With just under 24,000 absentee ballots counted by the city clerk, incumbent Steve Zimmer has a significant 16-point lead over challenger Kate Anderson.

Zimmer has tried as best he can to hold the middle ground between the teachers union and the reformers. But middle grounds are hard to come by in public education today, and the former Teach For America teacher has managed to alienate just about everyone – especially the reformers.

Anderson, a mother of twins and a former aide to Congressman Henry Waxman, is backed by the full weight – and checking account – of the school reform movement in Los Angeles.

This has been the closest and most bitterly contested of all the school board races. Over $3 million has been spent, a staggering sum for such a low-profile (not to mention low paying) job, most of it from special interest groups like UTLA, the SEIU, and the Coalition for School Reform, whose chief fundraiser just so happens to be Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Coalition, which is backing Anderson, has gotten big checks from big names you wouldn't expect to see involved in a West coast school board race. For example, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut Villaraigosa and the reformers a check for $1 million. Other donors include Eli Broad, Jerry Perenchio, Michelle Rhee's Students First and, believe or not, a subsidiary of News Corporation, owned by the one and only Rupert Murdoch.

But Zimmer has his supporters too, namely UTLA and SEIU, powerful unions that represent teachers and other LAUSD employees. In this race, they've come close to matching the reformers dollar for dollar, in a campaign that got increasingly nasty in the final weeks.

This race was expected to go down to the wire. But Zimmer leads comfortably, 58 to 42. The absentee ballots could represent as much as a third of the total vote.

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