Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Four seats on the Los Angeles Unified School District board are up for grabs in today’s election, although the bulk of attention is being paid to incumbent Bennett Kayser’s effort to hold onto his District 5 seat in the face of staunch opposition from charter-school supporters.

Kayser, 68, is seeking his second term on the seven-member board, but his general opposition to charter schools has made him a target of a well- funded political action committee that is supporting his chief opponent — Ref Rodriguez, the founder of a chain of charter schools known as Partnership to Uplift Communities.

Kayser, a former teacher and technology coordinator for the district’s Independent Studies program, has the backing of the powerful United Teachers Los Angeles, but even the teachers’ union is being outpaced in spending by the California Charter Schools Association, which has spent nearly $700,000 in support of Rodriguez, 43.

Also battling for the District 5 seat is Andrew Thomas, 49, a teacher and educational researcher who has positioned himself as a middle-ground candidate between Kayser and Rodriguez.

The District 5 seat represents an area that includes Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, Bell, Cudahy, Los Feliz and Huntington Park.

In District 1, George McKenna is unopposed in his reelection bid. Richard Vladovic, the board’s president, is expected to cruise to a reelection win in District 7 against candidates Lydia Gutierrez and Euna Anderson.

Meanwhile, Tamar Galatzan also has the support of the California Charter Association in her bid for re-election in the San Fernando Valley’s District 3. The deputy Los Angeles city attorney has five challengers, boosting the odds that she may be forced into a May 19 runoff election.

Squaring off against Galatzan are Carl J. Petersen, an activist, parent and logistics director for a security-camera firm; community activist and former English teacher Ankur Patel; retired LAUSD teacher and principal Scott Mark Schmerelson; consulting firm founder and nonprofit trainer Filiberto Gonzalez; and business owner and nonprofit founder Elizabeth Badger Bartels.

The school board will have to tackle some tough issues in the coming months. The district is still searching for a permanent superintendent, since Ramon Cortines was appointed merely on an interim basis to replace John Deasy. The district is also locked in difficult contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles, with the possibility of a strike looming as educators push for higher salaries and smaller class sizes.

—City News Service

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