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LAUSD District 3 Election: The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

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"">What we accept as normal today with regard to education, I want your grandchildren to tell you that you were crazy to accept."

- Bernie Sanders

It has been over five years since my wife, Nicole, and I sat in a conference room in Eli Broad's LAUSD headquarters and decided to take on the district's bureaucracy. To be honest, I did not even know who my school board member was at the time. We just knew that fighting the district to make sure that my two daughters received services that their teachers agreed that they needed was an untenable situation and we wanted to do our part to Change the LAUSD. My first campaign for the LAUSD School Board was born.

It did not take long to realize how deeply entrenched the problems were at the district or that my representative on the school board was part of the reason the LAUSD was headed straight towards catastrophe. Tamar Galatzan was a Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney moonlighting as a school board member. She was a strong supporter of the then-superintendent John Deasy and his $1.3 billion iPad debacle. Too busy with her day job, she was missing in action as Deasy flubbed the implementation of MiSiS and had to spend over $133.6-million in an attempt to fix the resulting problems. She promised a school additional funding if it converted to a pilot school even as the source of those funds dried up.

Even with all of these problems, Galatzan was considered invincible. Her campaign's bank account was heavily padded by those promoting charter schools and she enjoyed the support of Los Angeles' privatizer in chief, former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Even so, five candidates lined up to challenge her in the March 2015 primary election.

Elizabeth Badger and I were the first competitors to declare and met soon afterward at a town hall hosted by the incumbent. We exchanged contact information after a debate during George McKenna's special election and have been friends ever since.

Scott Mark Schmerelson entered the race just as nominating petitions were being circulated. My first encounter with him was when his phone interrupted the silence with the theme of "Our Gang" as we waited to turn in our completed petitions at the City Clerk's office. We did not speak then but did get to know him as the campaign went on and also eventually became friends.

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Even without the support of UTLA, the five of us forced Galatzan into a runoff by holding her under 50% of the vote. Since he received the second-highest number of votes, Schmerelson advanced to the general election where he was supported by Ankur Patel, Badger and me. In the runoff, Schmerelson received 54.76% of the vote and became the new board member for the LAUSD's Board District 3.

Even with Schmerelson's huge win in 2015, the balance of power on the LAUSD School Board remained essentially the same as the charter candidate, Ref Rodriguez, defeated the pro-public education incumbent in Board District 5. As the board struggled to dig itself out of the mess that Deasy had created, Schmerelson tried to gain his footing in his new position without a clear majority to back him.

The situation took a turn for the worse during the next election cycle when the charter backed candidates swept all three contested seats. Firmly in charge, the Eli Broad Block installed the former charter school administrator Rodriguez as Board President and rammed through their agenda. Charter schools were allowed to re-write the rules governing their own oversight. The ability of the Inspector General to audit charter schools was neutered. A new superintendent was hired behind closed doors without regard to the laws that keep government operations open to the public.

During this bleak time in LAUSD history, Schmerelson was often a lone voice of resistance. Most importantly, he was the one person who divulged the behind the scenes maneuvering that resulted in the hiring of Austin Beutner to lead the country's second-largest school district, despite having no professional experience in education. Schmerelson was the first board member to publicly support the teachers' Student First agenda during the strike last year. When Granada Hills Charter High School sought permission to expand into the lower grades, threatening the stability of existing schools in the area and providing another way for Granada to deny admittance of neighborhood children, Schmerelson had the courage to be the only "no' vote.

In the March 3, 2020, primary election, Granada will attempt to make Schmerelson pay a price for taking those stances.

During the time that Schmerelson has held office, Granada Hills Charter High School has failed to properly notify parents of building violations on their campus, violated the laws governing special education by diverting students who live within their boundaries into their iGranada program and refused to properly provide documents under the California Public Records Act. During their time as a charter, they have eliminated the ability of parents to elect members of their governing board and have removed any current teachers from this board.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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