An open seat appears headed for a runoff based on early results in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Board of Education election, while two incumbents appeared on the path to re-election.
The open place is in District 2, where Rocio Rivas was ahead of Maria Brenes. The early tally includes a portion of the votes cast ahead of the last and traditional day of in-person voting on Tuesday. If these trends continue, Brenes and Rivas would face each other in a November runoff.
District 2 includes downtown LA and adjacent neighborhoods, but also extends north and east of downtown.
In the other races, incumbents Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin were well ahead in early vote counts. They were prohibitive favorites because they were already in office and because their challengers had limited campaign resources. If the incumbents finish with a majority of the votes cast, they can avoid a November runoff against their next challenger.
Winners will face daunting and unusual challenges in administering the LA Unified School District as part of the seven-member school board. In the short term, the country’s second largest school system will have unprecedented financial resources to assist in the unprecedented tasks of academic and emotional recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
But declining enrollments, the end of one-off pandemic assistance, and a widely predicted economic downturn pose long-term threats to the stability of academic programs, expanded psychological support, quality health services, and jobs.
Despite the high stakes, the campaigns have been less caustic than in recent years, and a key player — California Charter Schools Assn. – kept his direct fire and relied on other donors to support favored candidates.
Charters are privately run public schools, mostly non-union, that compete for students with traditional district-run schools. For years, proponents and opponents have fought over the rapid growth of charters and their legal right to claim available classroom space on county-owned campuses. This conflict led to record spending and mudslinging at school board races fueled by charter advocates on the one hand and the teachers’ union on the other.
However, such conflicts declined somewhat as all public schools grappled with the common enemy of the pandemic. And the reality of declining enrollments means new charters would risk taking students from existing charters.
The softened conflict over charters carried over into the primaries. In previous elections, charter supporters and their allies were the biggest donors, but for the open seat in District 2, the independent campaigns were put together by two opposing unions – who are mostly friendly rivals.
United Teachers Los Angeles launched an independent campaign on behalf of Rivas and as of early Tuesday has spent more than $772,000. In contrast, Rivas’ own campaign had raised $54,269.
The union powering Brenes is the Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents the largest number of non-teaching employees, including bus drivers, teaching assistants, janitors, site workers and cafeteria workers. Local 99 is responsible for virtually the entire independent campaign, valued at nearly $900,000. Brenes’ own campaign had raised an additional $291,705 as of June 1, according to campaign reports.
Across the board, the candidate most vocal on charter school regulation and containment is Rivas, a senior advisor to current board member Jackie Goldberg. In an interview, Brenes more or less pushed the issue of charters aside, saying her focus must be on improving and supporting schools under direct district administration.
Brenes, the founder and director of the nonprofit organization InnerCity Struggle, is the candidate who most strongly identifies with outgoing board member Monica Garcia, who was unable to run again due to term limits. Rivas is the candidate most critical of Garcia.
Next in resources and votes were parent and community activist Erica Vilardi-Espinoza, who had support from law enforcement unions, and substitute teacher Miguel Angel Segura.
Districts 4 and 6
The unequal financial playing field was most evident in District 4, which stretches from Hollywood to the Westside and into part of the western San Fernando Valley.
Melvoin’s own campaign has raised nearly $550,000. Additionally, retired businessman Bill Bloomfield has rejoined the fight, spending more than $1.6 million on an independent campaign on behalf of Melvoin. Bloomfield said he considers himself an education advocate rather than a charter advocate, but the education and community leaders he relies on for political advice are either pro-charter or at least charter-friendly. Bloomfield’s spending included negative ads targeting Melvoin’s opponents: more than $150,000 against Tracey Schroeder and more than $21,000 against Gentille Borkhadarian.
In contrast, both Schröder and Borkhardarian report not having raised any money at all. Bloomfield’s spending against Melvoin’s opponents came out of apparent concern that Schroeder’s nomination – as a teacher – might attract votes, as did Borkhadarian’s nomination as a parent.
Bloomfield has used this strategy before, paying for negative ads against a resource-poor teacher who ran for District 7 two years ago. In this race, his preferred candidate Tanya Ortiz Frankly finally prevailed.
Notably missing from the District 4 competition was the teachers’ union, which conceded the race to Melvoin without supporting him. The single-term incumbent won support from other major local unions.
In District 6 — in the eastern San Fernando Valley — school board president Gonez had the unusual advantage of being backed by both the teachers’ union and charter advocates. This put their challengers, teacher Marvin Rodriguez and school police Sgt. Jess Arana, in a difficult position from the start.
But Gonez didn’t get as much independent financial backing as frontrunners in other races. Total spending was just over $48,000 – with contributions from Local 99, the teachers union and Bloomfield. Gonez’s own campaign raised more than $285,000, significantly more than its opponents.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-07/2022-los-angeles-schools-board-election-results 2022 Los Angeles school board election results