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LAUSD special election guide: Who’s on the ballot, and why Tuesday’s primary matters

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | March 1, 2019

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*Updated March 4

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

The person elected 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 — including the cities of Huntington Park, Maywood, South Gate and Bell — and in neighborhoods northeast of downtown, including Highland Park, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Eagle Rock and Los Feliz.

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

Here are five things you need to know:

1. What’s at stake?

This election is particularly important to Latinos because they make up almost 90 percent of enrollment in BD5, which has some of the district’s neediest students and the state’s lowest-performing schools. District 5 has the second-highest concentration of Latino students in L.A. Unified, and many come from immigrant families.

It’s an important election for all L.A. Unified students because whoever fills the vacant seat could swing the balance of the board either toward a pro-charter or a pro-union majority.

The new board member will represent more than 81,187 students enrolled in 177 schools. Across BD5, there are also 32 independent charter schools, but some have multiple site locations, which then brings the total of charters to 41, according to a district spokesperson.

The total enrollment of students in independent charters in BD5 last school year was 15,479, according to the California Charter Schools Association. There are no affiliated charters — which are district-run schools with some autonomies — in BD5.

There are seven schools in BD5 that were recently identified in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, and all seven are in the district’s southeast section. More than a quarter of BD5’s students 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. Nearly 4 in 10 of the district’s elementary and middle schools are in the lowest categories in both math and reading on the state’s dashboard.

2. Who’s on the ballot?

There are 10 candidates running in Tuesday’s primary.

Four candidates have significantly pulled ahead of the rest with the most money raised for their campaigns. In order of campaign contributions as of Friday, they are: Heather Repenning, a former director of external affairs for the City of L.A., Allison Greenwood Bajracharya, a former charter school executive, former BD5 board member Jackie Goldberg and Graciela Ortíz, a councilwoman in Huntington Park and the only Latino among the top four candidates with the most campaign contributions.

Seven of the 10 candidates are Latino, but experts predict two non-Latino candidates will most likely advance to a runoff. There have only been two Latinos elected to represent BD5 in the last two dozen years.

Read here to learn more about the candidates.

3. What’s next?

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of votes on Tuesday — which experts say is likely — a runoff will be held on May 14 between the top two vote-getters. 

Because of the large number of candidates, insiders predict the margin of votes will be narrow and a final count could take up to several days.

Go to the county registrar website for election results.

4. 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, March 5, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

5. Why is there an election in March?

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 winning candidate will serve out Rodríguez’s term, which ends in December 2020, and can run again for the next term. Nearly all of the candidates for the special election expressed their intention at a candidate forum to run in the next term’s election.

• Read more about the election from LA School Report:

Meet the 10 candidates running for LAUSD school board in District 5

At two forums for LAUSD board candidates, students focus on college preparation, while parents want high-quality teachers and safe schools

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.

*This article has been updated with the correct link for election results on the county registrar website.

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