LAUSD School Board: Who’s Running In The 2024 Primary And Why It Matters

What does an LAUSD school board member do?

More than 538,000 students attend traditional public and charter schools in Los Angeles. The district is also the county’s second largest employer with more than 74,000 educators, administrators, and support staff on its payroll.

Unlike in New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., where the mayor appoints education system leaders, Los Angeles schools are run by the school board, which voters elect directly. That makes L.A. home to the most consequential — and often, the most expensive — school board races in the country. It also makes L.A. the largest city in the country in which the mayor has no direct control over the school board.

LAUSD doesn’t fit neatly into “city” or “county” categories. Although it’s enshrined in the L.A. City Charter, LAUSD operates independently of City Hall. That’s why you elect school board members directly. LAUSD also runs the schools in several other cities in L.A. County, such as West Hollywood and South Gate.

For the last decade, teachers unions and advocates for charter schools have spent millions against each other in these races, hoping to seat their favorite candidates on the school board. That’s because school board members have a lot of power. Among other things, school board members:

  • Hire and fire the superintendent — their single most important responsibility. While the school board sets policy, the superintendent manages the day-to-day LAUSD operations. The current superintendent is Alberto Carvalho.
  • Pass the $9 billion operating budget and decide how it will be distributed.
  • Work with parents and resolve disputes in their district over facilities, budgets, etc.
  • Vote on every charter school that hopes to open in L.A.

Before you keep reading…

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The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing challenges in the district, including declining enrollment, disparities in student learning, truancy, inadequate mental health support, and lackluster standardized test scores. In the wake of a three-day strike that shut down schools, the district agreed to double-digit raises for educators and support staff in 2023.

What’s on the agenda for next term?

  • Learning loss: The COVID-19 pandemic erased years of progress in reading, writing, and math skills. LAUSD students made small gains on California’s standardized math test last year, but the majority of students do not meet benchmark scores for any subject. Among the most vocal parents are those of students with disabilities, who say schools failed to meet their children’s needs during distance learning.  
  • Enrollment: Twenty years ago, Los Angeles Unified schools were badly overcrowded. Now, LAUSD faces the opposite problem. The district’s enrollment declined for two decades before lurching downward at the start of the pandemic. California uses enrollment to set school funding levels, so declining enrollment means declining funding.
  • Chronic absenteeism: Nearly a third of LAUSD students missed close to a month or more of school last year. While the rate of chronic absenteeism has declined from earlier pandemic highs, Black, Native American, Latino, and Pacific Islander students miss more school than their peers. A lack of transportation, access to health care, and feeling of safety could all play a role. Without consistent attendance, students lose valuable opportunities to learn and the district loses funding that could bolster classrooms with additional resources.
     
  • Mental health: In various surveys and reporting, many students say their mental health suffered far more than their transcripts during the pandemic, and schools have struggled to hire enough school counselors and social workers. Federal funding that supported hundreds of such workers in the district runs out in September. The school board will have to figure out how to maintain and grow mental health support for students. 

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    How to evaluate judges

    • L.A. Superior Court: There are more than two dozen judges up for election or reelection.
    • Judge ratings: Understanding how the L.A. County Bar Association evaluates judicial candidates — and how it can help you cast your vote.

    Head to LAist’s Voter Game Plan for guides to the rest of your ballot including:

    • L.A. County Board of Supervisors: Three of the five seats are on the ballot.
    • L.A. City Council: There are seven seats up for grabs.
    • L.A. District Attorney: Meet the 12 candidates running to be the county’s prosecutor.
    • LAUSD: Four seats are open for a seat at the table.
    • Prop. 1: Here’s a closer look at the proposal at the center of a debate over how to best help people struggling with mental health, drug and alcohol issues.

  • School safety: The board agreed to cut the school police department’s annual budget by $25 million in summer 2020, after the widespread protests against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd. It redirected that money into the Black Student Achievement Plan that includes funding for counselors, social workers, curriculum changes, and community partnerships. Advocates say more than two years after the plan launched, funding is lagging and resources have not been distributed equally among all schools. 
  • Green schools: The majority of LAUSD schools lack cool, shaded places for students to play and learn outdoors. The yards of about 600 schools have less than 30% “green” space according to a recent presentation to the board. The district has allocated tens of millions of dollars to greening efforts in the last two years, but still lacks a comprehensive plan to ensure resources are distributed to the highest-need schools. The district’s own estimates say greening efforts could take decades.
  • Early learning and care: Within the next four years, every 4-year-old in California will be eligible for pre-kindergarten classes, or transitional kindergarten (also known as TK). Los Angeles Unified has acted fast on the state’s mandate, using COVID-19 relief dollars to begin expanding TK access to all students in fall 2024. But an attention-grabbing study out of Tennessee shows that poor adoption of universal pre-K can actually hurt young learners. While the onus is on the superintendent to execute, ultimate accountability falls on the school board.

The races

About our guide: when information is missing

  • Some candidates did not have a campaign website and/or list of endorsements available online at the time of publication. We have reached out to these candidates and will update this guide as candidate information becomes available.

There are seven LAUSD board districts. Four are on the March primary ballot. Incumbent board vice president Scott Schmerelson and member Tanya Ortiz Franklin are running to maintain their seats in Districts 3 and 7.

Two longtime board members, Board President Jackie Goldberg and member George McKenna, announced their retirements last year, leaving an open field for Districts 1 and 5.

If you’re unsure what district you’re in, the county has a helpful tool online. Select “District Map Look Up by Address” from the first drop-down and type in your home or address number and street name.

How local primaries work

If any one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the primary, they will win the office outright. Otherwise, the two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the November runoff. Candidates are listed here in the order they will appear on the ballot in their respective races. We also asked all the candidates to fill out an LAist survey, asking them to speak directly to the voters about their platforms if elected.

District 1

  • State of the race: Current board member George McKenna is retiring after a more than 50-year career as a teacher and administrator in LAUSD, Inglewood, Compton, and Pasadena schools.
  • Number of candidates: 7
  • Where: L.A.’s Mid-City, Crenshaw, Arlington Heights, and Westmont neighborhoods
  • Notable: The race has drawn more candidates than any other LAUSD seat on the ballot.
  • March outcome: If a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, they’ll win the election outright. But it’s unlikely anyone will reach that threshold, so the top two candidates are probably headed to your November ballot. 

Go deeper: Full details on District 1 candidates and campaign contributions

District 3

  • State of the race: Voters elected Scott Schmerelson to represent the district in 2014 and again in 2020. The former teacher and principal faces four challengers.
  • Number of candidates: 5
  • Where: West San Fernando Valley and Studio City
  • March outcome: If a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, they’ll win the election outright. If no one reaches that threshold, the top two candidates will head to your November ballot.

Go deeper: Full details on District 3 candidates and campaign contributions

District 5

  • State of the race: Jackie Goldberg emerged from semi-retirement in 2019 to return to LAUSD’s board and Goldberg announced she would retire— for real this time— in 2024.
  • Number of candidates: 4
  • Where: This is an unusually shaped district that cuts through a wide variety of neighborhoods: Eastside communities of Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, parts of Silver Lake, Hollywood, and Koreatown. The district skirts downtown and covers Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, and South Gate.
  • Notable: All four candidates for the seat are current or former educators.
  • March outcome: If a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, they’ll win the election outright. If no one reaches that threshold, the top two candidates will head to your November ballot.

Go deeper: Full details on District 5 candidates and campaign contributions

District 7

  • State of the race: Tanya Ortiz Franklin won her first term as a board member in 2020. She is running to retain her seat against Long Beach teacher and returning candidate Lydia Gutiérrez.
  • Number of candidates: 2
  • Where: From South L.A. to Gardena, Harbor Gateway, Carson, and San Pedro
  • Notable: With just two candidates, this one will be decided on March 5.

Go deeper: Full details on District 7 candidates and campaign contributions

What questions do you have about the March 5 primary election?

Whether it’s about how to interpret the results or track your ballot, we’re here to help you understand the 2024 primary election on March 5.

More Voter Guides

City of Los Angeles

  • City Council: There are seven districts seats on this ballot: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14
  • Healthy Streets LA: Take a closer look at Measure HLA, aimed at making streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists — and holding the city accountable to do just that.

L.A. County

  • Board of Supervisors: There are three districts on this ballot: 2, 4 and 5
  • District Attorney: Compare the 12 candidates running for District Attorney
  • Los Angeles Unified School District: Here’s an overview of the challenges facing the district. Plus: Meet the candidates vying to represent your child’s education in districts 1, 3, 5 and 7
  • The judiciary: There are more than two dozen judges up for election or reelection. Plus: Tips to make sure you’re putting right person on the bench

Overwhelmed? We have some shortcuts for you.

Statewide races

  • Prop. 1: Evaluating a $6.38 billion bond proposition that aims to create more housing, treatment and support for people struggling with mental health, drug and alcohol issues. Plus: A guide to understanding California’s Proposition system.

Head to the Voter Game Plan homepage for the latest in election news.

First appeared on laist.com

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