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Election Guide 2019: The who, what, when and where for Tuesday’s LAUSD Board District 5 runoff

Taylor Swaak | May 13, 2019

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Tuesday is the runoff election to fill the school board seat in L.A. Unified’s Board District 5.

The person elected — either teachers union favorite Jackie Goldberg or former mayoral aide and parent Heather Repenning — will become part of the seven-member school board that decides on policies, budget and approval of charter schools in L.A. Unified, which is the largest school district in California and second-largest in the nation.

The District 5 board member represents students enrolled in schools located in parts of the southeast of Los Angeles — minority, low-income communities including the cities of Huntington Park, Maywood, South Gate and Bell — and in more affluent, whiter neighborhoods northeast of downtown, including Highland Park, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Eagle Rock and Los Feliz. The board district, known as BD5, serves predominantly Latino students and has some of L.A. Unified’s highest-need learners as well as some of the state’s lowest-performing schools.

The elected board member will complete a term expiring in December 2020.

Go to the county registrar website for election results Tuesday night. In the meantime, here are six things you need to know about Tuesday’s special election:

1. What’s at stake?

It’s an important election for all L.A. Unified students.

Whoever fills the vacant seat could swing the balance of the board either toward a more pro-charter or pro-union majority as members contend with the district’s deficit spending and grim financial projections, low achievement metrics and deep ideological divides on charters’ future role in public education. The board in January voted to ask the state to study charters and impose a temporary moratorium — an ask heavily pushed for by United Teachers Los Angeles during the six-day teacher strike.

This election is particularly important to Latinos because they make up almost 90 percent of enrollment in BD5 — the second-highest concentration of Latino students among L.A. Unified’s seven board districts.

Of the more than 81,000 traditional school students in BD5 enrolled across 177 schools, many come from immigrant families. More than a quarter are classified as English learners, and 11 percent require special education services. More than 85 percent live in low-income households, and an estimated 2,000 students are homeless.

Seven schools in BD5 were recently identified in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, and all seven are in the district’s southeast section. Nearly 4 in 10 of the board district’s elementary and middle schools are in the lowest categories in both math and reading on the state’s dashboard.

The new board member will also represent more than 15,000 students across 32 independent charter schools. Some of these charters have multiple site locations, which then brings the total of charters to 41, according to a district spokesperson. BD5 has no affiliated charters, which are district-run schools with some autonomies.

Read what BD5 parents say about their schools and what they want for their children here.

2. Who’s on the ballot?

Jackie Goldberg and Heather Repenning are the two remaining candidates following a 10-candidate primary election in March. Goldberg amassed just shy of 50 percent of the vote in the primary; Repenning took about 13 percent, inching out Huntington Park Councilwoman Graciela Ortíz by a hairline 31 ballots for the second runoff slot.

Both women are white, continuing a trend of low Latino representation in the BD5 seat in the last two dozen years despite the board district being drawn to elect a Latino.

Goldberg, 74, has deep political roots in the city and state. She was a teacher in Compton, an L.A. Unified school board member, an L.A. city councilwoman and a state assemblywoman. She is endorsed by UTLA and is closely aligned with the union on topics such as increased charter school scrutiny.

Repenning, 44, speaks fluent Spanish — a top priority of Latino parents in BD5 — and has more than 18 years of experience in local government. She’s a former aide to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is now campaigning for her. Repenning would be the only parent on the board with a child in the L.A. Unified school system, and she has campaigned for more parent engagement initiatives. She’s backed by SEIU Local 99, a union that represents non-teaching staff such as school cafeteria workers and custodians.

The California Charter Schools Association’s political arm, which backed both Board District 4’s Nick Melvoin and Board District 6’s Kelly Gonez in the 2017 elections, did not endorse any candidate this election cycle.

As of May 10, Goldberg had $1.28 million in outside expenditures from UTLA, according to city ethics commission data. Repenning was at $1.18 million, with about $1.1 million from SEIU Local 99. Campaign totals are available via this link.

Read up on Goldberg and Repenning in our in-depth profiles. Or check out our latest rundown comparing the two candidates on key topics here.

3. Who’s voting?

There are about 315,000 eligible voters in BD5. But the vast majority won’t cast a ballot.

Voter turnout in school board elections is typically low — 10 percent or less — and even lower in special elections, “simply because it’s singular to a specific district, a specific set of communities, with candidates specifically targeting certain audiences,” Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State LA, told LA School Report in March.

This is the only race on Tuesday’s ballot. March’s primary, which overlapped with a few municipal elections, saw 10.7 percent turnout, or 33,777 voters.

Voter turnout is already historically low for Latino voters, many of whom live in the southeast region on BD5. In the last BD5 election in 2015, for example, 57 percent of registered voters in BD5 were Latino, but they made up only 46 percent of the about 26,600 ballots cast, according to data provided by pollster Paul Goodwin. Goodwin noted in an email on Monday that about 62 percent of BD5 voters are now listed as Latino.

The area northeast of downtown, where about 32,000 students are enrolled in schools in whiter, more affluent neighborhoods like Eagle Rock, Los Feliz and Silver Lake, has typically seen higher turnout. Latino experts and political watchers agree that those who would be most impacted by low electoral turnout would be the 67,000 students in the southeast section.

“By holding a special election … it disenfranchises communities, especially the southeast community,” Fernando Guerra, a professor and founding director of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, which conducts the L.A. Votes exit poll, told LA School Report earlier this election cycle.

Before the primary, pollster Goodwin said a runoff between Repenning and Goldberg could discourage Latino turnout. “If you have this interesting sort of inter-union battle between Heather and Jackie, where there’s unlikely to be any substantive difference between them … then you might have very, very low Latino turnout,” Goodwin said. He reiterated this notion in Monday’s email, guessing that Latino voter turnout would be “about 35% to 40%” because of the lack of Latino candidates on the ballot.

María Daisy Ortíz, an immigrant parent, said at a candidate forum that she is more concerned with whether the next board member can improve educational opportunities for English learners and low-income students than if they’re Latino. “I hope all parents, particularly Latinos, can be very analytical about who they’re going to vote for and don’t vote for a candidate that only tells them what they want to hear,” said Ortíz, who is also a member of the district’s committee for English learners and a frequent speaker at L.A. Unified board meetings.

The county registrar received 15,739 absentee ballots as of Friday, a spokesman said Monday — a larger early turnout than in March. It had issued more than 153,000 ballots.

To make board selection more democratic, groups like Power California are advocating for youths 16 years old and up, as well as non-citizens, to be able to vote in school board elections. Repenning supports both; Goldberg is only fully behind non-citizen voting at this time. San Francisco in November became the first California city to allow non-citizen voting in school board elections.

Read more about disparities in Latino voter representation here.

4. Why a May election?

The BD5 special election was approved by the school board in August, a month after District 5 member and Board President Ref Rodríguez resigned after pleading guilty to political money laundering charges. The seat has been vacant since then. The cost of tomorrow’s election is an estimated $2.1 million, according to the country registrar’s office.

The winning candidate will serve out Rodríguez’s term, which ends in December 2020, and can run again for the next term. Both Goldberg and Repenning have expressed intentions to run in the next term’s election.

5. How can I vote?

Registered voters who live in the boundaries of BD5 can vote in this election. The district includes neighborhoods northeast and southeast of downtown. Click here for a complete map of District 5.

You can find your polling place by entering your address in the Los Angeles County Clerk website. For assistance by phone, you can call (800) 815-2666. Polling places will open Tuesday, May 14, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

6. Then what?

About 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, the county registrar will release the first tallies, which will include all absentee ballots received up to that point.

Goldberg’s campaign will be hosting an Election Night party at Taix French Restaurant at 1911 Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. Repenning’s event will be at Ivanhoe Restaurant at 2500 Riverside Dr. — about 2 miles apart and both in the northern part of BD5.

Goldberg’s campaign manager Zoe Kleinfeld wrote in an email Thursday that, “We cannot predict Tuesday’s outcome; however, both candidates should have a good idea after the first round of returns.”

Between 9 and 9:30 p.m., there will be an updated total that counts ballots cast at the polls. Updates will continue about every half hour Tuesday night until 100 percent of the precincts are reporting, a county spokesman said. Absentee ballots have to be postmarked by Tuesday at the latest and received by Friday to be counted, the spokesman said.

While the outcome could be known as early as Tuesday night, the county isn’t expected to officially certify the election results until May 24. The next board member can be seated after the election is certified, Board Secretariat Jefferson Crain has told LA School Report.

Go to the county registrar website for election results.

Read more about the election from LA School Report:

● Pre-election rundown: Where Jackie Goldberg and Heather Repenning stand on hot-button issues in LAUSD’s school board race

● Goldberg and Repenning find little to disagree about in their last forum in LAUSD Board District 5’s southeast section before Tuesday’s vote

● Heather Repenning enters the school board runoff vowing to address the need ‘to write a new chapter of change at LAUSD’

● More money, more charter school scrutiny: Here’s what Jackie Goldberg wants to bring to LAUSD in her bid to rejoin the school board after nearly 30 years

● New survey shows big differences in how English- and Spanish-speakers view their schools in LAUSD’s Board District 5

● Latinos are the vast majority in LAUSD’s Board District 5. But they likely won’t be the ones who elect their next school board member. Here’s why.

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