UPDATE, March 5, 2013: The Los Angeles Times reports that last-minute contributions to a political action committee, Coalition for School Reform, to support candidates for the Los Angeles Unified School Board (LAUSD) in today's election have brought the total contributions in that race to "over $3.8 million." At odds are viewpoints supporting the education policies (pro-charter schools, key among them) of LAUSD superintendent John Deasy and LA mayor Anthony Villraigosa, and those supporting the agenda of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union.
New money has come in from the Sacramento-based California Charter Schools Assn. ($300K), and New York City-based News America Inc. ($250K; Rupert Murdoch's company), according to reports filed yesterday with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which oversees local campaign spending.
Above, LAUSD president Monica Garcia, a candidate for re-election today.
UPDATE, February 27, 2013: United Way of Greater Los Angeles is "allied with community groups" that support the goals of LAUSD supe John Deasy and "want to limit the influence of the teachers union," according to a story in today's Los Angeles Times by Howard Blume. Ostensibly nonpartisan (UWGLA is a 501 c 3 charity), United Way of Greater Los Angeles, is not a member of the political action funding committee, the Coalition for School Reform; the charity has hosted public forums for the candidates in the District 2, 4, and 6 races; videos of these forums can be seen here and here.
Writing in today's Hechinger Report, Sarah Garland notes that "the large amounts of outside money flowing into the [LAUSD] election represent a new front in the reform battles that have shaken up eduation politics over the last decade...donors...are giving to a slate of school board candidates who suport charter schools, new teacher evaluations based on student test scores, and overhauling teacher tenure..." Joe Williams, director of Washington, D.C.-based Democrats For Education Reform (DFER) said, "The money could also be what tanks a candidate, if that's what the storyline is with the voters." [The Hechinger Report is partially funded by LA eduational philanthropist Eli Broad; DFER's "Reformer of the Month" is LAUSD school board president (and candidate for re-election) Monica Garcia, above.]
UPDATE, February 21, 2013: Howard Blume reported in last night's on-line Los Angeles Times that StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based group headed by Michelle Rhee (former chancellor of Washington, D.C.'s public schools, author of the new book, Radical, and wife of Sacramento mayor, Kevin Johnson), has donated $250K to the LAUSD school board election to support the election of Monica Garcia and Antonio Sanchez. This follows (see below) the $1 million from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg for the same candidates. Blume reports that the campaign has "resources of more than $3 million for the March 5 election, is being managed by the Coalition for School Reform, which is closely allied with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa."
...Rhee's donation matches that of philanthropist Eli Broad and media executive A. Jerrold Perenchio. Another large recent contribution, $100,000, has come from philanthropist Casey Wasserman, who has funded positions on Supt. John Deasy's executive staff.
"This is just another example of outside 'reformers' trying to influence the outcome of the Los Angeles school board races," Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said in a statement. Voters "do not need outsiders deciding who is best to sit on the LAUSD Board of Education."...
February 13, 2013: ... New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has donated $1 million to the Coalition for School Reform slate for the Los Angeles Unified School Board election (March 5). The money is to ensure a LAUSD board majority that supports the policies of Los Angeles mayor Anthony Villaraigosa and district superintendent John Deasy, and to "override this historic influence of the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles..."According to Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times, the coalition, with coffers already reaching over $2.5 million, is funding the campaigns of incumbent president Monica Garcia, and challengers Kate Anderson (above) and Antonio Sanchez (below).
A representative of the UTLA, vp Gregg Solkovits, told the Times, the union is undaunted by the cash infusion for its opponents. "Our strategy is unchanged...we expected to be outspent." A union statement called the donation "...yet another example of outsiders trying to influence the outcome of the election."
LAUSD is not the first California district to experience heavy donations to local board elections. Over the past year, there have been massive donations made to ensure candidates positions on school boards (see story below); big money is being spent on both sides. According to filings listed through Tuesday, the coalition had spent a reported $269,000 on Anderson's election and unions had spent $215,000 in support of Anderson's opponent Steve Zimmer. The union reportedly has $700,000 remaining in its war chest. The union has backing in favor of Zimmer from the L.A. County Federation of Labor and the Democratic Party.
L.A. is a notably different education landscape than New York, where the mayor controls the school district. Villaraigosa unsuccessfully sought such authority when he took office eight years ago. In New York, Bloomberg has used his powers to close low-performing schools and accelerate the growth of independently managed charter schools. He also released the individual ratings of teachers based on student test scores and pushed for a new evaluation
In Los Angeles, Deasy's agenda has resembled that of Bloomberg, although Deasy has opposed the release of individual teacher ratings and has rarely converted low-performing campuses to charter schools. L.A. has more charters than any other school system in the nation.
Public school advocate Diane Ravitch was quoted in Blume's article, saying: "The prospect that the mayor of New York City might use his vast wealth to choose the school board for the people of Los Angeles is repugnant and an affront to democracy."
Written by Taylor McCulloch.