Hoping to play a major role in the continuing transformation of Los Angeles Unified, 15 candidates have filed to run for three school board seats, the first step in a high-stakes election expected to cost $10 million.
Two incumbents and seven challengers had qualified by Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline to appear on the March 5 primary ballot. Six additional candidates also submitted petitions, which still must be verified by the City Clerk's Office. Officials have 10 days to verify whether each has the signatures of at least 500 registered voters from the candidate's district.
The school board race initially fielded 22 potential candidates who filed paperwork declaring their intent to run.
"Isn't it great that there is a challenge in every one of the three races, so the voters will have a choice?" said school board President Monica Garcia, who is seeking re-election to the Eastside district she's represented since 2006.
The seven-member school board sets policy for the nation's second-largest school district, a 700-square-mile expanse with more than 1,000 campuses. Members earn about $45,600 a year - $26,000 if they have another job.
Hoping to seat a candidate who will advance their vision, labor unions, political action groups and independent expenditure committees are expected to fill campaign coffers in what is predicted to be a costly - and nasty - election.
The race in Garcia's District 2 is expected to be the most expensive, with
Garcia's challengers include Robert Skeels, an education and social justice activist who mounted an unsuccessful recall campaign against Garcia last spring; and Isabel Vasquez, an administrator for LAUSD. Both of them have qualified for the ballot
Petitions also were submitted by high school teacher Abelardo Diaz, parent advocate Scott Folsom, teacher Annamarie Montanez and teacher Isabel Vasquez.
In District 4, incumbent Steve Zimmer will be facing three challengers as he seeks re-election to the area that encompasses Hollywood, the Westside and the southern swath of the San Fernando Valley.
Education advocate Kate Anderson, the mother of twin daughters, was the first candidate to qualify for the 2013 election. On Wednesday, petitions were submitted by minister Jeneen Robinson and school council administrator Samuel Paul Whitehead.
Zimmer, a former teacher and counselor, said he expects the election to include vigorous debate about very distinct visions and agendas around public education.
"There's a tone when people try to take out an incumbent, and I have illusions that folks are going to come at me," he said. "But I have no problem defending my record, and no one has ever questioned how hard I work."
Zimmer expects much of the campaign to focus on the charter schools movement in Los Angeles, including his controversial effort to create a strategy for managing its explosive growth.
"I've never been against charter schools," Zimmer said. "I'm against the idea that competition is the only lever for change and against the idea that you replace bad regulation with no regulation."
He also expects to focus his campaign on efforts to raise revenue for the cash-strapped district, and to broker a compromise between Los Angeles Unified and UTLA on a new performance evaluation.
"I believe in solving complex problems through coalition rather than holy war, that you accomplish more by working together than fighting each other," he said.
Anderson, a lawyer-turned-activist, said she wants to improve oversight of the district's finances and streamline the process for disciplining teachers suspected of misconduct.
She also hopes to bring another parent's voice to the board, with ideas for creating campuses where moms and dads want to send their kids. Her top priorities, she said, include increasing local control of schools, empowering decision makers and increasing parental involvement.
"The system doesn't do enough to support and celebrate teachers," she said.
CCSA Advocates, the political affiliate of the nonprofit California Charter Schools Association, is expected to weigh in with an endorsement and contributions.
"We care deeply about the composition of the school board in Los Angeles," said interim Executive Gary Borden. "We want a board that puts the interests of students first, and works to improve the academic achievement of kids in L.A.
"We have a strong interest in seeing board members with that frame of mind."
Four candidates had qualified to run for District 6 in the east San Fernando Valley, where board member Nury Martinez is running for the Los Angeles City Council.
They include Antonio Sanchez, another Villaraigosa ally who worked for the County Federation of Labor; advocate Maria Cano; fifth-grade teacher Monica Ratliff; and Ernie Cardenas, an engineer and brother of newly elected U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas.
Iris Zuniga, chief operating officer for the nonprofit Youth Policy Institute, filed her petitions on Wednesday.
Late Wednesday, the House of Representatives from United Teachers Los Angeles voted on its endorsements.
The union leaders recommendation Diaz,Folsom, Montanez and Skeels in District 2; Zimmer in District 4; and Cano, Cardenes, Ratliff and Sanchez in District 6.
As he has in the past, Villaraigosa is expected to play a major role in supporting candidates whose visions of education reform mirror his own.
Even though his tenure as the city's top elected official will end as the new school board terms begin, Villaraigosa will offer his political and financial clout to candidates with visions similar to his own.
"Regardless of whether Antonio Villaraigosa is an elected official or a private citizen, he will be involved in reforming the education system," said political consultant Michael Trujillo, who has worked for the mayor in the past.
"It's the public education system that gave him a second chance, and he's determined to give kids the same opportunities by which they can succeed."
This story has been revised from an earlier version to include updated information from the City Clerk's Office and UTLA.