Will LAUSD bring back chocolate milk?

ChocolateMilkWhile discussing cost-saving measures and reducing waste in LA Unified food services, some school board members said they wanted to bring back flavored milk.

Superintendent John Deasy banned chocolate and strawberry milk from the school menu five years ago after the school board voted it was too sugary for students.

But now LA Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer said he was concerned that there is a waste of a lot of milk that students are served but don’t drink.

“Kids really do want water, they don’t drink milk. Largely in high school they want water,” Zimmer said at a special board meeting Tuesday to discuss district finances. “I suspect the waste of milk is fairly phenomenal in high school.”

That was confirmed by Laura Benavidez, of LA Unified Food Services, who added that federal standards do not consider water to have any nutritional value, and therefore “that will be a direct cost to the district” if milk is replaced with water, she said. Benavidez said that school cafeteria managers have long agreed that students would drink more chocolate milk if it was brought back to the menu.

Board member Ref Rodriguez pointed out that there were many low-calorie and low-sugar alternatives for chocolate milk today that weren’t as available in 2011. Some charter schools serve flavored milk that is low fat.

“Let’s bring chocolate milk back!” declared board member Monica Ratliff, who pointed out that the decision to ban it was made before she joined the board.

In fact, only Zimmer and Monica Garcia were on the board at the time, and they both voted to ban flavored milk. Former board members Tamar Galatzan and Marguerite LaMotte voted against the ban, citing findings from the American Pediatrics Association and the American Heart Association that showed flavored milk is not excessively harmful to children.

One of the newest board members, Scott Schmerelson, said, “As a school principal who monitored the cafeteria a lot, I saw children line up to get their chocolate or strawberry milk first in case it ran out, and inevitably, it ran out. Can we please get it back?”

Zimmer asked the district staff to look into getting the federal government to pay for water or see how the district can get it at low cost.

Benavidez also pointed out that they are piloting hydration stations at Marina Del Rey Middle School and Jefferson High School to have flavored water with strawberry and lemon added to it. “They are enormously popular,” she said.

She wrote down the board’s ideas and said, “Those are some of the things we can look at.”

Affiliated charters: A successful model on its way out?

CarpenterSignLA Unified has so many different kinds of schools it’s hard to keep them all straight. With such varied terms as affiliated charter, independent charter, magnet school, pilot school, continuation school, option school and others, it can be a challenge to understand what they are, what they offer and how they differ.

This is the next part of an LA School Report series taking an in-depth look at the different categories of schools that exist within the massive LA Unified school district. 

Today we examine affiliated charter schools.

(Read more on affiliated charters: Does ‘charter’ make you look smarter? Principal of LAUSD’s newest affiliated charter says yes and The elementary school-turned-affiliated charter that became so popular parents fake their addresses)

(Read more about magnets and their expansion in our series, including profiles of Bravo and King/Drew medical magnets.)

One of the most successful school models in LA Unified is also one of the most under-used, and it’s becoming even more scarce. Only one school in the last two years has even applied to become one.

The unique “affiliated charter” schools — coined and developed locally at the nation’s second-largest school district — achieve higher test scores than either the district’s prized magnets or independent charter schools. They also have lower absentee rates than the district average.

But only 53, or 4 percent, of LA Unified’s 1,274 schools use the affiliated charter model. The schools are located in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods — nearly half of the student population is white in affiliates—and exist in communities where parent involvement has pushed the school administrators into more creative and innovative methods of teaching.

“Some may see it as the best of both worlds,” said Jose Cole-Gutierrez, the executive director of the district’s Charter Schools Division that oversees all charter schools connected to the district. “They are semi-autonomous schools of the district very much connected to the district’s collective bargaining, district staff and more, but each school also has its own governance council.”

Affiliated charters can choose their own curriculum, opt to reduce class sizes or adjust classroom scheduling, offer more professional development and exercise more control over budgeting, hiring and school site decisions. But they adhere to all district collective bargaining agreements. And the district receives most of the state money that goes to an affiliated charter and funnels it to pay for teacher and administrator salaries, although there’s some spending freedom with the rest of the money. A school, for example, must teach basic standards and can buy its own textbooks that are different from what the district uses, but must figure out how to pay for them.

In the past year, affiliated charters have ranked significantly higher in the English and math scores than either magnet or independent charter schools. And their California Office to Reform Education’s (CORE) scores from the past year have averaged 79.8 while the district average is 60.

Yet this successful school model is on the decline in LA Unified because fewer school principals are choosing the model.

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5 weeks for summer break and 7 weeks for winter break? LAUSD considers it

Los Angeles Summer of Learning Programs LAUSDAn advisory committee studying options for LA Unified’s academic calendar are considering six different plans, and one them is a radically different approach that would shorten the summer break to five weeks and increase the winter break to seven weeks.

In addition, the plan would potentially add a 20-day “winter intersession” for some students to go along with a 20-day summer school session.

An article about the different plans under consideration was posted in the newsletter of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) by Gerardo Loera, principal of Virgil Middle School and a member of the LAUSD Calendar Committee. The committee has been tasked by Superintendent Ramon Cortines to study different calendar options, and based on the committee’s work Cortines is expected to make a formal three-year recommendation to the school board in December.

The plan would “address summer learning loss by shortening the break and reallocating the days to an extended winter break,” Loera wrote. “A four-week summer school and a four-week winter intersession would allow many LAUSD students to experience up to 220 days of instructional time if they attend both 20-day interventions in addition to the 180 day school year.”

He added, “Even if the District couldn’t afford to fund both extended learning opportunities, we’ve mitigated the summer learning loss by decreasing the longest extended vacation period.”

This dramatic overhaul of the schedule, which Loera described as a plan that “completely redesigns the way the District utilizes the 180 school days,” would start classes on Aug. 6 for the 2016-17 school year. It also calls for students that don’t participate in the winter intersession to have a break that begins after Dec. 16 and extends through Feb 6, which adds up to 51 full days off in-between semesters. Classes would end for the year on June 29.

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Commentary: The long goodbye, the no goodbye, the tears of Cortines

LAUSD school board CrotinesThat was quite a board meeting yesterday, with more emotion on display than Nixon or LBJ ever showed in announcing their decisions to leave the White House.

The first wave came in The Long Goodbye to Bennett Kayser, whose bid for a second term was thwarted by a member of the group he most detests, a charter school executive.

For more than 90 minutes, a parade of admirers praised Kayser as the conscience of the board — for standing up to former superintendent John Deasy, for supporting teachers no matter what, for opposing charters no matter what, for holding to his principles and for demonstrating how a neurological challenge, Parkinson’s disease, is no barrier to public service.

All well and good — although spending more than a third of a four-hour meeting on good-byes seemed a tad excessive, even for this board.

Maybe the farewell would not have seemed so gaudy were it not for the polar-opposite manner in which his colleague Tamar Galatzan finished her day.

She, too, lost last month, ending eight years of service on the board, twice as long as Kayser. She had requested no public ceremony, due in part, perhaps, to the lingering animus of members who could not abide by her loyalty to Deasy. She was as faithful to him as Kayser was to UTLA, the teachers union.

But political sympathies aside, it was stunning to see her disappear without anyone at least acknowledging her public service over the years, if not for holding to her principles.

No one from the board, including the other Deasy acolyte, Mónica García, said a word. Nor did anyone else in the room.

Poof . . . Gone . . . What was her name, again?

The other passion play was Superintendent Ramon Cortines’s weepy, halting speech — about the 2016 budget!

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Schmerelson stuns Galatzan to deny her third term on school board

Scott Schmerelson

Scott Schmerelson

In a stunning upset, Scott Schmerelson handily defeated two-term incumbent Tamar Galatzan in the race for LA Unified’s District 3 seat.

Schmerelson beat Galatzan with more than 3,000 votes, 55 percent to 45 percent.

“I am very happy, very excited, and I’m ready for my five-year term,” he told LA School Report late last night, referring to the extended term school board members will be serving following a voter approved measure aligning local elections with state and federal races.

While many observers predicted the outcome of the election in District 5 — between Bennett Kayser and Ref Rodriguez — would determine the future ideological balance of the seven member board, it is Schmerelson’s victory that ensures the so-called “reformers” will remain in the minority despite Kayser’s loss.

“I intend to be perfectly fair,” Schmerelson said, unwilling to describe himself as either pro-charter, pro-union, or pro-anything specific.

“I am not a vehement anti-charter person,” he explained, then launched into a lengthy speech about how many charters engage in deceitful practices dumping students with disciplinary problems or before important testing. His conclusion: “They really need to be closely monitored.”

The teachers union threw its support behind the veteran educator after the primary race in an effort to elect “anyone but Galatzan” according to UTLA PAC official, Marco Flores.

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Candidates stick to the script, play nice at District 3 forum

Tamar Galatzan and Scott Schmerelson at a District 3 forum in Sherman Oaks

Tamar Galatzan and Scott Schmerelson at District 3 Candidates Forum

As she arrived to the stage Monday night, Tamar Galatzan grabbed two bottles of water for the debate participants and handed one to her challenger, Scott Schmerelson, who smiled and thanked her.

The gesture set the stage for the evening, as both candidates for the LA Unified District 3 seat avoided any criticism of each other during a forum hosted by the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council.

Despite their opposing positions on many issues, the tone of the forum was so genial that it was easy to forget that the two are backed by powerful, deep-pocketed forces diametrically opposed to each other and poised to spend lots of money to take the other candidate out.

Galatzan, the incumbent endorsed by the California Charter School Association, finished atop a six-way race in the March 3 primary and now faces Schmerelson, the No. 2 finisher, in a May 19 runoff. Schmerelson was recently endorsed by the LA teachers union, UTLA.

Neither candidate directly criticized or even mentioned the other except for the few times they voiced agreement on an issue. Schmerelson did not have the UTLA endorsement during the primary race, but it was clear the new endorsement was not going to mean he will adopt the union’s more hard-edged approach to campaigning.

With below the belt tactics off the table, each worked hard to craft a positive self-image as a passionate advocate for LA Unified with a career and life experiences that added to their qualifications — Schmerelson, the veteran educator and administrator with the district; Galatzan, the hard-working parent already twice elected. Neither candidate challenged the other’s self portrait.

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Schmerelson ‘feeling pretty good’ after making District 3 runoff

Scott Schmerelson

Scott Schmerelson


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.

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3 LA Unified board incumbents heading into May runoffs

heading to a runoff


LA Unified’s election season moved into runoffs last night with no candidate in the three contested races winning a majority of votes for a board seat and the 5 1/2 year term that voters approved yesterday.

A low turnout of 8.2 percent sent three incumbents — Tamar Galatzan in District 3, Bennett Kayser in 5 and board President Richard Vladovic in 7 — into the May 19 general elections and gave two of them, Galatzan and Vladovic, Republican opponents.

George McKenna, running unopposed, won the District 1 seat.

Galatzan and Vladovic finished first in their races as expected. But it was a victory by Ref Rodriguez, a charter school executive, over Kayser that raised eyebrows the highest last night and made it a big night for the California Charter Schools Association.

In his first run for public office, Rodriguez won 38.6 percent of the vote to Kayser’s 35.8, assuring another 11 weeks of the proxy war between the charter association and the teachers union, UTLA, for greater control of the seven-member board.

“We are going to change LAUSD for the better,” Rodriguez said in a statement this morning. “Our children deserve high quality schools, and we are on our way to achieving that. I am very proud of the campaign we are running, and I’m looking forward to fighting and winning the general election.

The charter group worked mightily to deny Kayser a second term, spending almost $600,000 (through last month) for campaign material, including harsh attacks that suggested Kayser was a racist.

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Candidate files complaints with LAUSD, city ethics against Galatzan

Tamar Galatzan, School Board member

LA Unified school board member Tamar Galatzan

With less than 24 hours to go before the polls open, LA Unified school board candidate Carl Petersen said today that he filed several ethics complaints against Tamar Galatzan, the District 3 incumbent he is challenging in tomorrow’s elections.

Petersen levied the same complaints that were filed last week with the City Ethics Commission by candidate Filiberto Gonzalez, only Petersen filed them with LA Unified’s Office of the Inspector General, claiming that Galatzan improperly used her board office as part of her campaign in connection with a town hall meeting she held on Feb. 17. Petersen said in a press release he filed the “allegations” with the district because “the greater concern is the waste of badly needed education funds.”

Petersen also said he filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission that Galatzan’s campaign failed to disclose campaign expenses in a timely manner.

Galatzan’s campaign did not respond to a request to comment.

Gonzalez files complaint with City Ethics against Galatzan campaign

Tamar Galtatzan

Tamar Galtatzan

One of Tamar Galatzan’s challengers in the LA Unified District 3 board race said today he has filed a complaint against her with the City Ethics Commission, charging that she improperly used her board office as part of her campaign.

Filiberto Gonzalez, a former Los Angeles City planning commissioner, cited two specific instances: the use of what he believes is campaign material at a Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council meeting on Feb. 13, and the use of the district’s robocall system to notify thousands of parents about a community meeting on the budget on Feb. 17 — a date too close to the election, he argues, although he could not cite any specific law that would have prohibited it.

Gonzalez first made the robocall charge at a District 3 forum on Feb. 17 when Galatzan skipped the event to hold the community meeting.  

“As candidates, we are all required to participate in campaign ethics training,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “She cannot say it was an oversight. Even worse, as a prosecutor with the City of Los Angeles, she should know better and hold herself to a higher standard.”

A Commission spokeswoman said she could neither confirm nor deny “the existence of any complaints or investigations due to strict confidentiality rules mandated by the City Charter.”

Galatzan’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The District 3 race is the most crowded of the three contested school board elections on March 3. In seeking a third term, Galatzan is facing five challengers, most of whom have been sharply critical of her years on the board.

Gonzalez, who voted for Galatzan eight years ago, has been especially critical of her role in supporting the district’s iPad program, insisting in an interview, “She was a great supporter of the iPads even when it did not have support in our neighborhoods. It was wrong headed from the very beginning and yet she was the number one champion on that.”

District 3: LAUSD school board race snapshot

LAUSD District 3 Map


School board District 3 covers most of the western San Fernando valley from the Ventura county line to the 405 on its eastern boarder, with a cutout to include some of the tonier neighborhoods in the east valley. The district includes Chatsworth, parts of Woodland Hills, Northridge, Granda Hills, parts of Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks.

In all, there are 120 elementary schools, 42 middle schools and 41 high schools in LAUSD’s District 3. (See list here). Six candidates are vying for this seat.


Tamar Galatzan at Tuesday's LAUSD school board meeting

Tamar Galatzan (Incumbent)

Tamar Galatzan was first elected to the board in 2007 and has also worked as a prosecutor for the city of Los Angeles since 2002. She is a parent of two LAUSD students. While she has a reputation as a pro-charter, pro-reform movement board member and strong supporter of former Superintendent John Deasy, she also has a fiery independent streak, which was noted in her endorsement by the Los Angeles Times.

Organization Endorsements: California Charter School Association, the local chapter of the AFL-CIO, LA Times, SEIU Local 99.
Cash Raised: $35,714 (through 2/14)
SuperPAC $: $206,836.54 (through 2/14)
Age: 45
Education: J.D., University of California, Hastings College of the Law (1994);     B.A. in political science, UCLA, magna cum laude (1991)
Ballot Designation: School board member/Prosecutor
League of Women Voters Questionnaire: What is the single most important issue facing LAUSD today? The budget is unquestionably the most critical issue. Full answers here
United Way Questionnaire: Full answers here.
Website: Tamar2015.com

Elizabeth Badger ThumbElizabeth Badger

Elizabeth Badger is a parent of two LAUSD students, and this is her third run at public office in two years. She owns an automotive business in the San Fernando Valley and is CEO/Founder of Minority Outreach Committee, Inc. a nonpartisan non-profit. She is also a member of the Winnetka Neighborhood Council, the Los Angeles African American Women Political Outreach and was a delegate at the 2008 and the 2012 Democratic National Conventions.

Organization Endorsements:  None
Cash Raised: $14,804 (through 2/14)
SuperPAC $: None
Age: not stated
Education:  BA and MA in Political Science from CSUN; Graduate of USC’s Public Policy Institute
Ballot Designation: Children’s Advocate/Businesswoman
League of Women Voters Questionnaire: What is the single most important issue facing LAUSD today? Failing Education System. Full answers here.
United Way Questionnaire: Full answers here. 

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Challenging Kayser, Rodriguez led all candidates in recent fundraising

Ref Rodriguez

Ref Rodriguez

Ref Rodriguez, the charter school administrator who is challenging incumbent Bennett Kayser for LA Unified’s District 5 board seat, raised the most money of any board candidate since the last reporting period, $51,772, according to the latest figures posted by the City Ethics Commission.

Carl Petersen, one of five candidates challenging incumbent Tamar Galatzan in District 3, raised the least, $25.

While not dispositive of anything, the latest figures provide a sense of whose message is resonating with individual donors. The latest numbers reflect money raised from Jan. 17 through Feb. 14.

Clearly the District 5 race, which has been fueled by campaign material many view as objectionable, has energized donors the most. A second challenger to Kayser, Andrew Thomas, raised the second-highest amount of any non-incumbent in the district’s three contested elections, $26,056.

Kayser raised only $10,178. But money spent on his behalf by outside groups, most of it from the LA teachers union, UTLA, increased by another $42,603. An additional $29,464, almost all of it from the California Charter Schools Association, was spent for Rodriguez.

The charter group spent another $25,230 for Kayser attack material.

Among District 7 candidates, board President Richard Vladovic far out-paced his two rivals in raising money for the period. He got $28,897 in donations, compared with $9,125 for Lydia Gutierrez and $6,782 for Euna Anderson. The charter group and SEIU 99, the service workers union, also spent $82,977 to help Vladovic.

In District 3, Galatzan had a clear advantage in fund raising over her opponents, raising $21,409. Next were Scott Schmerelson, $12,780; Filberto Gonzalez, $6,616; Elizabeth Badger, $2,315; Ankur Patel, $1,627; and Petersen.

With the March 3 elections approaching, Galatzan is best positioned for campaign spending with $21,109 in cash remaining, more than twice any of her challengers. Rodriguez has $42,672, about eight times what Kayser has. In District 7, Anderson, who loaned her campaign $45,000, has $25,049 cash remaining, a bit more than twice Vladovic’s $11,218.

Foshay student wins national award; LAUSD kids drinking lead?

school report buzzNBC Los Angeles last night came out with a story that should disturb any LA Unified student, parent or staff member: it found that thousands of school children could be drinking from fountains tainted with dangerous levels of lead.

The report is a followup to a story first examined by NBC seven years ago, when it found lead levels in district drinking water 400 times above the amount declared safe by the EPA.

LAUSD proposed to fix the problem of aging lead pipes with a “Flushing Policy,” requiring school staff to run drinking fountains for 30 seconds every morning to remove lead built up overnight. But undercover video and internal documents obtained by NBC show that some schools are not flushing the fountains properly. Click here to see the story or click on the video below.

LAUSD student wins national tech award

Ana Hernandez, a senior in the Technology Academy at Foshay Learning Center, is one of 35 national winners for The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) “Aspirations in Computing” award.

The award, which comes with a $500 prize, a laptop computer and engraved trophies for winners and their schools, “honors young women who are active and interested in computing and technology, and encourages them to pursue their passions,” according to the NCWIT website. The 2015 winners will be honored at the Bank of America Technology Stars of the Future Showcase and Awards Ceremony on March 7 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Last year, Hernandez was a national runner up and Southern California winner.

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Challengers take center stage at Galatzan-less forum

District 3 forum, Galatzan

The challengers at last night’s LAUSD District 3 school board forum.


With incumbent Tamar Galatzan opting out of the second and final LA Unified District 3 board forum last night, her five challengers took full advantage, criticizing her as they made their cases for why they should be elected on March 3 instead of her.

Galatzan, who said she had a scheduling conflict, mingled in the aisles at the Elks Lodge in Canoga Park before leaving as the forum began.

With 90 seconds allowed for each answer, this second forum gave the candidates longer to respond, as opposed to last week’s debate, when they were limited to no more than a minute. The turnout, again, was fewer than 100.

Here are the main points each candidate made.

Scott Schmerelson 

The former LAUSD principal and teacher often touted his experience with the district. When asked how that would help oversee the district’s $7 billion budget, he pointed out that as a principal, he had overseen a budget of $10 million, and since it was part of the LAUSD budget, it was the most direct and relevant experience any candidate could point to.

Schmerelson also expressed no love for former superintendent John Deasy, but as the only candidate who had ever worked with him, he felt his criticism carried extra weight.

“What went wrong? Everything went wrong. A superintendent must be someone who will listen. A superintendent must be someone who has a heart. The man didn’t have a heart,” Schmerelson said.

Like every candidate, he favored raises for teachers, but he offered neither a specific number nor how to pay for them. On teacher evaluations, he said he put “zero credibility” in using test scores to evaluate teachers. He conceded that charter schools are here to stay, but that “there is nothing better than a traditional public school.”

Carl Petersen

Petersen bashed Galatzan early and often, sometimes ignoring a question’s substance to turn it into a critique of the incumbent. On the question of experience to handle a budget of billions, he said few people have it and pivoted to attacking Galatzan on her approval of the problematic MiSiS computer system.

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Galatzan a fearless vote on the LA Unified board despite her critics

Tamar Galatzan LAUSD school board member

Tamar Galatzan LAUSD School Board Member

This is the next in a series of profiles on candidates running in the March 3 primary for the LA Unified school board. Today’s focus is Tamar Galatzan, who is seeking reelection for the District 3 seat.

Incumbent Tamar Galatzan is at the center of the most crowded race for an LA Unified school board seat, with five challengers vying for the District 3 spot covering the West Valley.  But the 45 year-old, full-time LA city prosecutor and mother of two young boys isn’t fazed by the competition, even when they attack her for her part-time status on the board.

“I will put my record representing the district’s schools up against anybody’s,” she told LA School Report.

While a certain degree of confidence is expected from any candidate running for an elected position, it’s clear this is not merely a display of bravado by Galatzan, who can be fearless and downright confrontational when it comes to expressing her views on what’s best for the district’s student population. Her trademark move during some of the board’s most heated discussions is to shut off her microphone after her remarks, forcefully shove it away, then push her rolling chair away from the dais. It is very dramatic.

Since she was first elected to the board in 2007, Galatzan has cast several controversial votes going against the popular tide of her colleagues. And in many of these cases, she has explained, it is not that she necessarily opposes the resolution before the board, but rather the board’s attempt to weigh in on issues over which she argues it has no dominion.

Such was the case with her “first big vote,” she told LA School Report. The board was considering extending health benefits to part-time cafeteria workers. Only Galatzan and former board member Marlene Canter voted against it.

Her reason: “There are issues that are supposed to be bargained, and the board shouldn’t intervene and make a political decision to favor one side or the other in the middle of negotiations.”

And in the most recent school board meeting earlier this month, she was the only dissenting vote to allow district lawyers to do pro-bono work on student deportation cases, insisting that lawyers should do free, volunteer work “in their off time, not during work time.”

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Packed stage, empty house at District 3 ‘game show’ debate

Candidates at the District 3 debate last night at North Hollywood High. (Credit: United Way)

Candidates at the District 3 debate last night at North Hollywood High. (Credit: United Way)

With six candidates crowding the stage, the LA Unified District 3 school board debate last night more often resembled a game show, as candidates were forced to limit answers to either a minute or 30 seconds.

Incumbent Tamar Galatzan, who is seeking a third term in the March 3 elections, seemed to be thinking the same thing when she was asked about the complicated and controversial issue of the “teacher jail” system.

“In 30 seconds?” she said, laughing a little to herself as the crowd joined her.

As five challengers jockeyed for position in efforts to define themselves in the most crowded of the four board elections, Galatzan’s track record was a frequent topic of conversation and critique. Challengers Elizabeth Badger Bartels, Filiberto Gonzalez and Carl Peterson all lobbed a number of criticisms at her, while Ankur Patel and Scott Schmerelson mostly stuck to their own ideas or experience.

The turnout at North Hollywood High was low and appeared to be fewer than 100. If anyone won over parts of the small crowd it was impossible to tell as the audience was directed not to applaud or make any noise.

What follows below is a breakdown of the debate, from each candidate’s perspective.

Tamar Galatzan

The most frequent criticism was her enthusiastic support of the controversial $1.3 billion iPad program and former Superintendent John Deasy.

Galatzan responded to the iPad criticism by acknowledging its problems while defending its impact and continuation. She did not respond to Gonzalez’s claim that she was a member of an ad hoc committee that oversaw the Common Core Technology Program’s rollout and never attended a single meeting.

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Scheduling conflict cutting into Galatzan’s time at candidate forum

Tamar Galtatzan

LAUSD school board member Tamar Galatzan


A scheduling conflict is depriving another candidate forum of an incumbent LA Unified board member.

A Feb. 17 event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles may include only a short appearance by Tamar Galatzan, who is seeking a third term as the Valley-based District 3 representative. Her office said she had previously scheduled a community meeting focused on the district budget and may only be able to attend the forum long enough to give an opening statement.

“We never got an official invitation that said this is the date of the forum,” said Barbara Jones, Galatzan’s chief of staff. “We had already scheduled a town meeting on the budget.”

David Uranga of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council, a co-sponsor, said he had notified Galatzan in December that a forum would be held on Feb. 17. He said he later learned that Galatzan did not receive the same participating agreement that the other candidates got.

“It was a miscommunication with the League of Women voters,” he said.

Galatzan, who was first elected to the board in 2007, is facing five challengers in the March 3 elections. Only two candidate events have been scheduled for her District, one on Feb. 12 at North Hollywood High School and the Feb. 17 forum.

Jones said that Galatzan schedules an annual community meeting to discuss budget issues, and the one this year, at Holmes Middle School, had been put on her calendar on Jan. 22. She said two district officials who were invited to join the meeting, Edgar Zazueta and Cheryl Simpson, confirmed their availability on Jan. 27.

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Principals’ union endorses Schmerelson, and 3 incumbents

Scott Schmerelson

Scott Schmerelson


The LA Unified principals’ union, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, AALA, decided last night to endorse three of the four incumbents in the March 3 school board elections.

The exception is Scott Schmerelson, a former teacher and administrator who is one of five people challenging Tamar Galatzan in District 3.

Judith Perez, the AALA president, said Schmerelson won unanimous approval of the Representative Assembly, which voted on recommendations of a vetting panel from AALA’s political action committee.

The Assembly also approved endorsements for George McKenna in District 1, Bennett Kayser in District 5 and Richard Vladovic in District 7 — none of them a surprise. McKenna is running unopposed, and the two others had won AALA’s endorsement in previous board runs.

Among LA Unified’s other major labor partners, SEIU Local 99 endorsed all four incumbents, and UTLA, the teachers union, has endorsed only McKenna and Kayser.

Schmerelson, who spent 35 years in various educational capacities, was chosen for his overall understanding of how schools work and what students need, Perez said. “He also knows that administrators have been overwhelmed and overworked and not given adequate tools to get their jobs done,” she told LA School Report.

Four years ago, AALA also chose a challenger to Galatzan in Louis Pugliese.

Schmerelson said he excepted the endorsement on the strength of his close relationship with AALA, including his years as a member of its executive board. He was also a Secondary Director.

“I interacted with fellow administrators who had questions about memos, directives and communications from supervisors,” he told LA School Report in an email. “My goal was to be sure that all AALA members were treated fairly and that LAUSD supervisors followed the contract. I also would like to add that I was an advocate for other personnel at my schools including SEIU Local 99 members and [California School Employees Association] members. My connection with them was to be sure that they too were being treated fairly and that their supervisors were following the contract.”

Beyond the endorsements, AALA approved donating the maximum $1,100 to each of the candidates in contested races.

Perez said her organization interviewed all the candidates but one, Filiberto Gonzalez, another of Galatzan’s challengers, who did not respond to an interview request, she said. Each candidate was asked the same questions.

She said Vladovic won “a substantial majority” for the endorsement, following what she describe as “a spirited discussion.”

She said that “time and again he has supported out members. He won’t agree with us on every issue, and we don’t expect him to, but he talks to us, he shares our concerns and he engages with us.”


* Adds comments from Schmerelson.



In forum tonight, Kayser facing board rivals for first time

Bennett KayserBennett Kayser, who represents District 5 on the LA Unified school board, is front and center tonight, facing his two rivals for the first time in a much anticipated candidate forum at Eagle Rock High School.

After suddenly pulling out of two forums last week, Kayser is appearing in the wake of a recent attack mailer that questioned his support for Latino students.

The two-term board member, who is closely allied with the teachers union, said he cancelled due to scheduling issues, but an editorial in the  LA Times questioned whether politics could have been a factor: the forums were hosted by the United Way-Los Angeles and ten other community and education groups that often don’t see eye to eye with Kayser.

One of his opponents, educational consultant Andrew Thomas also canceled, leaving Ref Rodriguez, a 43-year-old community organizer and charter school founder to discuss issues on stage, alone. The controversial mailer, sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association, supported Rodriguez.

Here is a list of the upcoming school board forums. An asterisk denotes the incumbent.

Canoga Park, Chatsworth, Northridge, Winnetka, Reseda, Lake Balboa, Sherman Oaks, West Hills, Van Nuys, Studio City, North Hollywood

Candidates:  Tamar Galatzan, Elizabeth Badger, Filiberto Gonzalez , Ankur Patel, Car Petersen, Scott Schmerelson

       Thursday, February 12, hosted by United Way in North Hollywood; 6 p.m. Details  here.

       Tuesday, February 17, hosted by League of Women Voters and neighborhood        councils in Canoga Park; 6 p.m. Details here.

Atwater Village, Glassell Park, Eagle Rock, Mt. Washington, Cypress Park, Highland Park, Montecito Heights, El Sereno, Lincoln Heights, East Los Angeles, South Gate, Cudahay, Maywood, Huntington Park

Candidates: Bennett Kayser, Ref Rodriguez , Andrew Thomas

Thursday, February 5, hosted by ARC and neighborhood councils in Eagle Rock; 7 p.m. Details here
Tuesday, February 10, hosted by United Way in Huntington Park; 6 p.m. Details here. (Kayser has cancelled)
Wednesday, February 11, hosted by LA-32 Neighborhood Council in El Sereno; 6 p.m. Details here.

Wednesday, February 18, hosted by the Mount Washington PTA and other Mount Washington-focused organizations in Mount Washington; 6:30 p.m. Details here.

San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, Carson, Harbor Gateway, Lomita, Garden, Willowbrook, Watts

Candidates: Richard Vladovic, Euna Anderson and Lydia Gutierrez.

Friday, February 6, hosted by United Way in Wilmington; 6 p.m.
Details here.

Ankur Patel, a product of LAUSD, is youngest of board challengers

Ankur Patel

Ankur Patel

This is the next in a series of profiles on candidates running in the March 3 primary for the LA Unified school board. Today’s focus is Ankur Patel, a candidate for the District 3 seat.

At 29-years old, Ankur Patel is the youngest candidate running for the LA Unified School Board, and he’s using that as a campaign selling point.

“I’m young. I have the energy to lead and I’m a quick learner,” he told LA School Report, adding that among all six people running for the District 3 board seat covering San Fernando Valley he is the most recent graduate of the LA Unified public school system.

Patel grew up in the Valley, attending public schools from elementary through high school, then moved on to UCLA for undergrad. He returned to Cal State Northridge for a masters degree focusing on public transportation.

“I have been through it and I know first hand what it’s like,” he said, seizing on a key difference he sees between himself and the incumbent, Tamar Galatzan, and four other challengers in the March 3 elections.

Some other differences: Patel considers himself an independent who won’t stand for the rampant expansion of charter schools, the opposite of what he says Galatzan has encouraged.

“We have a great opportunity with our charter schools,” he explains. “They are a testing ground for new ideas but now let’s see how they’re doing on a year-to-year basis.”

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