Four seats are up for grabs on the seven-member Los Angeles Unified School District board this March 3 primary, in an election that could shift the balance of power on the largest elected school board in the country.
The high stakes are apparent in outside spending dollar amounts from the two usual power players, teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles and the California Charter Schools Association. The latter is hoping to reshuffle a union majority block on the school board.
One of such union-friendly seats at play is the one occupied by Scott Schmerelson, who oversees 106 total elementary, middle and high schools in the West San Fernando Valley. His board district three seat, which includes Chatsworth, parts of Woodland Hills, Northridge, Granada Hills, parts of Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks, faces two challengers.
If a candidate fails to win more than 50% of the vote in March, the top two finishers advance to a runoff election. Check which board district represents your neighborhood school here.
Alongside district Superintendent Austin Beutner, board members oversee daily operations of the massive school district with a $7 billion budget. The position earns a yearly salary of $125,000 plus retirement and health benefits.
Scott Schmerelson: Schmerelson was first elected to his seat in 2015 after defeating then-incumbent city prosecutor Tamar Galatzan. He began his career as a Spanish language teacher in Philadelphia, first entering LAUSD as a teacher at Virgil Middle School. He worked his way up to principal at Lawrence Middle in Chatsworth and later Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Middle in South L.A.
Schmerelson was an early board members to express support for striking teachers and is staunchly backed by LAUSD’s powerful teachers union, reflected in the over $400,000 of independent expenditures spent on his behalf by United Teachers Los Angeles. He has $24,105 cash raised on hand.
Marilyn Koziatek: An LAUSD parent, Koziatek is community outreach manager for Granada Hills Charter High School and chair of Valley Industry Commerce Association’s education committee. With $20,121 cash on hand, she has received $400,000 of support in independent expenditures from the California Charter Schools Association, the Sacramento-based advocacy organization has spent even more opposing Schmerelson’s candidacy.
Elizabeth Badger: This election marks the latest of Badger’s several runs for local public office in recent years. The parent of two LAUSD students runs the Minority Outreach Committee, a nonpartisan non-profit that aims to bridge gaps between communities of color and schools.
Student achievement: Of all LAUSD grade levels, 43.9% of students met state standards in English and 33.47% in math for the 2018-19 school year. Asked how he plans to lift student achievement, Schmerelson said will advocate for parent representatives at every school in the district to increase parent engagement. Koziatek pointed to her experience at Granada Hills Charter High, where she used technological tools to engage families and chart more student data. Badger said the district has failed children for lack of good leadership, and raised issues of special needs education and school security.
School funding and class sizes: According to 2018-19 budget reports, LAUSD received $15,537 per-pupil which, depending on which way you slice the data, puts California in the lower middle or bottom tier of public school funding nationwide. As a delegate to the California School Board Association, Schmerelson said he intends to advocate for higher per-pupil state funding in Sacramento that will enable the additional hiring of school nurses, librarians and counselors. Koziatek echoed the need for more funding, and referred to her school budgetary experience. Badger suggested the district needs to look inward at streamlining the budget before asking taxpayers to open their pockets.
Charter schools: LAUSD is home to 320 charter schools this 2019-20 school year, a number that served as a flashpoint during last year’s teachers strike. Recently passed Assembly Bill 1505 gave California school boards more authority to inhibit the opening of new ones. Schmerelson has expressed a need to give traditional public schools “the same authority” as charter schools before approving new charters in the district. Koziatek said she would make decisions on charter schools based on how a school has shown it can serve students. Badger described herself as being “okay” with charters as long as they’re adhering to the same rules and regulations as traditional public schools.
Saturday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m., at Gault St. Elementary, hosted by the Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council