The 2011 School Board Elections
Four seats on the Board of Education were up for grabs in the March 8, 2011, election. District 5, which covers parts of Los Feliz, Burbank, East L.A. and Vernon, was an open seat and pitted a school-reform candidate, Luis Sanchez, against the teachers union choice, Bennett Kayser. In this, the only competitive school-board race of the year, more than $3.3 million was spent — topping any local race this year, and almost reaching the amount spent on the mayoral race in 2009.
Kayser was something of a fallback choice for the United Teachers of Los Angeles. They had originally endorsed John Fernandez but later withdrew their support after a background check that, in the words of then-UTLA president A.J. Duffy, "raised serious concerns about Mr. Fernandez's truthfulness in the interview process and his qualifications and integrity to be a member of the school board."
There were five independent campaign entities: Bennett Kayser; United Teachers of Los Angeles to support Kayser; Luis Sanchez; the Coalition for School Reform to support Sanchez; and the SEIU Local 99’s campaign to support Sanchez.
Sanchez came in first in the primary with 45 percent of the vote, but didn't receive enough to avoid a runoff with Kayser (thanks to votes siphoned off by Fernandez). In May, Bennett Kayser was the surprise winner by a thin margin. Less than 21,000 people cast votes, representing roughly 9 percent of registered voters.
"There was just no turnout," says veteran political consultant Parke Skelton, who ran the Coalition for School Reform campaign. "So UTLA and the associated administrators of L.A. who were backing Kayser with 3,000 to 4,000 members in the district were able to win a seat that they shouldn't have been able to win."
The lesson, perhaps, is that when you're a power broker, you can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. The SEIU, the mayor and his donor base all had attention spans and war chests that were divided. United Teachers of Los Angeles doesn't involve itself in many election — except the school board, which still has only three out of seven members who are backed by UTLA. They're able to concentrate all their energies and spend accordingly, to the tune of $1.4 million, in the case of Sanchez v. Kayser. No one else came close in that race.
Spending totals (all spending data courtesy of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission)
Luis Sanchez: $253,270.17
Coalition for School Reform: $667,640.86
SEIU 99: $861,920.39
Total for Sanchez: $1,782,831.42
Bennett Kayser: $25,167.89
UTLA: $1,446,060.47 (not including the $35,291 spent on John Fernandez)
Total for Kayser: $1,471,228.36
Total by both sides: $3,254,059.78