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Challengers take center stage at Galatzan-less forum

Craig Clough | February 18, 2015

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District 3 forum, Galatzan

The challengers at last night’s LAUSD District 3 school board forum.


With incumbent Tamar Galatzan opting out of the second and final LA Unified District 3 board forum last night, her five challengers took full advantage, criticizing her as they made their cases for why they should be elected on March 3 instead of her.

Galatzan, who said she had a scheduling conflict, mingled in the aisles at the Elks Lodge in Canoga Park before leaving as the forum began.

With 90 seconds allowed for each answer, this second forum gave the candidates longer to respond, as opposed to last week’s debate, when they were limited to no more than a minute. The turnout, again, was fewer than 100.

Here are the main points each candidate made.

Scott Schmerelson 

The former LAUSD principal and teacher often touted his experience with the district. When asked how that would help oversee the district’s $7 billion budget, he pointed out that as a principal, he had overseen a budget of $10 million, and since it was part of the LAUSD budget, it was the most direct and relevant experience any candidate could point to.

Schmerelson also expressed no love for former superintendent John Deasy, but as the only candidate who had ever worked with him, he felt his criticism carried extra weight.

“What went wrong? Everything went wrong. A superintendent must be someone who will listen. A superintendent must be someone who has a heart. The man didn’t have a heart,” Schmerelson said.

Like every candidate, he favored raises for teachers, but he offered neither a specific number nor how to pay for them. On teacher evaluations, he said he put “zero credibility” in using test scores to evaluate teachers. He conceded that charter schools are here to stay, but that “there is nothing better than a traditional public school.”

Carl Petersen

Petersen bashed Galatzan early and often, sometimes ignoring a question’s substance to turn it into a critique of the incumbent. On the question of experience to handle a budget of billions, he said few people have it and pivoted to attacking Galatzan on her approval of the problematic MiSiS computer system.

When asked what qualities he would desire in a new superintendent, he opted to outline a future in which the superintendent would be stripped of many powers.

“The former superintendent was hired with the ability to make policy. This was an abdication of responsibility on the part of the board,” he said.

Petersen said he would be a board member who listens. He repeated his severe criticisms of the iPad program and teacher jail and said charter expansion was a result of district failure but that parents should still have the choice of charters.

Ankur Patel

Patel pointed to his experience as an LA neighborhood council member and treasurer as his best experience handling a government budget, but acknowledged it was only thousands of dollars, not billions.

Patel often quoted numbers and figures to demonstrate having done a lot of homework and research on the district.

When asked about his budget experience, he said, “Seven-point two billion dollar operational budget, but when you count the $2.6 billion capital part of the budget, the $1.1 billion internal service that has to do with how we pay our employees, the health care, those services, and about $900 million in debt services every year, the actual budget overall for LAUSD is closer to $11.5 billion.”

His suggested that student input be a part of teacher evaluations. He said he supported the new Common Core standards but problems continue from how it was rolled out. He also said that testing is not how students should be evaluated, and he is opposed to the expansion of charters.

Filiberto Gonzalez

Gonzalez was aggressive in attacking Galatzan for MiSiS and the iPad program, as well as making the most light of her absence from the event. He proposed raising the starting salary for teachers to $65,000 from the current $46,000 but offered no details on how to pay for it.

The only real fireworks of the night came during his closing remarks, in which he claimed Galatzan had used the district’s robo-caller to phone constituents and ask them to attend her budget meeting that evening, suggesting that she was using district resources to deter people from attending the debate.

The moderator, League of Women Voters Los Angeles President Elizabeth Ralston, attempted several times to stop him, asking that he refrain from “personal attacks.” That elicited boos from the crowd and some calling out that he should be allowed to continue. “I’m using my time appropriately,” he said to Ralston.

Elizabeth Badger

Badger had frequent criticisms of Galatzan. She also touted her experience as a business owner and her master’s degree in public policy from USC as relevant budget experience.

She argued that testing should only be part of teacher evaluations and pointed out, correctly, that the criteria for approving charters is set by the state, making the school board’s control over approving them limited.

Like Gonzalez, she dedicated her closing statements to criticizing Galatzan, asserting that the district needs a “full time defender, not a part-time prosecutor,” a reference to Galatzan’s part-time board member status and second job a city prosecutor.

* An earlier version suggested candidates gave opening statements. At this forum they did not.


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