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.

In LA, the Mayor doesn’t have direct control over LAUSD.  That hasn’t stopped the last two Mayors — Riordan and Villaraigosa — from playing an increasingly strong role in public education, notably with raising money for School Board candidates.

This time around, there has been surprisingly little attention focused on education specifics in the Mayoral campaign — which seems “particularly curious, given how much of an issue it’s become under the current mayor,” according to USC political science Professor Dan Schnur.

Concerns about the teachers union may have played a part.  “The candidates this year may be worries about saying or doing anything to offend UTLA,” Schnur told LA School Report. “Villaraigosa had a professional biography that may have protected him to some degree.”

Indeed, the influence of the teachers union on candidates is an issue LA Times columnist Jim Newton raises In a new column in which he wonders if candidate Eric Garcetti’s ambivalence about School Board president Monica Garcia and the parent trigger might stem from Garcetti’s recent endorsement by UTLA. Garcetti  has been endorsed — but not backed financially — by UTLA and recently by the California Federation of Teachers.
Other observers think Garcetti’s underlying interest in education may be limited.  “My feeling is that he’s just not that interested in education as an issue and won’t pick fights in an area he has no control or official purview,” a pro-reform insider told LA School Report.  “Even without UTLA’s endorsement, I didn’t sense real interest.”
Garcetti’s main opponent, Wendy Greuel, supports Garcia and the trigger, as does outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. But she’s passed up every opportunity to contrast her positions with those of Garcetti and take a strong stance on education reform. This is in part keeping with her entire campaign, which has been short on specifics. But she also may be steering clear of what can be a divisive issue.
“In such a close campaign, education reform can be a double-edged sword,” said Schnur.
However, education will take center stage on Wednesday, when United Way holds its education summit. Not only will the five Mayoral candidates take part in a forum discussing the future of education, they’ll do so as part of an event attended by some of the biggest names (and spenders) in education reform — Eli Broad, John Deasy, Rahm Emanuel, and Mayor Villaraigosa himself.

One pro-Greuel politico we talked to said he expects Greuel to use the summit as an opportunity to “come out” (as in come out of the closet) as an ed reformer.

LA Times columnist Newton, meanwhile, hopes Garcetti will use the summit as an “opportunity to lay to rest fears that his positions have been molded by his UTLA support.”

Previous posts: Video: Mayoral Candidates Talk EducationMayoral Candidate Greuel Supports Garcia, Parent Trigger;  Candidate Garcetti Waffles on School Board EndorsementMayoral Candidate Perry Offers Mixed Praise for VillaraigosaMayoral Candidate James Proposes Trade Diploma