LAUSD Board District 3 Election: The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

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.

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.

Marilyn Koziatek, holding up her work with parent and community engagement at Granada as the reason she should be elected, fulfilled the requirements to appear on the ballot with Schmerelson. Schmerelson’s vote against her employer’s expansion is also a central theme of her campaign.

Former Schmerelson supporter Badger has also qualified for a second chance at the seat.

While much of the coverage of elections is focused on how much the candidates raise or who has endorsed them, this data provides no useful information for voters attempting to make an educated choice. With this in mind, I sent a set of eight questions to the email address that each of the three candidates provided to the Los Angeles City Clerk. While I specified a deadline of December 23, 2019, in the email, I extended the due date for any candidate who requested it. Only Schmerelson and Badger responded.

In the interest of fairness, their answers are presented in the order that they responded.

The Questions:

1. Currently, not one of the LAUSD Board Members has a child who is enrolled in a district school. Do you commit to hiring staff members who have children enrolled in a district school? If not, how will you ensure that parent voices are heard?

Elizabeth Badger: “Yes, I believe it is important that the Board have some reference of being a parent in order to advocate on behalf of our children. Yes, I will commit to insure that parents’ voices are heard via the employment of staff. In addition, I am a current special needs LAUSD parent, and I clearly understand the importance of that connection.”

Scott Mark Schmerelson: “I think that there are many ways for an LAUSD Board Member to make sure that parent voices inform their decision-making on the Board. This is an easy statement to make, but as my efforts and experiences from the past four years have shown, encouraging and supporting grassroots parent engagement is not easy, especially with regard to hard-working parents who have to compete for leadership roles with parent voices that are not always representative of most parents who have limited time and resources. I value the opinions of parents and guardians who have been speaking on behalf of parents for several generations of students, but I also want to hear from parents for whom public speaking and advocacy does not come easy. The parents who would rather volunteer at the Parent Center at their kids’ schools than speak at a Board meeting. When a parent or group of parents ask to meet with me, my team always prioritizes and makes sure that I am available.

Whenever I have had a vacancy on my staff, I have tried to hire individuals who I believed to be the most qualified for the responsibilities and demands of the job, at the time. And, while most parent applicants (who are generally few) volunteer this information, it seems unlikely that attaching the requirement of being a parent would pass legal challenges.”

Marilyn Koziatek: Koziatek is currently on the leadership of Granada Hills Charter School. She did not provide a response to the questionnaire.

2. LAUSD Board meetings are currently scheduled during the same time that schools are in session which means that teachers and students, as well as most working parents, cannot engage with their representatives during these meetings. Do you support increasing community engagement either through the proposed Board Meeting Accessibility to the Public resolution or through other measures?

Elizabeth Badger: “Absolutely. I would also support having evening meetings on a quarterly basis.”

Scott Mark Schmerelson: “This is a crucial issue. I have long believed that by holding our meetings during work hours, we are prohibiting many of the public from being able to attend. I do, however, temper that belief with the understanding that there are literally dozens and dozens of LAUSD employees who have to be present or available during Board meetings. In the end, however, we are a public institution and should be available to the public whom we serve. In fact, not only should we be holding our meetings at different times in the day, but more importantly, different locations. Some of the schools in my district are almost 30 miles away from Beaudry. That’s not right.”

Marilyn Koziatek: Koziatek did not provide a response to the questionnaire.

3. Under current policy, parents of children with special education needs must sign confidentiality agreements when negotiating settlements with the district. This prohibits parents from sharing information with other parents about services that are available to help students meet their full potential. Do you commit to eliminating this policy?

Elizabeth Badger: “I support full disclosure unless the parents request information not be held private.”

Scott Mark Schmerelson: “Honestly, I need to know more about the history and scope of this policy, when and how it is applied, and the legal authority that would control such confidentiality agreements. I commit to working closely with LAUSD OGC to understand and to modify any part of this policy (or practice) that is shown to be unfair to our most vulnerable students.”

Marilyn Koziatek: Koziatek did not provide a response to the questionnaire.

4. In order to ensure that IEPs provide an educational program that will help students reach their full potential, the IEP process must be fully collaborative. Therefore, teachers, administrators and other district employees must be willing to speak freely without fear of retribution for providing their opinions. Do you commit to supporting policies that prohibit the District from punishing employees who inform parents of all of the options available to their students?

Elizabeth Badger: “Absolutely!”

Scott Mark Schmerelson: “No employee of the LAUSD should ever feel as though they cannot give their unfettered professional opinion on what is in the best interests of one of our students. I absolutely support changes that will make the IEP process fully collaborative and in the best interest of the student.”

Marilyn Koziatek: Koziatek did not provide a response to the questionnaire.

5. While inclusion and mainstreaming have benefitted many children with special education needs, these programs are not suitable for all children. For many children, Special Education Centers provide the best option for helping them reach their full potential. Do you commit to keeping these schools fully funded and the option of attending made available to parents during the IEP process?

Elizabeth Badger: “Absolutely!”

Scott Mark Schmerelson: “It is called an Individualized Education Program because it should be tailored to the individual student. That is why I have fought so hard to make sure that Special Education Centers remain open and available to serve our students who need those wonderful centers of learning.”

Marilyn Koziatek: Koziatek did not provide a response to the questionnaire.

6. To ensure that children enrolled in Special Education Centers have exposure to their typical peers, do you commit to ensuring that magnet programs are included on these campuses. These magnets would serve children who are interested in pursuing careers in special education.

Elizabeth Badger: “Yes. Our special needs children have as much right as any to pursue, and have access to various magnet programs, as it applies to their career choices.”

Scott Mark Schmerelson: “The magnet program at LAUSD is one of the crown jewels of American Education. There are so many opportunities to create schools of specialized learning and this sounds like a fantastic new frontier that should be opened in the LAUSD Magnet program.”

Marilyn Koziatek: Koziatek did not provide a response to the questionnaire.

7. The State of Denial report released by UTLA and the CTA revealed that privately-run charter schools under-enroll students with disabilities to bolster their reported outcomes and achieve cost savings. How will you address this issue?

Elizabeth Badger: “I believe charter schools ought to be transparent and adhere to all the rules and regulations of the Public schools.”

Scott Mark Schmerelson: “By continuing the work that I have committed to in the past, shining a bright public light on these practices when exposed and working with the local community and my Committee on Special Education to resolve these issues moving forward.”

Marilyn Koziatek: Koziatek did not provide a response to the questionnaire.

8. Under language required in every charter school application, the District is allowed to appoint one member to every charter’s governing board. Do you support the proposed “Community Representation on Charter School Boards” resolution which outlines a process for ensuring that the district is appropriately represented?

Elizabeth Badger: “YES. I have read the resolutions, and do not find any issue with its contents.”

Scott Mark Schmerelson: “I am always in favor of utilizing the democratic processes that are available to us and I have been a vocal proponent of district representation on the governing board of charters.”

Marilyn Koziatek: Koziatek did not provide a response to the questionnaire.


Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, an appointed alternate to the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at Opinions are his own.

Parent, special education advocate and former LAUSD School Board candidate. Still fighting for the children.

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