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SCHOOL BOARD RACE SHAKEN UP CONTROVERSY ROCKS BATTLE FOR EAST L.A. SEAT.

Byline: Naush Boghossian Staff Writer

As candidates vie for a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School Board, what had been a relatively low-key campaign has heated up just days before voters go to the polls.

The campaign for the East Los Angeles seat comes at a key time for the nation's second-largest district, which finds itself under attack from the mayor, in the midst of a $19 billion construction program and searching for a new superintendent.

And the race has been high-powered: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who's planning to unveil legislation that would change district governance, has waded in to endorse candidate Monica Garcia.

But last week controversy roiled the ranks as reports surfaced that 33- year-old candidate Christopher Arellano, considered one of the front- runners, has been arrested twice for shoplifting and lied about his educational qualifications.

On Friday, Arellano lost a key endorsement from the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Arellano - whose campaign Web site says he has ``completed'' two master's degrees - could not be reached for comment Friday as a University of Southern California spokesman said that while Arellano attended the school, he did not receive either a degree in social work or urban planning as he has claimed.

In an e-mail Friday, Arellano's staff included a biography explaining he completed all requirements for his master's in social work - but is short one semester for his master's in policy, planning and development. He needs to complete the coursework before USC will officially confer the dual degree.

He previously has defended his disclosure of the 1992 and 1995 arrests, saying he admitted in campaign literature to having a ``troubled youth'' - though not the specific details.

While Arellano's employer, United Teachers of Los Angeles - which has contributed $200,000 to his campaign - continued to stand by Arellano on Friday, UTLA President A.J. Duffy said he will talk with other officers and area chairs over the weekend.

``As president of UTLA I am concerned that yet another discrepancy has arisen between what Christopher has said and what is the reality,'' Duffy said.

Meanwhile, other candidates for the seat - vacated by Jose Huizar when he was elected to the L.A. City Council in November - have focused on the challenges facing the East L.A. District that is made up of mostly Latino students, spans Boyle Heights to Mid-Wilshire, and is the site of most of the new schools being built in the district.

Candidate Ana Teresa Fernandez, 23, who worked as a field deputy for school board member Mike Lansing and currently works for the California Charter Schools Association, said that while young, she has experience in education that matches or surpasses fellow candidates'.

Fernandez has raised $50,000 and is endorsed by Lansing and Caprice Young, who heads up the charter schools association. The UCLA graduate said she is open to considering mayoral takeover of the district as well as other options, including a breakup.

She said she is not planning on advocating for more charter schools, but believes the district can learn a lot from the innovative practices at the independent public schools.

Enrique Gasca, 31, has raised $100,000 and is endorsed by Local 500 of the California School Employees Association, the Los Angeles School Police Association, Congressman Joe Baca and the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

The president of his own public relations and media affairs consulting firm, Gasca said he's against mayoral takeover of the district. But as the only parent out of all the candidates, he said he will make sure education remains a priority.

``There are no guarantees that the next mayor will have education as high a priority as the current mayor does, and education is far too important to play second fiddle to any other agenda,'' he said.

In addition to Villaraigosa, Garcia has racked up endorsements from state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and Councilman Ed Reyes.

Huizar credits Garcia for ``leading a lot of the efforts'' he pursued on the board including Measure A-G - mandatory college prep courses - and continuing the construction in the district.

Maria Lou Calanche, 37, a teacher who unsuccessfully ran against David Tokofsky for school board in 2003, said she stopped campaigning when Arellano received the endorsement from UTLA.

``I did really want to run, but I couldn't compete with the political forces without resources,'' she said.

Naush Boghossian, (818) 713-3722

naush.boghossian(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 5, 2006
Words:735
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