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UTLA pulls back campaign spending on Kayser in shift to Schmerelson

Vanessa Romo | April 24, 2015

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Scott Schmerelson

Scott Schmerelson

Despite only modest spending on behalf of Bennett Kayser in the race to represent LA Unified’s board District 5, the teachers union said today it’s not abandoning him in the May 19 run off against reform darling, Ref Rodriguez.

According to the latest data from the LA City Ethics Commission, the political action committee connected to the California Charter Schools Association has spent $468,126 and a student canvassing group, Students for Education Reform Action Network, has spent $38,126 in support of Rodriguez. That total — $506,252 — dwarfs the amount spent by UTLA and SEUI Local 99, the service workers union, for Kayser. They have invested $13,893 and $33,105 respectively, for a total of $56,998.

Overall, the pro-Rodriguez groups have outspent the pro-Kayser groups by almost 9-to-1, with the charter group outspending the union by nearly 34-to-1.

Union officials say they believe Kayser is well known enough as an incumbent that they can shift their spending away from District 5 and use funds to back Scott Schmerelson, the long time administrator opposing incumbent Tamar Galatzan in the valley race for District 3.

“The decision to spend in District 3 was made from a strategic standpoint,” Oraui Amoni, UTLA’s political director, told LA School Report.

“Since we didn’t endorse Schmerelson in the primary, we knew we needed to get his name out there sooner rather than later,” Amoni said. “Whereas with Kayser we’ve been campaigning for him all along, so the need to get his name out there isn’t the same.”

Spending for Kayser and against Ref in the primary election was significantly less lopsided, though by no means even, with Rodriguez backers outspending Kayser supporters by $815,000 to $562,000.

Amoni says UTLA plans to unleash it’s greatest asset — good old fashioned manpower — against all of the candidates the union is opposing, including Lydia Gutierrez who is running against school board president, Richard Vladovic in District 7.

“That’s tried and true and we’ve seen it work over and over again,” he said. “We will have thousands of teachers making phone calls; we will have thousands of teaches knocking on doors; and we will have thousands of teachers delivering our message about the schools children deserve.”

As tested as the strategy may be for UTLA, banking on Kayser’s name-recoignition and reputation, it’s a risk shifting money away from him. He’s the union’s strongest ally on the seven-member board and losing him would be a blow to union-supported issues that come before the board. Schmerelson, on the other hand, has promised to be a more independent voice on the board, not necessarily aligned with the union on all issues.

Amoni declined to comment on UTLA’s plans to spend $400,000 that was recently reallocated from the union’s strike fund, now that the union and the district have reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract.

“If we spend it and how we spend it is confidential,” he said, adding, “we’ll report what we are legally required to report.”

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