The outcome of an election that will determine a majority of seats on the governing board of the nation's largest community college district, which serves some of the most vulnerable students in the state, remained uncertain Tuesday night, with three incumbents and one newcomer holding a preliminary edge in early returns.
Four seats on the seven-member Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees were in contest this year, with 33 candidates vying for the at-large seats.
Incumbents Andra Hoffman, David Vela and Mike Fong were endorsed by the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, the union that represents community college teachers and wields substantial influence over election outcomes. For the fourth seat, the guild endorsed a newcomer, Nichelle Henderson, who is a teacher at Cal State L.A. and active in that university system's union, over incumbent Scott Svonkin.
The guild spent at least $1.66 million, mostly on political mailers and phone banking, to support its preferred slate of candidates. In early counts of ballots Tuesday night, these were the candidates leading the pack.
Svonkin, who was first elected to his seat on the board in 2011, said it was "disappointing" that the guild had spent so much money on this election, and that he hoped to introduce campaign finance reforms to limit such contributions in the future. Svonkin has in the past been supported by the guild.
"I am proud of my record leading on the L.A. College Promise, my efforts to fight waste, fraud, and misuse of public funds, and my plan to create a COVID promise for free college to all who lost their jobs," he said.
Another camp of candidates, self-branded the "L.A. Justice Squad" — Karen Hernandez, Ruffin Patterson, Cory Butler and Michelle Manos — raised barely any money but had the support and dedication of a small group of students and faculty members who hoped their election would bring a focus on the board to student priorities. Among this camp, Manos, a homeless services provider who was endorsed by the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action, is perhaps the best known.
Mona Field, a former longtime board member, described the remaining candidates as a mix of promising contenders, students and student advocates, underemployed "consultants" or "freelancers" with little familiarity with the district, and "perennials" — individuals who repeatedly run for election, despite little promise. More candidates were able to get on the ballot this year because of a change in rules that didn't require them to submit filing fees or a certain number of signatures, Field said.
The outcome of the election will determine the tone on the board and whether its members can conduct their business civilly. In recent years monthly board meetings have been punctuated by acrimony and infighting.
"Your No. 1 goal to get things done is to be a good colleague," Field said.
The new board will quickly be faced with the immediate challenges related to COVID-19 and distance learning, which have hit low-income, Black and Latino students — who make up the majority of the district's roughly 230,000 students — particularly hard. In addition, the LACCD has had to contend with slipping enrollment, low rates of degree completion and transfer, and the fact that most of its students need many non-academic supports in order to remain enrolled and complete their academic goals.
The board is responsible for appointing and overseeing the chancellor and setting policy for the nine-college system: East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles Harbor College, Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles Southwest College, Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, Los Angeles Valley College, Los Angeles Pierce College and West Los Angeles College.
A shift among the members could mean a shift in support for Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez, who was named in 2014.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.