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Teacher victory in LAUSD board race may not bode well for superintendent

LAUSD teacher Monica Ratliff won a seat on the LA Unified Board of Education on Tuesday.
LAUSD teacher Monica Ratliff won a seat on the LA Unified Board of Education on Tuesday.
Rebecca Hill/KPCC

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Teacher Monica Ratliff’s win of an open seat on L.A. Unified’s Board of Education Tuesday could provide some discomfort for the future of Superintendent John Deasy’s reform agenda.

Ratliff, a lawyer-turned-elementary school teacher, ran a bare-bones campaign. Many who donated money and volunteered were fellow teachers upset with Deasy’s focus on student test scores and charter schools.

“I think he follows an agenda of the so-called school reformists, the business model, very closely,” said adult education teacher Matthew Kogan, who walked precincts for Ratliff. “It’s a very narrow model and there’s a lot of hostile things about it towards teachers."

Kogan likes the nuanced position on Deasy taken by Ratliff, who approves of some of the superintendent's actions, but opposes other policies.

Kogan comes out of this pivotal election frustrated with his teachers’ union because it endorsed both candidates and didn’t open its campaign war chest for Ratliff, who’s a union representative. United Teachers Los Angeles president Warren Fletcher answers that he wouldn’t change what the union did in this election.

“We’re happy with the outcome, we’re happy that we’re going to have a working teacher with a classroom perspective on the school board,” Fletcher said.

The Coalition for School Reform is not happy with the results. Its donors and leaders, including L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, billionaire Eli Broad, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, wanted to strengthen Deasy’s support on the board. And that’s why the group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for Ratliff’s opponent in the runoff, Antonio Sanchez — a former Villaraigosa staffer.

SEIU Local 99 also supports Deasy and spent a lot of money on Sanchez’s campaign.

“We feel that he’s been someone who keeps the focus on the students, on the needs of the community,” said the union’s spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos, “and also really values the contributions of the support staff, of the cafeteria workers, of the custodians, and bus drivers in our schools.”

Few observers believe the board will immediately fire Deasy. Ratliff, they say, will join a minority of board members who’ll give stronger scrutiny to his proposals for improving schools.

“For me it sends a clear message that billionaires can’t just buy elections,” said Sean Abajian, an adult education teacher who donated money and helped Ratliff's campaign. “This is a historic upset for us in Los Angeles.”

Ratliff will be sworn in as L.A. Unified’s newest board member in July.