Two races for Los Angeles Unified school board are too close to call

Los Angeles School Board President Kelly Gonez is in surprisingly close competition with challenger Marvin Rodriguez for a seat on the Board of Education representing the eastern San Fernando Valley. In a second board contest – to represent downtown and the Eastside – Maria Brenes has a small lead over Rocio Rivas.

Mail ballots are still arriving and votes have yet to be counted. But in incomplete results for District 6 in the East Valley, Gonez had 50.3% of the vote counted and Rodriguez had 49.7%.

In District 2, Brenes had 50.8% of the vote and Rivas 49.2%. The next count update is scheduled for Friday.

LA School Board Candida Marvin Rodriguez

LA School Board Candidate Marvin Rodriguez

The narrow gap between Gonez, 34, and Cleveland High School Spanish teacher Rodriguez, 43, was unexpected given the Gonez campaign’s huge funding advantage — her own $500,000 war chest and more than $450,000 in independent spending you. Rodriguez had raised just over $11,000, including $6,000 he borrowed for his campaign.

Gonez had also accomplished the relatively rare feat of garnering support from both the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers’ union and charter school supporters. Her candidacy was also supported by Local 99 of Service Employees International, which represents the school system’s cafeteria workers, bus drivers, janitors and teacher’s assistants, and sent more than 320 volunteers to knock on doors on behalf of Brenes and Gonez.

First elected in 2017, Gonez was instrumental in the recent hiring of longtime Miami Supt. Alberto Carvalho leads LA Unified. She almost won re-election in the June primary.

But many of their supporters made less effort than they did in the Rivas/Brenes race – perhaps because an easy Gonez victory was suspected. The teachers’ union did not pump any significant money into their campaign, and other supporters poured more money into the other competition.

Rodriguez was supported by members of a major pro-union Facebook page and two parent groups – the California Students Union and United Parents Los Angeles – whose supporters have slammed the teachers union and the district’s lengthy school closures and other safety measures during the Covid19 pandemic.

“Many of ours [East Valley] Families have been very frustrated with Kelly Gonez because of prolonged school closures, severe mitigation, her support for defunding school police and the general lack of community engagement,” said Christie Pesicka, a parent groups leader.

Those who know Rodriguez like him, said supporter Evelyn Aleman, a public relations expert and community organizer among Spanish-speaking families.

“I know his work ethic and support for his students,” said Aleman, who played no part in the campaign. “He taught my two daughters and was an excellent, dedicated teacher who also directed extracurricular activities for children.”

In contrast, the close results between Brenes (46) and Rivas (49) as replacements for recalled CEO Monica Garcia came as no surprise – although Rivas finished first in the four-man peloton by 14 percentage points in June.

The teachers union backed Rivas, a senior adviser to board member Jackie Goldberg, spending nearly $2.9 million on her. Rivas has been emphatic about trying to limit the growth, influence and independence of charters, even though state law protects many of their prerogatives.

Brenes, the leader of the InnerCity Struggle community group, raised far more money than Rivas and also benefited from more than $5.1 million in independent spending, primarily from Local 99 and the Political Action Committee controlled by retired businessman Bill Bloomfield and the Netflix founder Reed Hastings, a charter school supporter.

Charter schools are privately run, mostly non-union public schools that may share public campuses and are publicly funded.

All four candidates pledged to address a dizzying array of challenges — declining enrollments, teenage substance abuse, school safety concerns, pandemic backlash, and wide attainment gaps affecting Black and Hispanic students. Two races for Los Angeles Unified school board are too close to call

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