With veteran politician Jackie Goldberg returning to the LAUSD Board to represent District 5 nearly 30 years after she left, a majority-Latino district will now be run by a majority-white Board that remains bereft of any parents of school-age children.
Goldberg defeated L.A. Unified parent Heather Repenning 72-28 percent with a paltry 7.7 percent voter turnout. Her victory signals an increase in the power of United Teachers Los Angeles in the wake of the January strike, which could complicate the efforts of Superintendent Austin Beutner to rein in district spending at a moment when the County is threatening to take over.
“This is not the end, this is the beginning,” Goldberg told her supporters after initial results came in Tuesday night.
Because this was a special election to fill the seat vacated by Board member Ref Rodriguez, who resigned last summer, Goldberg will only hold the position for about a year before another primary election is held next March. BD5 includes gentrifying neighborhoods of Los Feliz and Echo Park, as well as overwhelmingly Latino Southeast cities of Huntington Park, South Gate, Vernon and Cudahy.
The loss of a Latino representative in District 5 means four of seven LAUSD Board members are now white, despite the fact that 90 percent of L.A. Unified students are kids of color.
“Congratulations to Ms. Goldberg. We hope and trust that she will focus her attention on improving the outcomes for the kids in her district who are least well-served by their local schools,” said Speak UP Founder and CEO Katie Braude. “And we hope she is sincere when she says the families in the Southeast won’t be ignored.”
Goldberg’s victory also poses a potential threat to the future of charter schools in Los Angeles and the 20 percent of L.A. students served by them, the vast majority of whom are low-income kids of color.
“The only reason I came out of retirement is that I can beat the people who are running the charter candidates,” Goldberg, who also served on the City Council and in the state Assembly, said early in her campaign. The California Charter Schools Association, which has been a main funder in previous school board races, chose not to fight Goldberg or endorse any candidate in the primary or the runoff.
Instead, the race shaped up to be a battle between two unions: UTLA, and SEIU Local 99, the union representing bus drivers, janitors, special education aides and cafeteria workers, which backed Repenning, a former deputy and close ally to Mayor Eric Garcetti.
In an era of increasing political polarization, Repenning painted herself as a pragmatic moderate on the issue of school choice – neither embracing charter school supporters nor attacking them outright. That strategy failed to overcome the vocal anti-charter hostility that UTLA broadcast during and after the strike, which resonated in a district in which the former board member, a charter school operator, pled guilty to reimbursing some campaign donors with his own funds without disclosing it.
The LAUSD Board will now have three solid members out of seven who tend to vote for policies that UTLA wants and one consistently reform-minded board member willing to take on UTLA policies that don’t serve kids well, Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4). Board President Monica Garcia (BD2), Kelly Gonez (BD6) and Vladovic often join Melvoin to form a kids-first voting bloc, although all three voted for a charter moratorium resolution after the strike that would limit options for kids, and Vladovic swings between the union and reform-minded blocs most often.
Goldberg’s election could also affect the chances of passing Measure EE on June 4, the parcel tax that would bring in an additional $500 million annually to Los Angeles schools, which Speak UP is campaigning to pass.
Goldberg warned the board a year ago that LAUSD “very well may end up in bankruptcy,” but she changed her tune when she entered the race and now mimics UTLA’s talking points about LAUSD exaggerating its financial crisis – a message that potentially makes it harder to convince voters to give more. Goldberg’s only acknowledgement of LAUSD’s financial troubles comes when she blames the loss of student enrollment on charter schools – even though declining birth rates and families moving to other school districts are just as responsible for enrollment loss.
Independent experts also say ballooning retiree pension and healthcare costs are the largest drain on LAUSD finances. Goldberg’s opposition to financial reforms to control those soaring costs could bolster the No on EE argument that L.A. Unified wastes money and refuses to reform. If the parcel tax fails to pass, cuts and class size increases may be coming in order to stave off a County takeover.