District 5 candidate Ref Rodriguez, left, and incumbent Bennett Kayser at the El Sereno Neighborhood Council’s candidates forum. (Lawrence K. Ho, / Los Angeles Times)
Total spending in the battle for three spots on the Los Angeles Board of Education has increased sharply since the March primary, reaching nearly $4.6 million, as interest groups vie to influence the nation’s second-largest school system.
The top spender is a group supporting charter schools, which has poured in more than $2 million. Next are committees controlled by the teachers union and its allies, which have spent more than $1 million. These groups are backing opposing candidates in two races, but have settled on the same candidate in a third.
These organizations aren’t the only special interests involved. A relatively new political action committee, allied with the charter group, has joined the big money ranks. And a union representing non-teaching employees also could have an effect.
The results of Tuesday’s election could shift the ideological balance of the seven-member board, affecting the choice of who would take the helm as the next superintendent of schools. Current schools chief Ramon C. Cortines, 82, agreed to serve another year as a search gets underway for a successor; he returned from retirement last October after John Deasy resigned under pressure.
The board also faces key budget decisions and must develop a new teacher evaluation system with the union.
The election also could affect district policy related to charters, which are independently managed and free from some restrictions that govern traditional public schools. Charters are not obligated to hire union employees.
L.A. has more students enrolled in charter schools than any district in the nation.
The future of charters are at the heart of the most heavily contested race. One-term incumbent Bennett Kayser typically resists creating new charters or renewing existing ones. His opponent is Ref Rodriguez, co-founder of one of the largest local charter-school organizations.
Kayser represents District 5, which encompasses neighborhoods north and east of downtown and the cities of southeast L.A. County.
California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates has put $1.8 million into unseating Kayser. More than half a million dollars has gone into negative advertising against him.
“We’re expecting a low turnout, possibly as low as 8%,” said Gary Borden, executive director of the charter group. “But the folks who went to the polls for Ref in the primary care deeply about his campaign and we’re optimistic that they’ll make sure to vote for him again in the runoff.”