LA Board of Education Election Pits Teacher Against Upstart Politician

Antonio Sanchez, 31, and Monica Ratliff, 43,  are vying for one of seven seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education. Ratliff has strong appeal to educators with her background as a legal aid attorney and as a successful teacher at a high-performing school, but what Sanchez lacks in experience he makes up for in financial support thanks to his background in campaigns and connections to political figures.

According to Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times, Sanchez earned 44% of the vote in the March 5 primary. Ratliff came next and pulled in 34% of the vote.

 The campaign spending has been lopsided for Sanchez. The Coalition for School Reform, the mayor’s group, amassed more than $1 million for the runoff, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad the largest donors. To date, independent groups, including the L.A. County Federation of Labor and Local 99 of Service Employees International, have spent nearly $1.9 million for Sanchez.

Sanchez’s fundraising has earned him about $132,000, while Ratliff has raised $42,000 with no outside help.

Sanchez is praised for his political instincts. He has the blessing of a phalanx of labor allies already in office. He is known by the county labor federation for his work defeating Proposition 32 as a mid-level aide. While completing his master’s degree in urban and regional planning at UCLA he served as field representative for a a state legislator and LA Mayor Villaraigosa.

He also has a personal connection to many of the students in the district, having entered into school without being able to speak English.

Even with all of the financial backing and likability factor, some have doubts about his lack of experience:

 “We liked him, but his response to our questions lacked depth,” said Judith Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which represents district administrators. Ratliff “had a deep knowledge of teaching and learning. She was clear on the priorities of students in the district.”

Ratliff is set apart by her experience of over a decade in the classroom at a school that is similar to ones in the constituency, and it achieved high test scores despite the student population coming mostly from low income families.

Many teachers are upset that the United Teachers Los Angeles did not back Ratliff 100%. This was partly because the union depleted its funds to back Steve Zimmer in the March primary and the union was hesitant to borrow funds since it looked inevitable that Sanchez would win before the primary.

Even though many teachers volunteered individually for Ratliff, the union’s neutrality has helped Sanchez.

In union meetings, the leadership has said that Sanchez was being groomed for higher office by officials they needed to appease, especially if they wanted to prevail in the Legislature on laws affecting teaching evaluations and tenure rules, said members who were present.

Some high-level union members alleged that there was a deal for Sanchez to let UTLA choose his chief of staff — which top officials and Sanchez deny.