Tight races for two LAUSD board seats in 2022 midterm vote

In two close races for the Los Angeles Board of Education, Maria Brenes, a community group leader with broad financial support, led Wednesday morning’s bid for a vacancy while school board president Kelly Gonez came out on top in her campaign for re-election .

The votes are still being counted, the next update is expected on Friday.

The competition between Brenes – the longtime leader of local group InnerCity Struggle – and Senior School Board Advisor Rocio Rivas was fiercely contested from the start, with both candidates being backed by funders who eventually resorted to negative ads after initially only used positive messages.

Brenes’ major funders have included supporters of the Charter School and Local 99 of the Services Employees International Union, whose membership includes cafeteria workers, bus drivers, janitors and teaching assistants. Rivas’ generous supporter was the teachers’ union United Teachers Los Angeles.

As of Wednesday morning, Brenes had 50.8% of the vote and Rivas 49.2%. The vote lead was 852 in a district that includes downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, mostly to the east.

In the other competition, the lead between Gonez and Cleveland High School Spanish teacher Marvin Rodriguez came as a surprise. Gonez had claimed all major endorsements, had a 47-to-1 spending advantage and benefited from more than $450,000 in independent spending.

As of Wednesday morning, the race for the seat, which represents most of the eastern San Fernando Valley, was still tight.

Gonez had 50.3% and Rodriguez had 49.7%. The majority of votes was 298.

Late Tuesday night, Gonez thanked supporters and said she expects “good news soon” but did not claim a win.

The outcome of the fight between Rivas and Brenes could influence the direction of the seven-strong governing body for the country’s second-largest school system.

Rivas said she hopes to halt the growth of charter schools and improve oversight of these privately managed public schools. In contrast, one of Brenes’ top priorities is to shift more funds to campuses with the largest percentage of students living in high-poverty, violence-affected areas.

The runoff election between Rivas, 49, a senior adviser to school board member Jackie Goldberg, and Brenes, 46, the longtime director of Boyle Heights-based group InnerCity Struggle, had drawn two unions and two businessmen — joining forces slinging more than 8.4 million dollars in the race.

All four candidates had promised to address a dizzying array of challenges — declining enrollment, teenage substance abuse, school safety concerns, pandemic backlash and wide attainment gaps affecting Black and Hispanic students — and have strikingly similar views on many issues.

But especially in District 2 – the competition between Rivas and Brenes – the campaign was largely driven by the candidates’ attitudes towards the years-long debate over charter schools and the level of support they have received from unions.

Brenes raised far more money than Rivas – and also benefited from a much larger independent campaign on her behalf. Overall, independent spending in support of Brenes exceeded $5.1 million, while United Teachers Los Angeles spent nearly $2.9 million in support of Rivas.

Businessmen Reed Hastings and Bill Bloomfield also poured $434,689 into a negative campaign against Rivas in hopes of eroding a 14 percentage point lead she held in the June primary when four candidates stood on the ballot.

The effort was essentially successful — enough that the teachers union began running negative ads about Brenes, though the union did not list the ads as negative expenses in required disclosures as of Tuesday.

Downtown and eastern neighborhoods have long been the political stronghold of Monica Garcia, who was barred from running for office due to term limits. Garcia was known as a strong advocate for charter schools — which are privately run, mostly non-union, and supported by public school funding — and a key Local 99 ally. Garcia also worked closely with outside activists, including Brenes, to address issues such as to handle school abolition police and to channel more money into schools serving students they determined were in greatest need due to poverty, neighborhood violence and other factors.

Brenes embraced Garcia’s legacy – and inherited most of her supporters – but wanted to avoid being drawn into the chasm between charters and teachers’ unions.

In contrast, Rivas spoke directly of wanting to limit the growth, influence and independence of charter schools whenever possible — even though their right to share public school space and funding is enshrined in state law.

Riva’s background included working in the department that oversees charter schools for LA Unified.

In District 6 in the eastern San Fernando Valley, 43-year-old high school teacher Rodriguez tried to overthrow Gonez, who was first elected to the school board in 2017.

Gonez was instrumental in Supt’s recent hiring. Alberto Carvalho, the longtime leader of the Miami-Dade school system.

While 34-year-old Gonets rallied all major support, including that of the teachers’ union, the workers’ group didn’t spend much on her. Still, with $500,000 raised, Gonez had an overwhelming fundraising advantage — Rodriguez only raised $11,000. Additionally, Local 99 and the political action committee of Netflix founder Hastings and retired businessman Bloomfield together spent nearly $400,000 on her.

In the June primary, Gonez nearly won re-election with 48 percent of the vote.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-08/2022-california-election-lausd-seats-results Tight races for two LAUSD board seats in 2022 midterm vote

Alley Einstein

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