The election will reshape LA Unified’s leadership as campaign turbulence hits two candidates

(Al Seib/For The Times)

The election will reshape LA Unified’s leadership as campaign turbulence hits two candidates

Election 2024, LA Politics, Education

Howard Blume

March 5, 2024

One leading Los Angeles school board candidate, Kahllid Al-Alim, has been ousted by the union that brought him to prominence but could still be a top player. Another leading candidate, Graciela Ortiz, was temporarily removed from her job with the school district due to an internal investigation, but would not say why. She could also do well at voting.

In the elections that end Tuesday night, a four-seat majority on the Los Angeles Board of Education will be on the ballot in a primary battle that will determine the direction of the nation’s second-largest school system as it faces pressing academic and financial challenges is confronted.

Major issues include declining enrollment, possible school closures, ending pandemic relief, the future of school police and student drug use. But there are also personal issues surrounding two leading candidates.

Board members have a term of office of four years. To win outright, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote. It appears three contests will likely lead to a runoff in November, pitting the top two vote-getters from Tuesday’s primary against each other.

Established parties and challengers

The battle in District 7, which stretches from South LA to the Port District, will be decided Tuesday as there are only two candidates on the ballot. In that race, incumbent Tanya Ortiz Franklin will face teacher Lydia Gutierrez.

Gutierrez, a longtime teacher in the Long Beach Unified School District, had limited fundraising, $3,484, to reach voters.

By contrast, Franklin’s campaign raised $81,202, and also benefited from an independent campaign largely funded by retired businessman Bill Bloomfield, who has been the largest individual donor to LA Unified races in recent years. Bloomfield spent more than $731,000 on a positive campaign for Franklin and more than $350,000 on a negative campaign against Gutierrez.

In District 3, in the western San Fernando Valley and adjacent areas, two-term incumbent Scott Schmerelson is opposed by four challengers.

Schmerelson has benefited from an independent campaign of about $610,000 by the teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles. A competing PAC spent $870,080 on behalf of Dan Chang, an LA high school math teacher and former charter school principal. This PAC was largely funded by Bloomfield.

New leadership

The elections will bring new leadership

at least

two districts, like Jackie Goldberg and George McKenna, two important local education figures, will be

will retire when their terms expire in December.

New members could shift the board’s ideology from one that wants to curb charter schools to one that supports these independent and mostly non-union schools. Charters compete with district schools for students, and the competition is fierce as overall enrollment continues to decline. A narrow majority on the board has recently been established


new limits on when and where charter schools would be allowed to operate on district-owned campuses.

Address declining enrollments

and the funding and staff reductions that come with it are a major issue facing the district. However, candidates have largely refused to discuss the real but unpopular likelihood of campus closures.

School policing is a hotly debated issue on which candidates differ. Some candidates are calling for the dissolution of the school police; others see them as essential for safety.


The new board will also evaluate the progress of L.A. Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, the only official they oversee. Carvalho, who is about halfway through his four-year contract, has pledged to make a full recovery from pandemic-era learning setbacks by the end of the current school year. If he’s successful, there


want to


be more skilled at improving overall learning outcomes, especially for low-income Black and Latino students.

One of the initiatives launched by Carvalho was an order to supply schools with the overdose drug Narcan, but drug use and availability among students remains a concern for parents.

Campaign turbulence

Late campaign turbulence in two competitive races hampered two matches.

For about two weeks, Al-Alim, who is running for the District 1 seat, which represents much of South LA and Southwest LA, has been in self-described “damage control,” dealing with the revelation that he retweeted and liked social media posts that promoted anti-Semitic practices. content, glorified weapons and celebrated pornographic images.

After a series of apologies

which that

became increasingly controversial, Al-Alim took a slightly different stance at a campaign forum last week, claiming: “I’m not ashamed of anything.”

On Monday evening, the teachers union UTLA formally withdrew its support for Al-Alim during an emergency meeting of the House of Representatives. The House did not settle for an alternative endorsement and it would have been too late to make one.

UTLA officially suspended its big-ticket campaign on behalf of Al-Alim on February 22, but union materials touting his candidacy continued to reach voters through website postings and materials distributed directly to voters.

Some teachers’ union members and supporters had urged Al-Alim to resign, saying he would have no chance of winning a runoff.

Al-Alim refused to step aside, insisting last week that his campaign was doing well and that he was ready to prove his lack of bias and prejudice by working for all families.

In District 5, which runs north to south along the eastern portion of the school system, LA Unified Counseling administrator Graciela Ortiz also faced sensitive issues.

Early this year, officials fired her from her job pending a confidential investigation. It’s not clear why the district launched an investigation, but it began shortly after a civil lawsuit was filed in January


Ortiz and a political ally are liable for the actions of a campaign worker who pleaded no contest to sexual misconduct with an underage volunteer.

Last week, the school system confirmed the investigation had been completed and Ortiz had returned to work. No other details have been released.

Ortiz declined to answer questions about the investigation or the lawsuit. A spokesperson for Ortiz called the lawsuit frivolous and politically motivated. In a campaign forum last week, Ortiz blamed the media for writing about these issues.

Ortiz, who is also a city councilwoman in the southeast LA city of Huntington Park, benefited from a campaign by Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which spent $810,861 on her behalf and backed her support.

In this race it was union versus union, with UTLA spending more than $200


encouraging voters to elect teacher Karla Griego.


old high school teacher Fidencio Gallardo

who is also the mayor of Bell,

received the support of some rank-and-file teachers and pro-union parents who had split from the UTLA-backed candidate. Gallardo recently served as a senior assistant to retiring District 5 board member Jackie Goldberg, who endorsed him.

Local 99 launched a negative campaign against Gallardo, spending $38,441.


that the

The vote in that match is retired director Victorio Gutierrez.


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