Updated below; first posted at 9:06 pm

Based on early returns, we can say that Monica Ratliff leads Antonio Sanchez by four points, with roughly 14,000 ballots cast.

This is the final LAUSD school board race of 2013, and will decide who replaces outgoing board member Nury Martinez, who is running for city council to replace Tony Cardenas, who moved on to United States Congress. It's the circle. The circle of life.

The candidates vying to represent the Northeast Valley are Antonio Sanchez, a former aide to outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Monica Ratliff, a fifth-grade teacher at San Pedro Elementary, a highly rated school in one of the poorest areas in the city.

Sanchez is 31, a fresh-faced chap with more political connections than you can shake a stick at. He enjoys enormous financial backing from the SEIU local 99, which represents classified workers (like custodians and cafeteria workers), and from the Coalition for School Reform, a group of wealthy donors headed by, unofficially, the Mayor himself. Its donors include Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad and Philip Anschutz.

The two groups have spent over $2 million to elect Sanchez.

That's for a job, by the by, that pays just over $40,000 a year.

Ratliff, on the other hand, has barely any campaign money. In fact, she barely has any campaign – she's kept her day job teaching, going door-to-door at night and on weekends. And since the teachers union, perhaps strangely, decided to stay neutral in the race, Ratliff is the decided underdog in the race.

But there is a small group of activists within UTLA who are loudly backing Ratliff. If turnout is low enough, she has a chance to pull off what would be a huge upset.

Update, 10:00 pm Over 160,000 ballots have been cast city wide, a fairly large number. It could about a third of all votes, if the LA Times' prediction of 445,000 votes turns out to be correct.

Update, 11:48 pm With just under 20,000 votes counted, Ratliff is clinging to a small, 1.8 percent lead. Sanchez appears to be winning the “at-poll” ballots; but is his margin enough to close the gap? This race could be one of the closest in the city.

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