In Partnership with 74

Galatzan’s loss? Blame it on iPads, anti-incumbency and Galatzan

Michael Janofsky | May 20, 2015

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

Tamar Galtatzan

Tamar Galtatzan

Tamar Galatzan, now an out-going LA Unified board member for District 3,  congratulated the career school administrator who defeated her yesterday, Scott Schmerelson, issuing a statement in which she expressed “great respect for my colleagues on the school board and what we have been able to accomplish during difficult financial times.

“I’m grateful to them for their commitment and dedication in helping our students succeed,” she said.

But she was not available for any questions about the campaign, her board office said.

Of results in the three LA Unified board elections yesterday, Galatzan’s loss seemed the most unexpected. In the primary, she fended off five challengers and out-polled Schmerelson by 2-to-1. Yesterday, Schmerelson beat her with 55 percent of the low turnout vote —  they drew just 9.1 percent of District 3 voters to the polls.

Or maybe the outcome was foretold, after all.

About three weeks ago, the political action committee for the teachers union, UTLA, began pulling money out of Bennett Kayser’s race against Ref Rodriguez, who had defeated him in the primary in District 5, and put it behind Schmerelson. The teachers were the only outside group in his corner, spending $525,000, in part a reflection of the favorable reaction to him by UTLA members.

That support was, apparently, the third leg of the stool on which he stood for winning.

The other two? iPads and and anti-incumbency.

“iPads were the defining issue across the board, and it was especially acute in District 3,” said Dan Chang, executive director of a reform group, Great Public Schools: Los Angeles, that spent heavily on Galatzan’s behalf.

Putting an iPad in the hands of every LA Unified student and teacher was the hallmark initiative of former Superintendent John Deasy. Galatzan was his strongest supporter on the board, and by now everyone knows the program was a disaster, a $1 billion disaster.

It was an issue that combined with the MiSiS crisis and Deasy fatigue to bedevil the campaigns of Bennett Kayser, who lost his District 5 seat, and Richard Vladovic, who hung on to his in District 7.

“This was an electorate predisposed to disfavoring the district,” Chang said. “The issue of the iPads was in the press for months and months;  it continued to stay in the press, and the news was all negative. UTLA made it remain in the news, and Tamar couldn’t overcome it.”

Others suggested that Galatzan, who is also a city prosecutor, played a role in her own demise.

“She didn’t campaign,” said Ben Austin, now policy director for Students Matter, the group that financed the Vergara case. “Who knows if she even wanted to win in the first place. I didn’t sense that she ran any kind of campaign.”

For evidence, Austin pointed to the individual contributions to her campaign, $56,405, according to the latest accounting by the city Ethics Commission, and the amount that remains unspent, $38,205 — although that’s likely to decrease as campaign bills come due.

That said, outside groups did much of the bidding for her, spending $777,894 for campaign support in praising her and bashing Schmerelson.

Read Next