In LAUSD board races, a chance to wave the Republican flag–or not
Bethania Palma Markus | April 7, 2015
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Having two Republicans in the runoffs for LA Unified school board seats — Scott Schmerelson in District 3 and Lydia Gutierrez in District 7 — would seem to be a flag-waving event for the California GOP in a Democrat-stronghold city like Los Angeles.
Bowing to the nonpartisan nature of local school board elections, party officials are not using the potential success of Republicans in southern California races as harbingers of a trend. Nor is the Republican party — or the Democrats, for that matter — expected to spend any money to help their chances.
Rather, GOP officials say they’re more focused on broader issues at stake in an election that is pivotal in the power struggle between charter schools and the teachers union.
“Of course, as an elementary issue, any time a Republican can win in a region dominated by Democrats, it would be quite a development,” Jonathan Wilcox, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, told LA School Report. “But we are particularly focused on issues like education and we think it is through issues rather than anything else that we will see greater Republican success in Los Angeles.”
Wilcox pointed out that county Republicans are more concerned with the bigger picture.
“There isn’t one cure-all for schools, and there isn’t one great idea to advocate,” he said. “But we very much believe that charter schools are at least a part of the solution. I think the evidence shows that charter schools can make a difference, and we certainly don’t believe that they should be diminished or blocked from attempting to succeed. This is always going to be bigger than any one election.”
Schmerelson and Gutierrez have neither promoted nor hid from their party affiliation. But they have not expressed support for charters. Schmerelson lists his position on six “issues” on his website; none is about charters. Gutierrez has been critical of charters but says nothing about them on her website.
And while the California Charter School Association has much at stake in the two elections, it is backing their opponents, Tamar Galatzan in 3 and board President Richard Vladovic in 7. Both are incumbents.
The state party’s communications director, Kaitlyn MacGregor, said the statewide party doesn’t endorse local elections because they are typically nonpartisan.
“We keep an eye on it,” she said. “We are excited every time a Republican gets elected.”
Schmerelsen, who spent 35 years as an LAUSD educator as a teacher and administrator, has played down his party affiliation, insisting that it has no role in school board decisions. That was good enough for the LA teachers union, UTLA, which endorsed him in opposing Galatzan.
UTLA, which has worked to unionize teachers in several LA Unified charter schools, is determined to remove Galatzan, according to its website although it does not mention Schmerelson in explaining its endorsements:
“Now that she has been forced into a May runoff, our members will continue the work necessary to remove Galatzan from the School Board,” it says. “She bought into John Deasy’s disastrous iPad program, and the former Superintendent contributed to her campaign. It is time for Galatzan to follow in Deasy’s footsteps out the door at LAUSD.”
Schmerelson echoes the union in his criticism of Deasy’s bungled effort to distribute iPads to students, and its quest for smaller class sizes.
Gutierrez, a former teacher, also makes little of her party affiliation although she follows the national Republican party’s rejection of Common Core.
“I have a saying: Common Core is a theory licensed as a product, marketed as a standard,” Gutierrez told LA School Report in January. “It’s a theory that has never been tested. Nowhere can anyone prove any documentation. They have not tested it. That’s why it’s called a theory.”
The Long Beach Unified teacher ran for the state superintendent for public instruction last year, finishing third behind the two Democrats who made the runoff, Tom Torlakson, who won, and Marshall Tuck.
*Updated to reflect that Gutierrez is a current Long Beach Unified teacher, not former