There are 38 candidates vying for five seats on the Los Angeles school board and four seats on the Board of Trustees of the Los Angeles community colleges in Tuesday's election. All of them are talking about educational issues.
But talk of overcrowding, low test scores and the construction of new schools has been overshadowed by the role of the teachers unions in the races. The unions have jumped in against most of the incumbents on both boards because of decisions that went against them, and in some of the closer races, the money and volunteers provided by the organizations could tip the scales.
Los Angeles school board President Rita Walters, for example, is facing a well-financed challenge from Mark Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who has been endorsed by United Teachers-Los Angeles. The union, irked at Walters and two other incumbents because of the continuing stalemate over teacher salaries and other issues, has contributed more than $20,000 to Ridley-Thomas' campaign, according to campaign finance reports.
And in the community college races, the American Federation of Teachers College Guild has endorsed only one of three incumbents running for reelection.
UTLA decided to oppose Walters and board member John Greenwood, who represents a district stretching from Watts to San Pedro. The union also withheld its endorsement from incumbent Jackie Goldberg, whose district comprises the downtown and Hollywood areas, but it is not backing a challenger in that election.
'Agency Fee' Issue
In addition to its dissatisfaction with salary negotiations, UTLA is at odds with the school board over the issue of whether teachers who do not belong to the union should pay an "agency fee" to UTLA because the union is their bargaining agent in negotiations with the board. (About 6,000 of the school system's 26,000 teachers do not belong to the union.) Greenwood and Walters both voted with a board majority to reject the agency fee.
Walters, 56, touts her record as an advocate of the interests of her inner-city District 1 and emphasizes her authorship of the "C-average rule," which requires students to be passing in all their courses in order to participate in sports and other after-school activities.
Ridley-Thomas, 32, claims that Walters has been unwilling to meet with area parents and community leaders on certain issues and blames her for low achievement scores among inner-city high school students.
In the District 7 race, the union has given challenger Warren Furutani, 39, nearly $12,000 to help unseat Greenwood, 42. Furutani, an administrator at UCLA, has blamed Greenwood for part of the rancor over the stalled pay talks. In the closing days of the campaign, he also has been highly critical of the board for not ordering the closure of an elementary school in South Gate, where some toxic contamination has been found.
Test Scores Improved
Greenwood defends his record by citing improvements in the test scores of District 7 students during the eight years he has served on the school board. He also accuses Furutani of embellishing his UCLA credentials.
The third race involving an incumbent, in District 3, has been somewhat quieter because of the union's neutrality. Incumbent Goldberg is running against the man she ousted from the board four years ago, businessman Tony Trias, and is generally regarded as likely to win reelection.
There are two races Tuesday in which there is no incumbent.
In the West San Fernando Valley's District 4, seven candidates are running to fill the last two years of a term begun by David Armor, who resigned last year. Tom Bartman, who represented the area from 1980-85, was appointed to Armor's seat and is not seeking election to a full term.
Year-Round Schools Opposed
The candidates agree in their opposition to year-around schools and have had varying degrees of success in raising money. According to campaign reports filed last week, four of the candidates have raised at least $23,000: political fund-raiser Bunny Field, $33,000; former legislative aide George St. Johns, $31,000; accountant Barbara Romey, $24,900, and educational consultant Julie Korenstein, $23,600.
Korenstein was endorsed by the UTLA, but union officials acknowledge that their support may be of limited significance in the relatively conservative district.
In the Eastside District 5, where the union endorsed no one, Los Angeles community colleges trustee Leticia Quezada, 32, has attracted the support of much of the area's Latino political establishment in her bid to succeed Larry Gonzalez, who vacated the seat to make an unsuccessful run for the Los Angeles City Council earlier this year.