District 5 Special Election Tuesday Could Shift Direction Of LAUSD Board

District 5 Special Election Tuesday Could Shift Direction Of LAUSD Board

Voters head to the polls Tuesday for a special election in LAUSD’s Board District 5, which has been without representation since last summer, when Ref Rodriguez resigned. The runoff between candidates Heather Repenning and Jackie Goldberg could mark a significant shift in the direction of the board.  

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Graciela Ortiz Appears Headed For a Runoff With Jackie Goldberg, Setting Up a Battle Over Generations, Geography And Race

Graciela Ortiz Appears Headed For a Runoff With Jackie Goldberg, Setting Up a Battle Over Generations, Geography And Race

Boosted in part by Speak UP’s efforts to turn out the vote in the primarily Latino Southeast section of LAUSD’s Board District 5, Huntington Park Councilmember and school counselor Graciela Ortiz appears to be headed for a runoff against veteran politician Jackie Goldberg, who last served on the school board in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Goldberg, 74, who was backed by United Teachers Los Angeles and received $640,000 in outside union spending to support her campaign, rode the wave of the teachers strike to take a solid lead with 48.26 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, she fell short of the more than 50 percent needed to win outright and avoid a runoff May 14.

Ortiz led candidate Heather Repenning for the second-place spot by just 53 votes after all the results were tallied on election night. With provisional and late-arriving mail-in ballots still uncounted, results could still change. Principal Cynthia Gonzalez took fourth place, and parent/educator Allison Bajracharya took fifth.

Repenning, who received backing and nearly $1 million in support from SEIU Local 99, the union representing LAUSD bus drivers, cafeteria workers and special education aides, is not conceding the race for second place. There’s also still a slim chance Goldberg could win outright and avoid a runoff.

If Ortiz, 38, holds onto the second place spot, the runoff will present a stark generational, geographic and racial contrast. Ortiz, who works as an attendance counselor at Linda Marquez High School, has strong roots in the primarily Latino Southeast.

Grassroots support helped her overcome a massive spending disadvantage. While Ortiz raised more money than any other Latino candidate, $129,000, she was the fourth place fundraiser overall and had far less spent on her behalf ($90,558) than Goldberg ($640,913), Repenning ($765,704) or Bajracharya ($138,695). SEIU also poured almost $37,000 into negative ads opposing Ortiz.

Speak UP parent leaders, working in coalition with Parent Revolution and Families and Teachers United, clearly had an impact on the results. While none endorsed a candidate, all three focused efforts on informing voters in the Southeast cities of Huntington Park, South Gate, Vernon, Bell, Maywood and Cudahy about the election and encouraging them to vote.

After knocking on more than 22,000 doors and making more than 21,000 phone calls to voters, Speak UP and its coalition partners received pledges to participate in the election from nearly 4,500 voters. Ortiz leads the race for a second-place runoff spot with just 3,368 votes. 

“Speak UP parent leaders worked hard to get the word out to their neighbors that this was an important opportunity for their community to have a voice,” said Speak UP Executive Director Katie Braude. “They wanted to make their voices heard, and they did.”

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Speak UP Parent Leaders Get Out The Vote In Southeast District 5 School Board Election Tuesday

Speak UP Parent Leaders Get Out The Vote In Southeast District 5 School Board Election Tuesday

Speak UP parent activists in the southeast of LAUSD District 5 have been hitting the streets for the past seven weeks to boost voter turnout in the historically under-represented and primarily Latino communities of Huntington Park, Vernon, Bell, South Gate, Maywood and Cudahy.

Ten candidates are in the running for the District 5 seat, which has been vacant since Ref Rodriguez resigned last July. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, the race will move to a runoff on May 14.  

While 90 percent of the more than 81,000 LAUSD students in District 5 are Latino, most of the voters have traditionally come from the whiter and more affluent communities in the northern part of the district, including Silver Lake, Echo Park, Los Feliz, Mount Washington, Highland Park and Eagle Rock.

Speak UP has not endorsed a candidate in the March 5 primary, but Speak UP community leaders have been knocking on doors and calling voters in the Southeast to make them aware of the election and to encourage them to get out and vote.  

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Repenning, Bajracharya, Ortiz Claim Top Three Fundraising Spots In LAUSD Board District 5 Race

Repenning, Bajracharya, Ortiz Claim Top Three Fundraising Spots In LAUSD Board District 5 Race

With just a month to go until the LAUSD Board District 5 special election, candidate Heather Repenning leads in fundraising. Her campaign has taken in $197,248 according to the Los Angeles City Ethics Comission website. Allison Bajracharya is close behind with $151,372 and Graciela Ortiz is in third among ten candidates, with $114,315. 

Jackie Goldberg is in fourth place, with $77,951. However, a PAC funded by the teachers union has spent $171,000 backing her. Service Employees International Union Local 99, the union of 30,000 teacher assistants, bus drivers and other school support staff, has spent nearly $429,000 to get Repenning elected.

 Other candidates in the race are Ana Cubas, who has brought in $49,169, Cynthia Gonzalez with $24,615, David Valdez at $19,283, Salvador “Chamba” Sanchez at $6,999, Nestor Enrique Valencia at $2,644, and Rocio Rivas who, as of the most recent reporting deadline (January 19), had not reported any funds raised.

These figures pale in comparison to the 2017 LAUSD board elections, when nearly $10 million was spent in the Board District 4 race and $5 million in the Board District 6 race. Independent expenditures by UTLA and the California Charter Schools Association accounted for most of that. CCSA is not endorsing a candidate in the BD5 primary and has not spent any money backing or opposing any candidates.

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LAUSD BD5 Candidate Heather Repenning: 'I Think 100 Percent, Parents Should Have A Seat At The Table'

LAUSD BD5 Candidate Heather Repenning: 'I Think 100 Percent, Parents Should Have A Seat At The Table'

Speak UP: Tell us about yourself and why you are running for school board.

Heather Repenning: Public education is very important to me. I'm a product of public schools. Growing up, my mom was a public school teacher, and because of her understanding of public education, she was able to identify great schools for my brother and I, and I was able to go to college and do a lot more professionally than I would have done under other circumstances. My family comes from a humble background. Originally we’re from Kentucky. To me, public education is the doorway. It is how we allow our young people to pull themselves ahead to do the things that they never imagined. And I don't think that we're doing that particularly well right now. I don't think there's any one thing or person to blame, but the issues around how we create great neighborhood public schools are very complex and require a lot of hard work. Personally, I've worked in local government for many years, and I know the work it takes to move bureaucracy, create policy and build coalitions to move great policy forward. So I feel like I have the skills to do that. Because education is so important to me, I've worked [in education] at different points in my career. I was in the classroom for a few years right out of college, and I worked at LAUSD helping organize parents and other stakeholders around the process of building new schools. I worked on the previous Ambassador Hotel, now the RFK schools site, and advocating for the new schools that are now thriving on that site.

Speak UP: You taught early in your career. Was this in Honduras? Is that how you became fluent in Spanish?

Heather: Yes, I spent time teaching in Honduras, in a bilingual school, and then I moved to Southern California to pursue graduate school. Actually, I was on the pathway to becoming an academic. I was in a PhD program. At the time I was teaching composition to undergrads at UC Irvine. And I also previously taught an ESL class at LA City College.

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