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State School Superintendent Tom Torlakson talks Democratic divisions, teacher tenure, Inglewood Unified

Tom Torlakson campaign

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Voters elected State School Superintendent Tom Torlakson to a second term on Tuesday after one of the most expensive and tightest races for office in California.

The competition for the job generated about $30 million from donors all over the country.

Both candidates - Torlakson and his rival Marshall Tuck - are Democrats but have very different ideas about education.

Torlakson is a long time educator and is backed by the Teachers Union and Tuck ran a charter school chain and once worked on Wall Street. He took the job with 52 percent of the vote. 

The millions spent on Torlakson’s campaign drew criticism, with some saying that money would have been better spent on the schools themselves. But Torlakson said that his he feels his re-election wasn’t based on that.

“I think this election was more about getting someone who could continue the momentum forward, doing some exciting and historic changes to education in California,” he said. “I believe the voters wanted someone with experience and I have that.”

Torlakson said his accomplishments as state superintendent include a reduction in class sizes and an increase in graduation rates. However, a KPCC report released Thursday about unsanitary and unsafe conditions at Inglewood High School could present a shadow in the bright spot of his track record.  He says the issue comes down to funding.

“These are serious issues, and it’s one reason I’ve made it my top priority to stabilize the funding in our schools,” he said, citing a reduction in the school district's debt from about $19 million to $2 million a year when the state took over. “I’ve asked my team to look at the report you’re referring to from top to bottom and address every single issue in it, and I take it very seriously. We’ve made significant progress, we’ve seen some academic improvements, fiscally we’re bringing the district back to the place where it should be, but some of these sanitary or other particular issues in terms of the conditions of the building, those need to be addressed immediately and I’m going to ask my team to accomplish that.”