Jon M. Lauritzen, a career teacher who proudly championed the views of teachers on the Los Angeles Board of Education, died Monday of cancer, just months after losing a hard-fought campaign for reelection. He was 68.
As a Los Angeles Unified School District board member from 2003 until July, Lauritzen was regarded as the closest ally of the teachers' union, United Teachers Los Angeles. It was an association that he said arose from common beliefs, rather than from being beholden to the union's political clout.
The Chatsworth resident entered the 2003 school board race as a well-liked but relatively unknown retired teacher and then rode union backing to defeat school board President Caprice Young, who had the support of former Mayor Richard Riordan.
During his board term, Lauritzen supported efforts to expand and update vocational education. At the same time, he wanted students who followed this career path to have full access to the advanced academic courses that would qualify them for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.
With other board members, he supported the push to convert large, "factory-style" high schools with high dropout rates into smaller learning communities. He also endorsed the adoption of full-day kindergarten -- a position that he took before the union supported it, Lauritzen noted.
His union ties -- he was present when the teachers' union was formed -- made him a target for civic leaders who supported the bid of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to take over the district. Lauritzen opposed the idea as fundamentally undemocratic, breaking ranks with union leaders who had forged a legislative compromise with Villaraigosa.
"If the school board no longer has any authority, then there wouldn't be much point in having a board," Lauritzen said early this year.
After the law passed, Lauritzen joined with fellow board members in successfully overturning it in court.
Lauritzen faced reelection against an opponent backed by Villaraigosa. He lost a runoff to Deputy City Atty. Tamar Galatzan, whose campaign spending broke records for a school-board race.
Lauritzen was born Oct. 27, 1938, in Short Creek, Ariz., one of eight children of Jonreed Lauritzen, an author, and Verda, a teacher. As a teenager, he moved with his family to Southern California, where he graduated from Canoga Park High School in 1956 and Cal State Northridge in 1960, with a degree in political science, said his wife, Janice.
He met his wife, an aspiring teacher, while in the Army. They married in 1965. He returned to Cal State Northridge to earn a teaching credential in 1966.
He started his teaching career at Columbus Middle School, where he switched from history to math because then, as now, there was a shortage of math teachers. In the early 1980s, he became one of the district's first computer teachers. He later earned a master's degree at Northridge along with his wife, as part of an inaugural class of teachers specializing in computer science.
"The basic idea of teaching computers back then was: You wrote your own textbook," Janice Lauritzen said. "We were teaching students and staff."
He also started a computer science program at Canoga High, where he remained until his retirement in 2000.
As a teacher active in union politics, Lauritzen had fought for health benefits and grievance rights. He made unsuccessful runs for the state Assembly in 1996 and 2000 as a Democratic nominee in a heavily Republican district.
Lauritzen battled brain cancer during his board term but never missed a regular meeting. Once, he had surgery on Thursday and attended the board meeting the following Tuesday. He attended few campaign events, however. Never a fluid speaker, he relied on teachers, students, friends and family to campaign on his behalf.
In addition to his wife, Lauritzen is survived by son, Eric, an artist; daughter, Ridi, a teacher; and sisters Hallie Spence and Karen Shapley.
Services will be private.