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Buoyed by millions, Rodriguez beats Kayser for District 5 board seat

Vanessa Romo | May 20, 2015

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Ref Rodriguez

Ref Rodriguez

In the most of expensive and vitriolic of all three LA Unified board races, Bennett Kayser lost to Ref Rodriguez in the battle to represent District 5.

Shortly after polls closed Rodriguez cemented an early lead, and Kayser, who had hoped for a second term, was never able to catch up.

“This is a historic victory, as Los Angeles embraces positive change for our schools,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

“The message of transforming middle schools and supporting innovation really resonated with voters,” he wrote, adding words of gratitude for the “community victory.”

The win is a game changer for the California Charter Schools Association, which contributed several million dollars to Rodriguez’s campaign through its political action committee. The organization paid for television, radio and direct mail advertisements championing the charter school founder and railing against Kayser. It marks the first time the CCSA successfully turned over a pro-union seat.

But it is only a partial triumph for the education reform group which was counting on Tamar Galatzan to hold on to her seat in District 3. In that scenario, charter school supporters would have regained control of the board with a 4-3 majority.

That is not what happened.

Scott Schmerelson, a former teacher, counselor and school administrator beat Galatzan by more than 10 percentage points. And although, Schmerelson resists the pro-union label, he acknowledged that he couldn’t have won it without UTLA’s support.

While UTLA campaigned aggressively for Kayser in the March primary races, the teachers union changed strategies for the general election.

“It became a different kind of race at that point,” Marco Flores, a member of UTLA’s political action committee told LA School Report.

“We were just trying to fend off racist and toxic accusations,” he said, referring to the attack ads directed at Kayser. “If we had more money maybe we could have been more effective.”

Kayser is expected to release a statement later today, according to his campaign manager Susan Burnside, who spoke to LA School Report from Schmerelson’s party. Burnside also worked on his campaign.

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