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Bennett Kayser takes lead in Los Angeles school board runoff

Bennett Kayser, favored by teachers, is vying with mayoral favorite Luis Sanchez to replace Yolie Flores in the 5th District.

May 18, 2011|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times

Bennett Kayser, the candidate favored by the teachers union, appeared to be in the lead for a Los Angeles Board of Education seat Tuesday night, ahead of Luis Sanchez, the pick of the mayor, according to returns.

The race to represent the 5th District, which stretches from Los Feliz to Maywood, was the only school board race to go to a runoff. Three other seats were decided in March, but neither Sanchez, chief of staff to the current board president, nor Kayser, a retired teacher, was able to garner a majority of voters. The winner will replace Yolie Flores, who chose not to run again.

Sanchez was backed by several large labor groups and key politicians, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who helped raise funds for Sanchez's campaign; Kayser was supported by both the school teachers and administrators unions.

United Teachers Los Angeles has spent almost $620,000 in support of Kayser, who did almost none of his own fundraising, and in opposition to Sanchez. A group largely funded by the Service Employees International Union Local 99 spent about $318,000 for Sanchez and against Kayser.

"It looks, so far, like we've been very successful," said teachers union president A.J. Duffy, who said he was still waiting to hear about voter turnout in southeastern cities where Sanchez may have stronger support.

There had been a flurry of last-minute activity. An automated call went out Monday night reminding families in the area to vote, although it did not mention either candidate. The call did not cost the district any money and was requested by the local district superintendent who oversees the area involved in the race.

Board President Monica Garcia, Sanchez's boss, also sent an email Tuesday morning urging voters to cast ballots for Sanchez. She had endorsed him earlier.

The seven-member school board is taking on a thorny set of issues this year: continued efforts to deal with a budget shortfall, negotiations on a new contract with the teachers union and a revamped teacher evaluation system. Additionally, the nation's second-largest school district could potentially have to approve up to 7,000 layoff notices in July.

Four members of the board already are aligned with the mayor, and a Kayser victory would still not give the teachers union a majority of supporters.

The runoff campaign turned negative as election day approached. The two candidates accused each other of ethics violations, although the city Ethics Commission, which oversees school district races, did not sanction either one.

A campaign mailer for Kayser claimed that Sanchez took lavish trips at taxpayer expense and depicted him in a bathrobe in a hotel room, holding a glass of orange juice.

Sanchez, 36, took one trip to Washington, D.C., in 2007 to meet with Congress members and their staffs.

A campaign mailer for Sanchez claimed that Kayser had failed to pay his property taxes, a charge he denies, and that he lacked experience handling budgets or managing staff, although Kayser was the director of information technology for the Pasadena Unified School District for several years.

Kayser, 64, has early stage Parkinson's disease, which he has said would not affect his ability to serve. He has said he regrets the negative tone of the campaign and wished the candidates could have spent more time on education policy.

Full-time board members are paid about $46,000 annually.

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