The seven members of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education oversee the second largest school district in the nation and an annual budget of $8.9 billion. This year, there are two runoff elections for seats on the board. 

“I think this is a school board race unlike we have ever seen before, because it doesn’t break down so cleanly,” KPCC’s education reporter, Kyle Stokes, tells Inside the Issues.

What You Need To Know

  • Education reporter Kyle Stokes talks to Inside the Issues about two Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education races

  • In District 3, Scott M. Schmerelson, supported by United Teachers Los Angeles, is running against Marilyn Koziatek who is supported by the California Charter Schools Association

  • In District 7, Patricia Castellanos, co-founder of Reclaim Our Schools L.A., is running against Tanya Ortiz Franklin, who is currently on leave from her job at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools

In the battle for District 3, which comprises parts of the West San Fernando Valley, incumbent Scott M. Schmerelson, a former LAUSD principal and long time educator in the school district who is backed by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), is running against Marilyn Koziatek, head of the tutoring and enrichment department at Granada Hills Charter High School, who has the support of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), one of the biggest spenders in LAUSD politics, who spent “heftily” on her primary bid back in March, said Stokes.

“Scott Schmerelson has the resources of United Teachers Los Angeles, an also powerful force, in LAUSD politics, but their power doesn’t come quite so much through money,” he said. “So UTLA was badly outspent by CCSA in the primary, had maybe hoped to get their incumbent in Schmerelson through to the election without a runoff, and instead now Schmerelson is facing another onslaught of negative advertising from, and financed by, the California Charter Schools Association.”

While pro-charter and anti-charter sentiments typically take over these elections, Stokes said the dynamic of the school board is much more complicated than that. 

“When you’re talking about how a LAUSD board election runs, it really comes down to who can spend enough money to sway a race in a local election, a down-ballot race in the constituency of the size of an LAUSD board seat. Remember an LAUSD board seat represents an area and the number of constituents that’s even bigger than a U.S. House seat,” he explained. “You’ve got this odd confluence of factors there and the only two players who have proven capable of spending at the scale to sway a race like that, are the teachers and unions and the Charter Association.”

Both candidates have different positions on the topic of campus police, with Schmerelson, said Stokes, in disagreement with the position taken by United Teachers Los Angeles, over a proposal to remove and decrease funding for the Los Angeles School Police Department for the sworn force of officers that is employed by LAUSD to police LAUSD campuses. 

When Stokes recently spoke with Koziatek, he said she is taking a middle road on the issue and was non-committal about how she would vote on this. 

“There are many different issues where you would draw a contrast between those two that have nothing to do with charter schools, but those financial factors are still huge for any race for a LAUSD board seat,” he explained.

Another race that will be decided is in District 7, which comprises south of DTLA through South L.A., Watts all the way down to the harbor. The long-time board member in that seat is retiring. Candidate Patricia Castellanos, co-founder of Reclaim Our Schools L.A. has a long history as an environmental policy maker in the area, said Stokes and is the Teachers Union’s preferred candidate. 

Castellanos is running against Tanya Ortiz Franklin, who, though she hasn’t been endorsed by the California Charter Schools Association, has been getting support from a lot of charter association financial backers. Franklin is currently on leave from her job at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, an organization that runs schools on the LAUSD’s behalf, in a role doing policy around restorative justice and leading schools as they work on discipline policies and more progressive ways of dealing with student discipline.


With many schools and districts across the region facing shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, Stokes said the topic of virtual education vs. on-campus education is “top of mind for a lot of voters in these races.”

“This is an issue where the politics and the policy tie together,” he explained. “United Teachers Los Angeles has been very skeptical about moves to return to in-person instruction and they are heavily backing the players Castellanos and Schmerelson in these races. So, I think the reopening question is definitely a live issue. I’ve heard a lot about school police, that’s one of the more controversial issues that’s currently before the L.A. School Board and I think it’s shaping some of the conversations.”

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