where early vote totals show incumbent Kelly Gonez excruciatingly close to the 50% she needs to avoid a showdown in November with second-place finisher Marvín Rodriguez in Board District 6.

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But a runoff likely won't be necessary on L.A.'s westside, where Board District 4 incumbent Nick Melvoin's re-election appears secure.

About These Races

Los Angeles Unified school board members are ultimately responsible for the education of half a million public school students: 430,000 attend district-run public schools; 112,000 attend charter schools that board members also oversee.

For a decade, a bitter debate over charters' role in the school system has made LAUSD's board elections both expensive and nasty, regularly featuring millions spent on negative ads. Big donors who oppose teachers union influence, and who often ally with charter school groups, are usually the biggest spenders.

But spending in this year's primary is way down. Pro-charter groups aren't mounting direct challenges to any candidate endorsed by their usual rivals — the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles.

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This may be, in part, because the pandemic has scrambled LAUSD politics, pushing aside the usual charter debate as other issues take on new urgency — namely, LAUSD's enrollment decline, the role of school police and school funding issues.

There are seven school districts, with three seats up for grabs in the June 7 primary: Board Districts 2, 4 and 6. We're watching Board District 2 particularly closely — the incumbent is termed out, and a wide open field is vying to replace her.

What's At Stake?

Among the majors issues facing the L.A. Unified board, which oversees the nation's second largest school district:

  • Enrollment: The LAUSD faces significant declines in enrollment, which means declining funding — funding that is needed to make the kind of improvements that could entice students back to LAUSD schools. Board members could soon have to make painful decisions about how to manage that decline; they may even be forced to consider school closures unless present trends reverse quickly.
  • Learning loss: The COVID-19 pandemic put many students at academic risk as the district struggled to implement a coherent plan for distance learning.
  • Mental health: The school board will have to figure out how to boost mental health support for students who report their mental health has suffered far more than their transcripts during the pandemic.
  • Charter school management: Though the politics around charter schools may not be the hottest issue in this election cycle, board members still play a key role in regulating more than 200 independent charter schools that operate within LAUSD. Board members must mediating disputes over where to place co-located charter schools within their districts — and broadly, also have a policy responsibility to make the process tolerable for everyone.
  • School police: The next school board will be responsible for successfully implementing the Black Student Achievement Plan and proving out the value of redirecting $25 million in funding that previously went to school police. Advocates are likely to pressure the board to make further cuts.
  • Universal Pre-K: Ultimate accountability for implementing access to transitional kindergarten (TK) for every 4-year-old in California lies with the board.

District 2

This district has long been anchored on L.A.’s Eastside, representing downtown, Boyle Heights and East L.A.. After recent redistricting, Board District 2 also now includes Highland Park and parts of East Hollywood.

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Four candidates are vying to replace the term-limited incumbent, Mónica García. Here's who's running:

This election is the most competitive LAUSD race this year — and also shows how the old "charter school-versus-teachers union" frame doesn't quite explain this year's race.
Brenes, the race's leading fundraiser, is the longtime executive director of Inner City Struggle. Her advocacy organization is part of a coalition that pursues its own agenda at the LAUSD board — an agenda that overlaps a little with both the teachers union's goals and pro-charter camp's aims. SEIU Local 99, the labor union that represents non-teaching LAUSD staff, has spent nearly $1 million to boost Brenes' campaign.

After a party at her campaign headquarters on Primary Night, Brenes said she was "proud of the campaign we've run, the coalition we've built."

"It's surreal that we got to this moment," she said. "It's been an incredible, thrilling, exciting, momentous six months since I declared my candidacy."

Early returns suggest Rivas got the largest share of the vote on Tuesday. She's benefitted from nearly $800,000 in support from UTLA. A former education researcher, Rivas has been a deputy to current District 5 board member Jackie Goldberg, arguably the teachers union's most reliable ally, since 2019.

To Rivas, the early results suggested many voters were torn between two good choices.

"A lot of people felt it was a toss-up: 'They're both great candidates, let's see who wins.' I think that's probably what [the results] are showing," Rivas said in an interview. "There's one group that felt I was the better candidate."

"If it's going to go for a runoff," Rivas added, "I'm ready for it — good and ready."

District 4

Board District 4 covers the westside and parts of the southwest San Fernando Valley. Here's who's running:

Neither of the challengers to incumbent board member Nick Melvoin have reported raising any money for their campaigns. Despite deep distrust for Melvoin among UTLA leadership, the union declined to recruit an opponent for him. These forces — plus more than $1 million in outside spending in his favor — paved the way for Melvoin's apparent re-election without the need for a runoff.

District 6

Board District 6 includes the San Fernando Valley east of the 405 — including North Hollywood, Panorama City, Pacoima and Sun Valley, but leaving out Van Nuys and Burbank. Here's who's running.

This race is another that shows shifts in LAUSD's usual "charter school-versus-teachers union" debate.

In 2017, more than $3 million in outside spending from the California Charter School Association helped Kelly Gonez beat a UTLA-backed opponent to win this seat.

But Gonez shrewdly courted the union's support throughout her term, advancing a huge UTLA priority when she voted to slash the L.A. School Police Department's budget. Ultimately, UTLA leadership passed over one of the union's own members — high school Spanish teacher Marvin Rodríguez — and endorsed Gonez for re-election.

Though UTLA has spent no outside money to boost Gonez's chances, their endorsement also made it difficult for Rodriguez to gather any fundraising momentum.

Now begins what will likely be several days — if not weeks — of watching as county election officials tabulate mail-in ballots from Board District 6.

If Gonez's vote totals don't rise above the 50% she needs to avoid a runoff, will UTLA spend money to boost her re-election bid — even if that means undercutting Rodriguez's chances in the general?

At the Rivas campaign party Tuesday night, UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz said it was premature to discuss the union's next steps in Board District 6, though she expressed confidence that Gonez will prevail.

"The night is young … Results are early," Myart-Cruz said, "and we always debrief tomorrow. We have folks at her [Gonez's] campaign tonight, so we'll be debriefing all of the races tomorrow."

An outside political group representing the L.A. School Police officers' union spent $15,000 on a last-minute text message campaign in hopes of boosting the campaign of Jess Arana, a retiring school police sergeant. Arana appears headed for a third-place finish.

Your Guide

You Should Know

How Local Primaries Work
  • If any one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the June primary, they will win the office outright. Otherwise, the two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the November runoff.

Updated June 7, 2022 at 11:32 PM PDT
Updated to account for early results on Primary Night.