Two incumbents and a school principal won their races for the Los Angeles Board of Education, while two contests for the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees were headed for runoffs, election returns indicated early today.
With nearly all of the votes counted, Victoria Castro, a 25-year school district veteran and junior high school principal, had garnered more than the 50% majority vote needed to win the primary and was far ahead of Larry Gonzalez, a former school board member. The two had waged an intense campaign in a newly carved school board district stretching from South Gate to Pico-Union.
Castro's election will for the first time bring a second Latino representative to the seven-member school board. About 80% of residents and 50% of the voters in District 2 are Latino. The mammoth Los Angeles Unified School District is 64% Latino.
Castro, 47, said Tuesday night voters have been responsive to her plans to improve school safety. "All parents want to be able to send their child to school and expect that child to come back," she said.
Veteran school board member Julie Korenstein had just over the 50% majority and a more than 2 to 1 lead over challenger Eli Brent, head of the principals union.
Incumbent Mark Slavkin, 31, also eclipsed the majority vote needed over challenger Douglas Lasken, 47, an elementary school teacher.
In college board Office No. 2, incumbent Trustee Patrick Owens, 58, battled seven challengers and was trailing labor lawyer Elizabeth Garfield, 40, who is backed by the American Federation of Teachers Community College Guild. They will meet in a runoff June 8. San Fernando Valley businessman Joseph Ortiz, 51, and administrator Maria Escalante, 50, were among the challengers.
"Things are looking terrific," Garfield said. "What is clear to me is that the city is in social and economic crisis and we need good leadership."
Owens said early Wednesday he was not surprised to be forced into a runoff. "I'm exactly where I thought I would be," he said. "I was outspent."
Trustee Lindsay Conner, 37, handily won reelection to Office No. 4, but Althea Baker, 43, of Office No. 6, was falling slightly short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff with accountant Peter C. Halt, 32.
The Los Angeles school board races come at a time of unprecedented crisis for the nation's second-largest school district, and the turmoil has provided ample fodder for candidates.
Public opinion of district leaders and administrators is low, a potential $137-million shortfall is looming over next year, and two recent fatal campus shootings have prompted the daily use of metal detectors at high schools.
And this week the threat of a crippling teachers strike has resurfaced after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge blocked the district from adopting a hard-won contract until it can find the $36 million to pay for it.
At the same time, efforts to radically reshape the mammoth district are proceeding along two conflicting tracks. A strong movement to break up the sprawling 700-square-mile, 640,000-student district into several units is gaining momentum just as the system embarks on a reform plan, called LEARN, that will shift decision-making power to individual school sites. Restructuring the district is the issue that has garnered the most attention in all three races.
In the 2nd District, Gonzalez and Castro waged spirited campaigns that paid special attention to five voter-rich Southeast Los Angeles County cities served by the school district: South Gate, Maywood, Cudahy, Huntington Park and Bell.
Both candidates opposed breaking up the district and pushed a theme important to Latino voters: parent empowerment at the school site. However, both have distinctly different backgrounds and style.
Gonzalez, who served on the school board from 1983 to 1987 and now works as station manager of KMEX, a Spanish language television station, touted his experience as a businessman as critical to managing the giant district. He also is the father of two girls who attend Los Angeles public schools and told voters that he would make decisions that are best for children from a parent's perspective.
Castro, the principal at Belvedere Junior High School in East Los Angeles, said her hands-on experience as an administrator and former teacher would enable her to make the best decisions for schools. She has said that many of the district's problems were taking root while Gonzalez served on the board and that she is more in touch with schools' needs.
Gonzalez won the support of United Teachers-Los Angeles; Castro was endorsed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who soundly defeated Gonzalez in a Los Angeles City Council race in 1987.
The teachers' union played a critical role in the District 6 race in the mid-San Fernando Valley, giving more than $80,000 in cash and services to incumbent Korenstein against challenger Brent of the principals union.