School board election: Split decision for Deasy; 3rd race to runoff
In a school board election that attracted national money and attention, a incumbent aligned with Supt. John Deasy and an incumbent supported by the teachers union each won Tuesday night.
A third candidate, Deasy supporter Antonio Sanchez, is headed to a runoff. If Sanchez wins, Deasy would maintain a workable -- though fragile -- majority on most issues.
The Board of Education race is "the sleeper of this election," said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. "It matters a great deal. And there are forces mobilized on both sides that are significant and opposed."
Total spending by organizations independent of the candidates surpassed $5 million.
Two-term incumbent and Deasy ally Monica Garcia won 56% of the votes in District 2, which encompasses downtown Los Angeles and surrounding neighborhoods.
One-term incumbent Steve Zimmer collected 52.1% of the vote in District 4 in a close race against Kate Anderson, who garnered 47.9% of the vote.
It was the most expensive battle, with the teachers union and other employees unions throwing their support behind Zimmer. Parent and attorney Kate Anderson was backed by the Coalition for School Reform, a political action committee spearheaded by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The coalition amassed a war chest that surpassed $3.8 million in support of candidates considered Deasy allies: Garcia, Anderson and Sanchez.
Donations to the coalition included $1 million from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; $300,000 from the California Charter Schools Assn.; $250,000 from StudentsFirst, the advocacy group headed by former District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee; and $250,000 from a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
Campaign committees affiliated with United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union, spent close to $1 million, according to the City Ethics Commission. This included $150,000 from the American Federation of Teachers.
"The biggest donor was a non-L.A. mayor," Sonenshein said. "That gives this election a flavor that others didn't have. This feels more nationalized."
The issues, too, are ones that have triggered debate in school districts across the country.
In a major revamp of teacher evaluations, Deasy has directed that student standardized test scores should count for 30% of a teacher's performance review. He also wants layoffs, when necessary, to be based on these evaluations rather than on seniority. An early attempt by Deasy to depart from a strict seniority system is being challenged in court.
The superintendent also supports changing state law so that school districts would have final authority over firing tenured teachers suspected of misconduct. Currently, a state commission can overturn a district decision.
In recent months, the superintendent has had a sometimes-shaky majority on the seven-member school board. At stake in the election was Deasy's authority — perhaps even his job.
-- Howard Blume
Photo: Two-term incumbent and Deasy ally Monica Garcia won re-election to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times