“Social Media? We Don’t Need No Social Media.”

The Coalition for School Reform may have raised and spent a lot of money on the School Board race, including a newfangled field operation that’s already cost $330,000. But it apparently hasn’t had much time or interest in working any social media magic.  @ReformLAUSD, the Twitter handle linked to the Coalition website, last tweeted in June 2011. The Coalition’s Facebook page has 134 likes and seems almost as dusty.

Commentary: The “Other” $1 Million Contribution

Two education outlets — Hechinger Report (affiliated with Columbia University) and Education Week — have recently published stories out about the LAUSD School Board races focused on the large amount of money that’s been raised by the Coalition for School Reform.

Mainstream  outlets — the New York TimesWall Street Journal, and Washington Post — are almost sure to follow. If they do, however, they should take care to pay any attention to two key factors that are easily ignored or forgotten: (a) changes in campaign finance and disclosure laws that have fundamentally altered the political landscape in recent years, and (b) union contributions to state and local elections – which have a long history.

Three years ago, for example, the national teachers union called American Federation of Teachers (AFT) poured a reported $1 million into an effort to unseat a local official the union didn’t like — Washington, DC Mayor Adrien Fenty — and replace him with a challenger the union preferred named Vincent Gray. Sound familiar?

“Collaboration is the right way to do reform,” AFT President Randi Weingarten told Politico shortly after the 2010 primary election. “That’s who Vincent Gray is, that’s why our members supported him.”

Watch: D6 Candidates Talk Charters, Evaluations, Trigger

So you’ve already read our writeup of last night’s East San Fernando Valley forum but you want to know more.  Well now you can watch video of candidates Antonio Sanchez, Maria Cano, and Monica Ratliff in action last night:

Skip to the topic you find most interesting:  9:55: Teacher evaluations; 16:20:Charter school moratorium ; 24:12: Parent inclusion; 31:22: Involving charters in turnarounds; 39:50: Equitable funding for charters;  46:39: Student safety.

Previous post:  District 6 Candidates Struggle to Differentiate Themselves

LAUSD Leadership Shares Stage with Big-Money Donors

Left to right: Garcia, Deasy, Wasserman, Broad and moderator Elise Buik, CEO of United Way

In addition to the high-pressure appearance of the candidates for Mayor of Los Angeles, the United Way summit at the LA Convention Center yesterday also included a morning discussion featuring LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, School Board President Monica Garcia, and school reform funders Casey Wasserman and Eli Broad,

Not surprisingly, the like-minded panelists generated little disagreement during their conversation.  At times, it seemed unclear that the panelists were even aware that deep disagreements existed at all.

“We know what a good school looks like,” said Wasserman. “We know what answers looks like. There’s only one side of this issue. There’s no debate.”

“The notion that we’re still having these debates about what a good evaluation system is almost embarrassing,” said Deasy. “It’s like, ‘really?'”

Garcia praised partnerships between LAUSD and businesses, which often donate money to charter schools –and School Board elections.

“We’ve seen what LA Unified could do by itself and it wasn’t good enough,” said Garcia, praising partnerships between LAUSD and businesses.

“We applaud any business that supports a school,” agreed Broad.

“I appreciate both your investments in LAUSD,” Deasy told Wasserman and Broad. “We will take all the help we can possibly get.”

Previous posts: Garcetti Praises Reform StrategiesSummit Could Put Schools in the Spotlight

District 6 Candidates Struggle to Differentiate Themselves

LAUSD District 6 candidates Monica Ratliff, Maria Cano and
Antonio Sanchez stand and applaud

It was a packed house at Vaughn Next Century Learning Center Wednesday night  for a forum with the three District 6 candidates —  Maria CanoMonica Ratliff and Antonio Sanchez — sponsored by Families First and moderated by  Fidel Ramirez, a parent and after-school coordinator for the Youth Policy Institute.

The crowd of more than 250, mostly parents, sat quietly during the meeting, as if trying to figure out where the candidates differed.  It wasn’t an easy task. There wasn’t any particular issue where the candidates disagreed in any obvious or sharp manner. All of them seemed consistently enthusiastic about charter schools and other forms of choice.

As in the past, Sanchez was the most enthusiastic supporter of the parent trigger.  Ratliff seemed to be most concerned about a teacher evaluation focused on evaluating teachers rather than helping them get better at what they do. Perhaps not surprising given the setting, Cano was somewhat enthusiastic about charters and choice.

Continue reading

Morning Read: Spending Up 977 Percent Over 2009

L.A. School Board Race Tops Spending Records
The city’s ethics commission, which tracks campaign finances, reported this week that independent expenditures in the three board races represent a 977 percent increase over the primary four years ago, the last time these three seats were up for grabs. EdWeek
See also: LA School Report

Mayoral Rivals Talk Like Supply-Siders; Spending Roars
While the candidates are going to pains to try to differentiate themselves before the March 5 election, they found one issue to agree upon unanimously at an education forum in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday — their desire to retain John Deasy. LA Times

Mayoral Candidates Discuss Ways to Improve Schools at Education Summit
The five candidates running to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa each vowed Wednesday to continue his commitment to public education, along with his strong support of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and vision for reform. LA Daily News
See also: LA Times, Neon Tommy

Keep Questions Coming About L.A. Candidates’ Union Cash
Official records show union political action committees account for the vast majority of the more than $7.5 million spent on citywide, City Council and L.A. school board races so far in the form of unrestricted independent expenditures. Business groups can’t keep up. LA Daily News Editorial

Continue reading

Zimmer Irate Over Reform Coalition Attacks

Zimmer, Villaraigosa, and Sullivan

It was perhaps no surprise that District 4 School Board member Steve Zimmer was visibly upset when he happened to run into Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Deputy Mayor for Education, Joan Sullivan, at today’s United Way education event.

“RFK, Joan? Really?” said Zimmer as the two rode the escalator together. “That’s just wrong.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Steve,” responded Sullivan.

The exchange, followed by harsh remarks from Mayor Villaraigosa about Zimmer later in the day, reveals just how antagonistic things have gotten between City Hall and the District 4 incumbent who was once considered something of an ally.

Continue reading

Garcetti Praises Reform Strategies

Left to right: Greuel, Garcetti, James, Perry, Pleitez

Prior to today’s United Way mayoral candidate’s forum, we had been told to expect Wendy Greuel to “come out” as an “education reformer.”

But instead it was Eric Garcetti who took the opportunity to align himself with the so-called reform movement, voicing unequivocal support for LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, the parent trigger law, and even performance-based pay.

In an interview with LA School Report after the forum ended, Garcetti denied any sort of change in positions.

“I’ve been consistent for years, before I even ran,” he told LA School Report.

Observers disagreed over whether Garcetti’s rhetoric was genuine or merely a tactical maneuver.

Continue reading

District 2’s Garcia Responds to Negative Mailers

An anti-Garcia UTLA mailer

The teachers union political action committee has allocated the majority of its expenditures in the East LA District 2 School Board election — almost $90,000 — to attack incumbent LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia and bolster the chances of forcing a runoff between Garcia and one of her three union-endorsed candidates.

But are the attacks accurate or, as LA Times columnist Steve Lopez recently noted about both sides’ campaign mailers, misleading?

In an interview with LA School Report, Garcia refuted most of the claims made against her and took responsibility for those that were accurate.

“I think the other side is using a strategy that is focused on not offering anything, but on just saying no to reform, to change.”

Continue reading

Analysis: Air War Vs. Boots On the Ground

Anyone (like me) who thought that American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten was going to follow up on her recent trip to LA with a big, fat Lotto-sized check for District 4 candidate Steve Zimmer and UTLA-PACE is going to be sorely disappointed.

Word is out that the AFT has sent a $75,000 check to UTLA-PACE — a pittance compared to the big checks written by Eli Broad and Mike Bloomberg, among others. On Twitter, Weingarten explained that teachers unions “can’t compete with the billionaires, but do what we can to talk to the community about the stakes.”

Via UTLA Tumblr

Indeed, the Coalition for School Reform isn’t just leveling the campaign money playing field any more — it’s tilting it in its favor.

But there’s more than one way to win a campaign, and, assuming things don’t change very much in the last few days, the current situation is set up to be a classic “boots on the ground” vs. air [cable TV] war.

At least some UTLA members are rallying around the theme of getting rid of LAUSD Superintendent Deasy. “This is our one and only chance to change things and get rid of Deasy!” says one recent email from a UTLA supporter.  “Our enemies have all the money, but we have people.”

Continue reading

Morning Read: Deasy Becomes Key Issue in School Board Races

Deasy Group Aids 3 School Board Candidates
Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy isn’t on the ballot Tuesday, but you’d hardly know it, based on the undercurrent of the school board election. LA Times

Special Interests Spend Millions, Greuel and James on the Attack
Nearly $4 million in independent spending has poured into Los Angeles election campaigns in recent weeks. A Times analysis finds that more than three-quarters comes from groups tied to unions. LA Times

Why Did the L.A. Times Endorse Felipe Fuentes for City Council?
Last year, for example, the California Teachers Association wrote a bill for Fuentes that would have removed student test scores from teacher evaluations. LA Weekly

Low-Income Preschool Students Threatened Under Sequestration
Head Start programs in Los Angeles may have to close their doors if Congress doesn’t find a way to prevent billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts by March 1. NBC LA

Continue reading

Outside Spending Skyrockets

A massive spending spree of $3.4 million by outside groups has broken records in the Los Angeles School Board races with still seven days left before the election. That’s an increase of $1 million in just a week, according to the latest figures available at the LA City Ethics Commission.

Low voter turnout and a fierce battle between two groups split along ideological lines could make this race one of the costliest per-voter in nation. Based on turnout figures from past elections, outside groups could spend more than $29 for each vote in this School Board election. That dwarfs the outside per-vote spending in the 2012 Presidential race, which was estimated by ProPublica to cost $8 a vote.

Continue reading for details on the big influx of money. Continue reading

Event: District 6 Candidates Talk School Choice

On Wednesday, February 27, Antonio Sanchez, Monica Ratliff, and Maria Cano — the three candidates competing for the District 6 School Board seat representing the East San Fernando Valley — will participate at a charter school parent event hosted by Families That Can, a statewide network of charter school parents that’s part of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). The topic of charter schools is particularly relevant to the San Fernando Valley, which has a high number of LAUSD’s charter schools.  For full event details, click here.

Teachers & Principals Question Deasy Teacher Evaluation Plan

In a recent conversation with LA School Report, Dr. Judith Perez, President of the Administrators Union, weighed in on LAUSD’s controversial new teacher evaluation guideline:

“It feels rushed to us,” she said. “We understand the judge’s requirement that this be implemented this year. But what happens then is an attitude of, ‘just get it done.'”

Perez’s comments, along with previous complaints from the teachers union, raise questions about if and when the new teacher evaluation plan will be rolled out — and whether the teacher evaluations that result will be consistent within and among different LAUSD schools. Continue reading

Morning Read: Looming Federal Budget Cuts on Education

Sequestration: What Southern California Stands to Lose
The Southland is bracing for massive cuts in federal spending at the end of the week, with education and airport officials in particular worried about the impact of the impending reductions. LA Daily News
See also: LA Times, KPCC, SI&A Cabinet Report

Senator Proposes Pushing Back Teacher Layoff Deadlines
Huff said that moving the March 15th deadline for preliminary notices and May 15 deadline for final notices would save school districts millions. SacBee

Steve Barr’s Quest to Save a New Orleans High School (and Create Pilots in Los Angeles)
Barr is working in a behind-the-scenes manner in Los Angeles (not his usual modus operandi) to get approval for “pilot schools” that he supports in the district. EdWeek

What Makes a Good L.A. Mayor
Being a good politician is essential for winning a mayoral election. But the qualities that make a good politician are not necessarily those that make a good mayor. LA Times Editorial

Black Students’ Learning Gaps Start Early, Report Says
African-American public school students in Los Angeles County demonstrate significant learning gaps by second grade; those gaps widen with age and lead to the highest school dropout rate among all races, according to a report released Monday. LA Times

Continue reading

Education Summit Could Reveal Mayoral Candidates’ Differences

Left to right: Jan Perry, Kevin James, Wendy Greuel, and Eric Garcetti

In a Mayoral election dominated by the economy and the budget, education has been barely a blip on the leading candidates’ radar screens.

For a moment, at least, all that will change on Wednesday, February 27, when the five Mayoral candidates take part in a debate at the United Way’s education summit.

The question is whether any of the candidates will use the event as a time to get more specific about their positions — and distinguish themselves from each other. Some reform insiders are suggesting that more differences between Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel will emerge at the event. Continue reading

Calendar: Deadline to Apply Online for Vote-By-Mail

Just a reminder: Tuesday, February 26, is the last day to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot for the March 5 primary election with a simple click of the mouse. You have until midnight to make the request. Click here.

At stake are several important political positions in Los Angeles, including the mayor’s office and three seats on the LAUSD School Board. Vote-by-mail ballots may be dropped off at any polling place on Election Day, March 5, by closing time at 8:00 p.m.

Previous posts: Three Reasons You Should Care Who Wins the School Board Races; LA School Report Expands Campaign Coverage

Zimmer Volunteers Focus on Reaching District 4 Voters

Volunteers gather in District 4 candidate Steve Zimmer’s campaign office before they prepare to walk the precinct.

An energetic crowd gathered early on a Saturday morning to listen to a pep talk from District 4 incumbent Steve Zimmer before hitting the pavement to walk the precinct.

Standing on a chair to address the crowd, Zimmer spoke of his appreciation for their efforts and pride in the commitment of those who showed up, including some of his former students.

“The most important thing that each of you can bring today to these doorsteps is your own story,” Zimmer said. “Your experience with me as a board member and as a leader of this district, that’s what actually makes a difference when people go to the ballot box.”

About 65 volunteers snacked on bagels and cream cheese at the West Hollywood campaign office overlooking Sunset Boulevard before gathering in teams to head out. Continue reading