The most expensive school board race in U.S. history has brought about a sea change at LAUSD, where there is now a pro-charter school majority on the board.
Challenger Nick Melvoin won more than 57 percent of yesterday's vote, unseating LAUSD board president Steve Zimmer in District 4, which covers the Westside and the western San Fernando Valley.
Zimmer conceded the race in an impassioned speech last night, telling supporters the loss was “devastating” but that “my soul is intact.” Zimmer also vowed never to run for office again and, in a telling sign of how the record-setting spending on negative advertising affected the campaign, said he would not call Melvoin, according to the L.A. Times.
Melvoin’s campaign received a record $5.8 million in independent expenditures for the campaign, much of it from wealthy, pro-charter donors such as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Family and real-estate mogul and philanthropist Eli Broad.
The amount of campaign spending per vote was $190 for Melvoin and $104 for Zimmer.
Election observers and insiders say the LAUSD school board elections were a key battle in a national conflict over the future of charter schools, and campaign donations streamed in from out of state.
Zimmer served eight years on the board and was initially supported by charter groups, who saw him as a consensus-builder between the polarized pro-union and pro-charter camps. As charter advocates won greater influence on the board, Zimmer shifted, stating his desire to limit charter growth. Unions donated $2.3 million in independent expenditures for Zimmer, led by the United Teachers of Los Angeles.
In the other LAUSD board race yesterday, Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez declared victory over Imelda Padilla for the open seat in District 6, which covers the eastern San Fernando Valley.
Fitzpatrick-Gonez, a science teacher at Crown Preparatory Academy, received more than $3.3 million in outside donations from charter supporters, while Padilla, a labor and community organizers, received more than $2.3 million from organized labor.
Fitzpatrick-Gonez received more than 51 percent of the vote, winning by a margin of 748 votes, according to the L.A. City Clerk. Fitzpatrick-Gonez received about $256 in outsider donations per vote; Padilla received $220.
To be sure, LAUSD was never anti-charter; the board majority, including Zimmer, approves most charter petitions, and LAUSD has more charter schools than any district in the nation.
But until the tables turned last night, the majority of the board favored more stringent charter oversight and limited growth at a time when charter advocates like the California Charter Schools Association are gearing up for monumental expansion.
The outcome of the election could go a long way in settling a broad range of LAUSD issues including teacher hirings and firings, and charter renewals, expansions, regulations and governance, according to Dan Schnur, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC.
“These two races crystalize a large number of issues that have divided the education community for many years,” Schnur says.
L.A. voters also approved Measure C, the most far-reaching reform to police discipline since the aftermath of the 1992 riots.
The new amendment, which passed with more than 57 percent of the vote, gives L.A. police officers facing termination or lengthy suspension for serious misconduct the choice of who reviews their case.
Since 1992, officers charged with misconduct by the department appealed to disciplinary panels, known as the Board of Review, consisting of one civilian and two sworn officers of the rank of captain or above. Measure C will give LAPD officers the option to have their disciplinary review conducted by an all-civilian panel; such panels have been found to go easier on officers.
Opponents to the measure claimed it was a “backroom deal” between elected officials and the police union that would ultimately undermine police discipline. Critics include the ACLU of Southern California and Black Lives Matter, groups that have long called for stricter oversight of LAPD in disciplinary matters.
Measure C was introduced by the L.A. Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file officers in the department. It was backed by the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was quoted in a full-page ad in the L.A. Times from May 12 as saying the measure would “increase civilian oversight and improve community and police relations.”
Craig Lally, president of the LAPPL, said in a previous interview with L.A. Weekly that officers accused of misconduct tend to get a fairer shake from civilian examiners than from command-level officers on the board. “There's always been the potential for the chief of police to put thumbs on the captains,” Lally said.
A report by the city’s Chief Legislative Analyst found that civilians on the Board of Review are “consistently more lenient than their sworn officer counterparts” when it comes to disciplining or finding fault with officers accused of misconduct.
“In the 39 Directed [Board of Review] cases where the Chief recommended termination but a BOR acquitted accused officers, the civilian member voted for acquittal in every case,” the report states.
Lally said that nearly 92 percent of the decisions reached by the board were unanimous and called the objections raised by the ACLU to increased civilian oversight “comical.”
The public is not in a position to know the details of those decisions, though; under state law all matters pertaining to police discipline are kept secret.
Melina Abdullah, an organizer with Black Lives Matter in L.A., called Measure C “an erosion of the little police discipline that already exists.”
Measure C was the only item listed on many municipal ballots.
As expected, incumbent City Councilmember Gil Cedillo thumped challenger Joe Bray-Ali in a runoff for the seat in District 1, which covers Chinatown, Cypress Park, Echo Park, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Lincoln Park, Montecito Heights, Mount Washington and Westlake. The campaign of Bray-Ali, a bicycle activist and former bike shop owner, nosedived after revelations that he participated in a number of racist, fat-shaming, transphobic online forums. Cedillo won with nearly 71 percent of the vote.
Finally, Monica Rodriguez defeated Karo Torossian with nearly 53 percent of the vote in District 7, which covers the northeast section of the San Fernando Valley. Rodriguez will occupy the seat vacated by Felipe Fuentes, who stepped down from the council in September to take a job as a lobbyist in Sacramento.