The race for three Los Angeles school board seats — and an expected showdown between the teachers union and its opponents — began to take shape Saturday with the deadline for candidates to announce their plans to run.
Depending on who wins, the Board of Education could change course on a new teacher evaluation system, on its dealings with charter schools and even on the future of L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, one of the nation's highest-profile district administrators. Deasy's aggressive policy push has prompted the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, to oppose the school district in court. And in March, the ballot box will become another forum for settling some of these issues.
The union is the most persistent force in district elections, but it doesn't always win, and other groups also hope to shape the outcome, including the California Charter Schools Assn. and a coalition of business and civic leaders that, in recent elections, rallied together under the banner of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
In recent elections, Villaraigosa has sometimes gone head to head against the union, spearheading fundraising efforts to elect favored candidates. But he's leaving office, and it isn't yet clear if he'll try to maintain his kingmaker role — or even if he'll be able to do so.
One-term incumbent Nury Martinez, who represents the east San Fernando Valley in District 6, is widely expected to run for the City Council seat about to be vacated by Tony Cardenas, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Martinez had been elected four years ago with backing from the teachers union. But she has become perhaps the staunchest ally of school board President Monica Garcia, who is likely to be targeted by the union for defeat.
Ten candidates have filed to replace Martinez, according to city records available Saturday night, after the noon deadline.
Garcia is seeking a third term. Five aspirants have filed to challenge her in District 2, centered in downtown Los Angeles. Among members of the school board, Garcia is closest to Villaraigosa.
In District 4, the union has yet to signal whether it will endorse one-term incumbent Steve Zimmer, who sees himself as a union-friendly moderate. Some union activists assert that he's been too willing to stray from UTLA priorities. They point to his vote in favor of a school-improvement initiative that allowed charter school organizations and other outside groups to compete to run new and struggling campuses.
Charter schools are publicly funded and independently operated; L.A. Unified has more of them than any other school system.
Still, Zimmer has been close enough to the union to inspire the wrath of its critics, including the influential California Charter Schools Assn. It recently targeted Zimmer with a critical mailer after he proposed a moratorium on new charter schools.
Zimmer has backed down, partly on the advice of district counsel, but has maintained that charters should be more closely supervised and held more accountable for their results.
Without union support, Zimmer would be hard-pressed to run a viable campaign.
Four challengers have filed for his seat in the district that stretches from the Westside to portions of the southwest San Fernando Valley.
If past is prologue, the contests are likely to be expensive and contentious. The teachers union wants to push back against policies pursued by Deasy. Activists cite the recent strike by Chicago teachers as an example of successful resistance against unproven or wrong-headed reforms.
These policies, the union says, include using student test scores as one measure of a teacher's effectiveness. Deasy also has favored reorganizing low-performing schools, a process under which all staff members have to reapply for jobs.
To appear on the ballot for the March primary, all candidates must file petitions with the signatures of 500 registered voters who live in the district by Dec. 5.
Also on the ballot will be three seats on the seven-member Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. The nine-campus district is the nation's largest, serving more than a quarter of a million students.
Trustees have been under intense scrutiny over their handling of a $6-billion campus rebuilding program after a Times investigation last year found widespread waste and mismanagement. Since then the board has undertaken a series of reforms including spending controls and greater oversight.
One incumbent — Nancy Pearlman in Seat 6 — is running for reelection; two, Tina Park in Seat 2 and Kelly Candaele in Seat 4, are not.
Times staff writer Carla Rivera contributed to this report.