Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

In what has become a common theme in Los Angeles Unified School District board elections, the issue of charter schools will play a key role as area residents cast votes to fill three board seats.

Backers of charter schools have invested big money in the races, hoping to get a majority on the board in favor of dramatically expanding the number of charters, which are publicly funded but often operate free of unions and some regulations that govern traditional public schools.

Charter-school backers have been particularly focused on unseating Board of Education President Steve Zimmer in District 4, throwing their financial might behind challengers Nick Melvoin, a teacher/attorney, and Allison Polhill, a former president of the Palisades Charter High School board. Also vying for the seat is public relations executive Gregory Martayan.

Incumbent Monica Garcia is a supporter of charter schools who’s being challenged in the District 2 by teacher Lisa Alva and businessman Carl Petersen.

The District 6 seat is vacant thanks to the departure of Monica Ratliff, who is seeking a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. Charter school backers are making a big push for teacher Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez. United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing LAUSD teachers, is backing activist Imelda Padilla in the race, which also includes former Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, parents/activists Gwendolyn Posey and Araz Parseghian, and animal-rights activist Jose Sandoval.

If charter-backed candidates prevail in all three races, the trio would team with board member Ref Rodriguez to create a majority on the seven-member board.

Supporters — including former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and philanthropist Eli Broad — contend that charters tend to have better results for students and provide more choices for parents, but opponents point to sometimes-questionable management practices, alleging that some of the schools hand-pick higher-performing students to the detriment of others.

Critics also contend a proliferation of charters would be a financial hit to the LAUSD, which receives state funding based on enrollment.

—City News Service

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