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UTLA one step closer to endorsing a Republican in Schmerelson

Vanessa Romo | March 11, 2015

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Scott Schmerelson

Scott Schmerelson

The Los Angeles teachers union, UTLA, has moved one step closer to endorsing Scott Schmerelson, a former LA Unified principal, administrator and a Republican, in the runoff race for Board District 3.

Members of the teachers union political action committee, PACE, are recommending to the full committee an endorsement for Schmerelson in his bid to unseat the two-time incumbent Tamar Galatzan, pledging to work tirelessly to remove her from the school board.

“The executive committee has already recommended endorsing Schmerelson based on the positive polling results we have seen,” a union official familiar with the process told LA School Report.

“We expect UTLA’s House of Representatives to fully endorse him so we can start a campaign,” he said, adding that Galatzan’s failure to gain support from the LA County Democratic Party improves the odds for Schmerelson.

The union’s House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on endorsements at a meeting on March 25. The union has already endorsed  — and spent heavily to support — incumbent Bennett Kayser in his second bid for District 5. PACE has not made an official recommendation in the District 7 contest between board President Richard Vladovic and his challenger, Lydia Gutierrez, who is also a Republican.

“There will be a lot of discussion and I cannot guess what will come of it — too many factors,” the union official said of District 7.

By endorsing a Republican, even one in a non-partisan election, breaks decades of tradition for UTLA. For at least the last two decades, and probably longer, the union has endorsed only Democrats, with one exception, Robert Skeels, who ran for a board seat in 2013 under the Peace & Freedom banner.

Bill Lambert, former director of government relations for UTLA, admitted it’s unusual though not unprecedented for the union to back a non-Democrat. In his 43 years in the post, he said, “there were definitely a few…not a lot.”

“Ultimately, we endorsed people based on whether or not they were good for the teachers and the kids,” Lambert said.

Aside from being a Republican, Schmerelson is also a regional executive director for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), an organization that favors policies opposed by UTLA, including issues in the Vergara case, parts of which the administrators group favored and all of which the union opposed. ACSA also advocates for streamlining the dismissal process of certificated employees and teacher evaluation reforms.

On his campaign website, Schmerelson says, “Administrators should not be evaluating teachers, teachers should evaluate teachers.”

If UTLA throws its full weight behind Schmerelson, it could lead the same kind of spending war that sent Ref Rodriguez and Kayser into a runoff in District 5. Rodriguez, a charter school executive, had benefit of hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending from the California Charter Schools Association and another reform group, Great Public Schools: LA, while the union spent as liberally on Kayser. Rodriguez finished first, by a margin of 38 percent to 35 percent.

The charter group also spent several hundred thousand dollars on Galatzan, who led Schmerelson, by 39 percent to 20 percent.

Schmerelson does not see his party affiliation as a factor in the election. He told LA School Report before the primary: “It is a non-partisan election; what does it have to do with the kids at school? I may be registered as a Republican but what does that have to do with the kids of LA Unified?”

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