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Private internal poll showing Gutierrez slightly ahead of Vladovic

Michael Janofsky | April 15, 2015



Lydia Gutierrez

Lydia Gutierrez

LA Unified board President Richard Vladovic appears to be in the political fight of his life.

A recent internal poll of District 7 voters by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates and Great Public Schools: Los Angeles, which the groups shared with LA School Report, showed his challenger, Lydia Gutierrez, leading by 37 percent to 34 percent, with 29 percent undecided, in a statistical tie. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.

“A shocker,” said Dan Chang, executive director of Great Public Schools, which has endorsed Vladovic along with the charter group and the teachers union, UTLA.

Vladovic, who is running for a third term in the May 19 runoff election, has been board president since 2013. Four years ago, he breezed to reelection with 63 percent of the primary vote, and this time, he is the rare candidate — maybe the only candidate — to run for the school board with the backing of both the teachers union and the charter schools. (The teachers did not endorse him in the primary.)

“Dr. Vladovic has always run an aggressive campaign and this election will be no different,” said his campaign consultant, Mike Trujillo. “Putting students, parents and teachers first has been the hallmark of this former teacher, principal and now school board member.”

Yet Vladovic now finds himself in a tight race that proves party affiliation has little bearing on a school board election: Gutierrez, a Republican, is seeking her first victory in her fifth run for public office since 2008 — and she’s running strong in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 4-to-1. In the primary, she finished only 5 percentage points behind Vladovic, who is a Democrat.

Gutierrez declined to answer a series of questions from LA School Report, seeking her reaction to the poll and comment on various positions that reflect her social positions, including her support for teaching creationism as an alternative theory to evolution.

In an emailed response, she insisted that she has never “brought up” those issues as part of this campaign, adding, “I am focused on the educational needs of our students in LAUSD, and how can my vote, once I am elected to the board, be used to implement procedures that will stop the wasteful use of tax dollars on projects that show a lack of planning to help benefit our students from being successful in life.”

While neither she nor Vladovic has made party affiliation or social issues part of their campaigns, Gutierrez has made no secret of her position on issues that would clearly define her as a social conservative, winning her wide support: She strongly opposes abortion. She worked to uphold Proposition 8, which sought to ban gay marriage in California.

And on an issue that continues to play out in school districts across the country, she supports the teaching of creationism, as indicated by a voter guide published last year by electionforum.org during her campaign last year for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. She came in third, behind Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck.

Electionforum.org describes itself as a site to find “information based on candidates’ views, records and positions from a Christian worldview.”

In her response to LA School Report, she did not deny holding any of those positions.

Trujillo said Vladovic supports abortion rights and gay marriage and opposes the teaching of creationism. He also supports the Common Core State Standards — Gutierrez does not — and he favors state mandates for vaccinating children while Gutierrez prefers to leave the choice with parents. The LA Unified board yesterday passed a resolution by unanimous vote, supporting a state initiative to mandate vaccinations.

Josh Rosenau, program and policy director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization that defends the teaching of evolution and climate science in public schools, said creationism, also known as intelligent design, is being taught in nearly every state despite decades of federal court rulings that prohibit it.

He said it’s more commonly taught in rural areas by teachers who either don’t know about its legal status or by teachers who believe their approach to the pedagogy does not violate the law.

“I would be surprised if it’s not being taught in California,” Rosenau said. “Which is not to say it’s not showing up in LA Unified, but it’s more likely in rural areas and urban areas. We get plenty of calls from places like Redding and the Central Valley.

But party ideology and positions on social issues may be less importnt in a school board race than other factors that would appear to give Gutierrez advantages. She is a Latina in a district where the plurality of voters, 39 percent, identify as Hispanic and a majority of registered voters, 52 percent, are female.

Also, on the ballot, she is identified as “school teacher,” which she has been for decades and may resonate with average voters. Vladovic is identified as “school board member/educator.”

Through the last filing period with the LA City Ethics Commission, ending on April 4, neither of the poll sponsors nor UTLA had thrown any money behind Vladovic. But that’s likely to change, Chang said.

“There are active discussions taking place among all the groups,” he said. “We’ll figure out how to help Dr. Vladovic.”

Gutierrez has no outside support so far, either. But she didn’t have any for her primary campaign, and that didn’t seem to hurt her.

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