Schmerelson ‘feeling pretty good’ after making District 3 runoff
Craig Clough | March 20, 2015
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Scott Schmerelson says he is “feeling pretty good” these days, and the longtime LA Unified educator, counselor and principal certainly has lots of reasons for it.
Schmerelson emerged from a logjam of five challengers to finish second in the March 3 school board primary election, good enough to make the May 19 runoff against District 3 incumbent Tamar Galatzan. She finished first with 40.2 percent of the vote (as of officials results announced today) but short of the majority needed to avoid the runoff.
Schmerelson moved on with with 20.4 percent, well ahead of Ankur Patel (12.8), Elizabeth Badger (10.8), Carl Petersen (10) and Filiberto Gonzalez (5.8).
But those also rans could become important factors in the runoff. With their support amounting to more than 40 percent of the overall vote, two of them are supporting Schmerelson in the runoff, and the two others say they are considering it.
“I invited them to lunch to talk and to kind of meet and thank each other in doing such a good job,” Schmerelson told LA School Report, noting that Gonzalez was not there but that they spoke on the phone later. “We all agreed that we were working for the same cause and were united. In other words, they were going to throw their votes and voters towards me, and they would encourage their people to be on my side.”
Official public support or endorsements have yet to materialize from all the challengers, but it does appear that none of them plans to endorse Galatzan or work against him.
Patel said he plans to endorse Schmerelson, and Petersen has expressed his support in a press release and on social media. Badger said she is considering an endorsement, calling Schmerelson a “great candidate,” and Gonzalez said he is going to be talking to Schmerelson soon about a potential endorsement. Gonzalez also said on Twitter that he will not endorse Galatzan.
Even with full support of the other challengers, toppling Galatzan from her seat will be no easy task. She has already been elected twice, so her name recognition and support runs wide and deep through her district. She is also supported by the deep pockets of the California Charter Schools Association, Great Public Schools: Los Angeles and SEIU Local 99, which combined to spend $272,247 in support of her reelection, outside of the $37,314 her campaign itself has raised, which led the field in District 3.
Schmerelson has received no outside support from any political action committees, but he raised $31,609 for his primary campaign, second best in the District 3 race. More significantly, the teachers union, UTLA, appears serious about offering its support, as the executive committee of UTLA’s political action committee, PACE, has recommended to the full committee an endorsement for Schmerelson. If the endorsement comes, UTLA has the ability to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars behind Schmerelson.
Schmerelson is a registered Republican, and UTLA has rarely supported a non-Democrat over the last few decades. Since the primary election, he has tried to downplay his Republicanism as a non-factor.
“Republican and Democrat are party names, and when you say someone is a Democrat or a Republican, I hope it wouldn’t’ be taken as being at the extreme end of the name,” he said. “I certainly am very moderate, and I think UTLA realizes that.”
With or without UTLA support, Schmerselson said he is dedicated to running a civil campaign. In the two District 3 election forums, he was perhaps the most civil and restrained in criticizing Galatzan, while Gonzalez, Petersen and Badger essentially took a no holds barred approach. He said he does, however, plan on upping his criticism of the incumbent.
“It is not my style to hit below the belt, and I don’t ever want it to be. The word would be more, ‘direct,'” he said.
When asked the three things he would want to focus on the most as a board member, Schmerelson said his priorities are decreasing class size, increasing support staff and taking a a more narrow approach to how bond money is spent.
The last point, bond money, is where Schmerelson criticized Galatzan the most in the forums, pointing to her support of the controversial iPad program, which marked over $1.1 billion of bond money for use in purchasing iPads for every student and teacher in the district. Critics have said the use of bond money to buy iPads was an overstep and should have been used to fix up or build schools although district lawyers say it is within the law to use the money for digital devices.
The iPads-for-all program has crumbled after being recently cancelled by Superintendent Ramon Cortines in the wake of a grand jury investigation into the program’s procurement process.
“The biggest thing on my mind is the bond issue,” Schmerelson said. “People trust us with the schools, but once you loose the confidence of the tax payers, you are finished. They won’t vote for any more bonds. They are not stupid.”
The issues of reducing class size and increasing school personnel like counselors and librarians are less controversial, as most would support the ideas. But identifying the money to pay for it is more difficult. The district contends that it is facing a potential budget deficit next year of $160 million, and the school board is considering over 600 layoffs.
While Schmerelson didn’t offer specific ideas in how to massage the budget in favor of class size and personnel, he said the money is available.
“I still do think there is money to be used for the classroom to reduce class size and to add people,” he said. “Now you’re going to ask me, ‘Well, how to do know that?’ Well, just by looking at the facts and figures we have for revenues, I think revenues are going up.”
Schmerson and Galatzan are scheduled to face off in a candidate’s forum on April 13, hosted by the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council.
* Updated to reflect official election results, which were announced today.