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Teachers' union candidate wins L.A. school board seat

Retired teacher Bennett Kayser defeats Luis Sanchez, who was supported by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, for the last open seat on the board.

May 27, 2011|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles school board candidate Bennett Kayser was backed by the teachers and administrators unions. His rival, Luis Sanchez, had the support of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Los Angeles school board candidate Bennett Kayser was backed by the teachers… (KayserForSchoolBoard.org )

Bennett Kayser, the candidate favored by the teachers union, won the last remaining open seat for the Los Angeles Board of Education on Thursday, beating Luis Sanchez, who was supported by the mayor.

"Teachers and teachers unions have been scapegoated, and I think we're on the road to vindication right now," Kayser said.

Kayser, a retired teacher, received about 10,700 votes, nearly 600 more than Sanchez, who is chief of staff for the current school board president, Monica Garcia. Voter turnout was less than 10%, and most ballots were cast by mail. Sanchez said he does not plan to ask for a recount.

The race to represent the 5th District, which covers the area 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 nor Kayser was able to garner a majority of voters. The winner will replace Yolie Flores, who chose not to run.

Kayser, 64, was supported by both the school administrators and teachers unions and did almost none of his own fundraising. United Teachers Los Angeles spent almost $620,000 in support of Kayser and many instructors also volunteered to campaign for him.

Sanchez was backed by several large labor groups and key politicians, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who helped raise funds for Sanchez's campaign.

"The mayor congratulates Mr. Kayser and looks forward to working with him and the board to improve our schools and fix the broken bureaucracy," a Villaraigosa spokeswoman said in a statement.

Villaraigosa has supported four current school board members. Kayser's victory will not give the teachers union a majority on the seven-member body.

The board will grapple with 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.

The runoff campaign turned increasingly 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.

Sanchez repeated his earlier complaints that the teachers union ran an untruthful campaign. A mailer in support of Kayser alleged that Sanchez took lavish trips at taxpayer expense. Sanchez took one trip to Washington, D.C., in 2007 to meet with members of Congress and their staff.

"They won this election, but they lost some credibility," Sanchez said. "They had to play as dirty as they did to win."

Sanchez said he was unsure what he will do next but said he would continue to push for educational reform.

jason.song@latimes.com

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