Update: Reform Coalition Faces Power Vacuum

CSR logoEducation reformers met Friday afternoon to discuss the disastrous results of the 2013 School Board elections and to consider what form the their efforts should take in the future.

“It was a meeting to discuss what had happened in my election and what we should think about the future of LAUSD,” said Kate Anderson, who unsuccessfully ran for LAUSD School Board against Board member Steve Zimmer.

But other sources who attended the meeting characterized the mood of the meeting  as rudderless.

“Nothing came out of it,” said one frustrated reformer who was there. “It was just another sort of, ‘the ed reformers lost, what can we do about it?’ There’s a lot of those meetings. There’s no clear next actionable plan.”

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Campaign 2013: What Next for the Coalition for School Reform?

CSR logo“The Reformers Are Dead, Long Live the Reformers,” ran the headline to a story by Howard Blume, noting that reformers faced an “uncertain future” after losing two out of three School Board races.

But that story was actually written in 2003 — back when Blume was writing for the LA Weekly rather than his current gig at the LA Times — and concerned a different Coalition: the Coalition for Kids, headed by then-Mayor Richard Riordan.

Ten years later, the story is pretty much the same — only the names have changed. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Coalition for School Reform just spent over $4 million on three races, losing all but one.

And, with Villaraigosa on his way out, some donors fuming at their expensive defeat, and with the very usefulness of independent expenditure (IE) campaigns fueled by big-money donations being questioned, the Coalition yet again faces an uncertain future.

Possible changes that may be discussed at a Friday meeting include dissolving as an organization, creating a year-round non-profit advocacy group, or simply changing names when the next Board elections take place in two years.

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New Mayor’s Wife Has School Reform Past

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Mayor-elect Garcetti’s wife, Amy Wakeland

A recent LA Times piece looks at Amy Wakeland, wife of newly elected Mayor Eric Garcetti, calling her “a powerful player in [Garcetti’s] political life” and noting that in the past she has worked for unnamed L.A. Unified School District board candidates.

A helpful tipster pointed out to us that in 2003, Wakeland served as spokesperson for former Mayor Richard Riordan’s Coalition for Kids, a predecessor to the Coalition for School Reform. You can see her quoted in article’s like this one, putting out various fires for Riordan’s slate of candidates.

During the campaign, Garcetti was endorsed (but not funded) by UTLA, and did not endorse Board member Monica Garcia in the District 2 primary. He endorsed neither Monica Ratliff nor Antonio Sanchez in last week’s District 6 runoff.

Previous posts: An Unbalanced Breakfast for Mayors Villaraigosa & GarcettiEducation Small Factor in Mayoral VotingMayoral Debate Reveals Few School DifferencesTeachers Give to Garcetti Super PAC

 

Campaign 2013: How Ratliff Won (& Reformers Lost)*

The results are (mostly) in, and the LAUSD School Board District 6 election looks like the shock result of the evening, with Monica Ratliff having apparently defeated Antonio Sanchez, 52 percent to 48 percent — a complete reversal from the primary results in which Sanchez bested Ratliff by 10 points.

Sanchez has now conceded the race.* Ratliff couldn’t be reached for comment. The Daily News’ Barbara Jones reported earlier this morning that Ratliff was at San Pedro Elementary teaching, as she has been throughout the campaign.

Turnout in the race was roughly 16 percent, although according to the City Clerk, there are still more than 82,000 votes left to be counted citywide. It is unknown how many of those uncounted ballots are from District 6.

Observers, to say the least, are shocked. Recriminations within the so-called “school reform” community have already begun, with one pro-reform insider calling the result “an utter disaster.”

The small clique of UTLA activists that helped Ratliff win, on the other hand, are ecstatic.

“Am I surprised? Yes,” said Brent Smiley, vice chair for UTLA’s political action committee. “I’m truly floored. I think, ultimately, [voters] saw [Sanchez] as a politician. And they viewed [Ratliff] as what she was – a classroom teacher.”

Those involved in the race are crediting Ratliff’s poise as a candidate, her ballot designation as a classroom teacher, and a small but devoted group of volunteers; they blame Sanchez’s loss on his lack of familiarity with education issues, the ineffectiveness of the campaigns on his behalf, and low voter turnout.

At least one observer credited UTLA’s endorsement of both Ratliff and Sanchez, which conventional wisdom credited as a major advantage for Sanchez, as having had the completely unintended effect of protecting Ratliff.

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Election Day: Voter Turnout Will Determine Outcome

In today’s School Board District 6 election, Antonio Sanchez remains the strong favorite over his opponent, Monica Ratliff, thanks in part to the overwhelming advantage in campaign contributions to both Sanchez’s campaign and two independent campaigns on his behalf.

Sanchez’s Latino surname and fluency in Spanish is also a built-in advantage (though Ratliff’s mother is from Mexico).

“You’re looking at a very Latino district,” said Mike Shimpock, Sanchez’s campaign consultant. “And this is a district where ethnic identity voting still makes a difference on election day.”

Internal polls are said to show a decisive advantage for Sanchez, but voter turnout could play a huge role.

“If the turnout is above 15 percent, Sanchez wins running away,” said Brent Smiley, a teacher and vice chair of UTLA’s political action committee. “If it’s below 15 percent, then things get interesting.”

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Campaign: Walking San Fernando with Antonio Sanchez

District 6 candidate Antonion Sanchez walking on Saturday.

Antonio Sanchez always introduces himself to voters the same way, telling them within ten seconds that he grew up in Pacoima, went to San Fernando High School, and graduated form Cal State Northridge before going on to UCLA.

And so when he canvases precincts in San Fernando on Saturday, he knows most of the streets. He even knows some of the voters — both from growing up in the area and from working on a number of political campaigns, from as far back as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s election in 2005 and Cindy Montanez’s failed State Senate run in 2006.

Although he’s a first-time candidate, the 31-year-old Sanchez also enjoys a panoply of political connections to labor groups, State legislators and East Valley community groups. As a result, nearly $2 million has been spent on Sanchez’s behalf by outside groups, making him the clear favorite in the race.

Spending a couple of hours this past Saturday walking a precinct with Sanchez and his friend, Pete Brown, it’s clear that the connections are an advantage about which Sanchez is unapologetic — but also something he has to answer for.

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Reform Coalition Focuses Massive War Chest on Mailers

Close-up of Coalition mailer for District 6 candidate Antonio Sanchez

As of May 4, the independent expenditure (IE) committee known as the Coalition for School Reform had a staggering $850,000 left in the bank, according to papers filed with the City Ethics Commission.

That dwarfs the $55,000 left in the coffers of the Antonio Sanchez campaign, whom the Coalition is supporting, as well as the $21,000 held by the Monica Ratliff campaign.

Both are seeking to win the District 6 (East Valley) School Board runoff election that’s being held May 21.

Rather than airing new ads on television or radio, or going for broke with a door-to-door field operation, Coalition spokesman Addisu Demissie said the group would spend heavily on direct mail.

“The good thing about mail is, we can talk to different people in specific ways,” Demissie told LA School Report.  “It’s more efficient that way. You know how expensive TV can be in Los Angeles.”

The Coalition’s recent mailers have all been positive — in contrast to some of the pieces sent out in the primary, some of which were negative.

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Why the Coalition’s Going All Out to Elect Sanchez

Coalition flyer on behalf of D6 School Board candidate Antonio Sanchez

The Coalition for School Reform has already spent nearly $200,000 since the March 5th primary to support Antonio Sanchez‘s bid to replace Nury Martinez as District 6 Board Member.

With around $1 million left in the bank thanks to recent donations by former Mayor Richard Riordan ($50,000), New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ($350,000), and philanthropist / art collector Eli Broad ($250,000), you can look for the Coalition to be spending a whole lot more as we enter the final three weeks of the campaign.

And yet, with the teachers union having endorsed both candidates, and therefore somewhat of a non-factor in the election, and both remaining candidates having committed to supporting LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, it’s worth asking: why’s the Coalition still raising (and spending) so much money, and what are they doing with it?

“We take nothing for granted,” said Coalition spokesman Addisu Demissie, who added that much of the money would go to beefing up the Coalition’s field organization. “We learned in the primary that turnout is important, so we’re investing heavily so that we turn out voters in May.”

Indeed, despite its massive financial advantage, the Coalition has several reasons  to take every possible step to ensure that Sanchez is elected.

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Undaunted, NYC Mayor Gives $350,000 to Reform Coalition

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given another $350,000 to the Coalition for School Reform, an independent expenditure (IE) group supporting Antonio Sanchez for School Board in the East Valley District 6 LAUSD School Board race that will be decided May 21.

“For years, the funding in these sorts of races was only on one side with the union,” said Bloomberg spokesman Marc LaVorgna. Mayor Bloomberg is “committed to providing a counterbalance.”

During the primary, Bloomberg gave $1 million to the Coalition, which supported three candidates: Monica Garcia, Kate Anderson and Sanchez. According to the LA Times, this was the largest campaign contribution in School Board history.

Anderson lost narrowly to incumbent Steve Zimmer; some blamed a backlash to big out-of-state donations from non-Democrats such as Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch.

When asked if Bloomberg had any second thoughts about giving to the Coalition after the primary results, LaVorgna replied simply: “No.”

The Coalition, whose chief fundraiser is LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, recently got checks for $250,000 from Eli Broad, and $100,000 from Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst.

So far, the Coalition has spent roughly $130,000 in support of Sanchez in the May 21 general election. SEIU local 99 and the Los Angeles Federation of Labor are also running IEs for Sanchez. His opponent, teacher Monica Ratliff, currently enjoys no IE support.

Previous posts: Coalition for School Reform Gets Big DonationsRunoff 2013: Slow Fundraising Start for District 6Defiant Mayor Promises Continued InvolvementUpdate: UTLA-PACE Spends, Bloomberg Donates

Morning Read: Did UTLA Leaders Make a Deal With Candidate?

Rumor of Deal Roils Teachers Union
The leadership of the Los Angeles teachers union is roiled over whether its officials made a private deal with a Board of Education candidate whom critics view as an ally of anti-labor forces. LA Times


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg Donates $350,000 to LAUSD Reformer’s Campaign
With the runoff now less than a month away, Bloomberg has given the coalition an additional $350,000 – again at Villaraigosa’s request – to support the election of Antonio Sanchez to the District 6 seat. LA Daily News
See also: LA School Report


Teacher Evaluation Bill Opposed by Unions Dies in Committee
Legislation that would have required more frequent evaluations of educators was killed by a state Senate committee Wednesday under strong opposition from teachers’ unions. LA Times
See also: LA School Report, SI&A Cabinet Report


Jerry Brown Vows Battle With Democratic Critics of Education Plan
Gov. Jerry Brown offered a spirited defense of his plan to overhaul the state’s education system Wednesday and warned Democratic critics of his plan that they were “going to get the battle of their lives” if they attempt to change key parts of his proposal. LA Times
See also: EdSource, Fresno Bee

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Morning Read: District 6 Runoff Ramping Up

In L.A. School Board Race, Sky-High Spending Continues
Record spending will continue in the last remaining race for a seat on the Los Angeles school board, as a political action committee has put together a war chest of about $600,000 to use on behalf of a candidate endorsed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. LA Times
See also: LA School Report


State Probes Burbank Third Grade Cheating Report
Burbank school officials say a third-grade teacher has been put on leave after a student reported a got help with answers on state standardized tests. KPCC
See also: LA Times


State Toughens Regs for Interns Teaching English Learners
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing will now require non-credentialed Teach For America teachers and other intern teachers to receive more training in how to teach English learners and to get weekly on-the-job mentoring and supervision. EdSource


Democratic Party Schism Over Scandalous Schools: Gloria Romero, Slimed by Teacher Unions, Says Sober Up
A few days ago, the teachers union wing of the California Democratic Party tarred the growing numbers of breakaway Democrats who, in sync with President Obama, point the finger at teachers unions as a big obstacle to fixing crappy schools. LA Weekly

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Coalition for School Reform Gets Big Donations

Eli Broad

The Coalition for School Reform’s District 6 (East San Fernando Valley) runoff election coffers have been replenished thanks to big donations received from Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s education advocacy group, among others.

According to reports just filed with the LA City Ethics Commission, Broad gave the Coalition $250,000. StudentsFirst contributed another $100,000. A LA-area business consulting group called Aurora Management Partners contributed $30,000 to the Coalition, and Century City 1800 Partners gave $20,000. As LA School Report reported Monday, the Coalition had $230,000 in its war chest at the beginning of April. These new contributions push that amount to $630,000.

Previous posts: Runoff 2013: Slow Fundraising Start for District 6; Runoff: Union & LA Times Might Shift Endorsements

Runoff 2013: Slow Fundraising Start for District 6

Voters head to the polls in less than six weeks to decide the East San Fernando Valley District 6 School Board runoff between Antonio Sanchez and Monica Ratliff, but things are off to a pretty slow start when it comes to fundraising and spending.

In terms of direct campaign fundraising, Ratliff hasn’t raised any money at all since the primary election, and Sanchez has raised just $15,000 since early March.

As for the IE committees, the latest financial reports from the LA City Ethics Commission cover a time period between mid-February and April 6:

*UTLA-PACE, the teachers union’s political arm, received $237,000 in contributions, as well as $628,000 in “miscellaneous cash increases” but only has $73,000 left for the runoff because the union spent heavily in the weeks leading up to the primary. (See report here.)

*The Coalition for School Reform received $712,000 in contributions during the same time period. But it also spent heavily on the primary, so the Coalition has $230,000 in its account to spend on the District 6 election. (See report here.)

*And the Local 99 branch of the Service Employees International Union collected $398,000 between February and April. It has $261,000 to spend on the runoff. (See report here.)

In terms of spending, outside groups including the Coalition for School Reform and the LA County Federation of Labor spent almost $1.3 million to support Sanchez in the primary, but they have spent only $66,000 on him since then.

LA School Report will keep track of campaign spending and will update you with more up-to-date numbers as we get them.

Morning Read: State Democrats Pass Anti-Reform Resolution

California Democrats Blast Efforts to Overhaul Schools
California Democrats on Sunday condemned efforts led by members of their own party to overhaul the nation’s schools, arguing that groups such as StudentsFirst and Democrats for Education Reform are fronts for Republicans and corporate interests. LA Times


L.A. School Reform Effort Draws Diverse Group of Wealthy Donors
Republicans, liberals, Hollywood notables and global corporate executives are among those who gave to the Coalition for School Reform. LA Times


LAUSD Chief John Deasy Draws Fire as He Pursues Aggressive Reform Plan
The reforms that Deasy enacted – and just how aggressively he’s pursued them – have put the fast-talking New Englander at the center of a heated debate over the future of the nation’s second-largest school district. LA Daily News


Interest in Teaching Continues to Drop in California
Interest in teaching is steadily dropping in California, with the number of educators earning a teaching credential dipping by 12% last year — marking the eighth straight annual decline. LA Times
See also: EdSource

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Reform Coalition Announces Voter Education Meeting

@ReformLAUSD: “A new class of organizers started last week. Don’t be surprised if they are at your door next! “

Last week, the Coalition for School Reform announced a new spokesperson would be taking over for the May 21 runoff between District 6 candidates Monica Ratliff and Antonio Sanchez. The reform-oriented independent expenditure committee has also fired up its Twitter feed (@ReformLAUSD), begun training a new set of campaign organizers (pictured), and announced its first voter education meeting. The event is scheduled to take place Wednesday, April 10 @ 7PM at 8332 Sepulveda Blvd, Suite 14, North Hills.

Previous posts: Reform Coalition Hires New SpokespersonA Good – But Not Great – Campaign, Say Reform Insiders“Social Media? We Don’t Need No Social Media.”

Anderson: Turnout Projections Crippled Field Budget

Former District 4 (Westside/Hollywood) School Board candidate Kate Anderson sounded relaxed and content during a phone interview yesterday afternoon.

The Mar Vista parent laughed easily and often, and said she was getting to see her children a lot more in the month since the March 5 primary.

But she wasn’t without ideas and regrets in terms of the campaign she’d just been through against District 4 School Board Member Steve Zimmer.

Many of her observations about the race — low turnout on primary day and the unwanted distractions of the outside contributions to the Coalition for School Reform — are familiar.

However, Anderson also put a finger on inaccurate voter turnout projections that shaped her campaign budget decisions and ultimately sealed her fate.

If she’d known how low turnout was really going to be, her campaign would have spent less on a big initial early mailing.

“I would have mailed to a much smaller universe at the start, and then focused much more on the field.”

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Reform Coalition Hires New Spokesperson

The new spokesman for the Coalition for School Reform is a familiar face — Addisu Demissie of 50+1 Strategies, the Oakland-based strategist who ran the Coalition’s field operation in the primary.

Demissie replaces Janelle Erickson, who recently took a job as campaign manager for Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel.

The Coalition was 1-1-1 in the primary.  It helped get School Board President Monica Garcia reelected, lost its bid to help unseat Westside Board Member Steve Zimmer, and in the East Valley’s District 6 its candidate of choice, Antonio Sanchez, earned a spot in the runoff against teacher Monica Ratliff.

The Coalition’s general election field campaign is already laying the ground work, registering new voters. In the runoff, the Coalition’s vote-by-mail campaign will be “more deliberate and longer,” according to a source. That might be a response to the loss in District 4, which Zimmer won thanks largely to early vote-by-mail.

The Coalition spent over $3.5 million on its slate of three candidates in the primary — $615,000 of which went to Demissie’s consulting firm.

Demissie declined to comment on the record at this time.

Previous posts: Reformers Try to Match Union “Ground Game”Campaign Consultants Win — Either WayA Good – But Not Great – Campaign, Say Reform Insiders

A Good – But Not Great – Campaign, Say Reform Insiders

Insiders who spoke with LA School Report over the past few days generally rejected criticisms aimed by some outside observers at the Coalition for School Reform-funded campaign to elect a slate of reform-minded candidates to the LAUSD School Board.

“Because Kate [Anderson] lost, every single thing [the Coalition] did looks wrong,” said one insider who — like most of those contacted for this story — declined to talk on the record.

In particular, insiders denounced the notion that the campaign consultants hired by the Coalition were incompetent or conflicted by their work for other clients including labor groups.

“The way consultants get clients is by winning,” said another insider.  “Pulling punches for the possibility of future client work makes no sense.”

However, the insiders – a half-dozen campaign and school reform veterans familiar with the Coalition and its consultants — generally agreed that there were specific strategic decisions and actions that SCN Strategies, the consulting firm hired to do most of the Coalition-funded work, might have wished it had decided differently – and might have affected the outcome of the District 4 race, which Zimmer won with 52 percent of the votes.

One insider described SCN as “good people who didn’t run a great campaign.“

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Coalition Campaign was “Half-Hearted and Incompetent,” says Rival Consultant

Referencing the recent District 4 primary between Kate Anderson and Steve Zimmer, StudentsFirst head Michelle Rhee last week boasted that  the Coalition for School Reform effort she helped fund “came within three percentage points of unseating an incumbent, union-backed Board member – something that would have been unthinkable just a couple of election cycles ago.”

But not everyone reflecting on the primary election results has been so sanguine.

Former Democratic state lawmaker Glorio Romero recently blasted Mayor Villaraigosa for over-reaching in his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Steve Zimmer.

And last week an email letter describing the Coalition-funded primary campaign as “half-hearted and incompetent” began circulating among Los Angeles education insiders.

“Their messaging and GOTV [get out the vote] strategy had no correlation to the actual likely voters for the Election,” claims the letter, addressed to former Mayor Richard Riordan and written by political consultant Brian Ross Adams. “They had no strategy for Hollywood and the more liberal Westside districts).”

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Looking Back at the 2011 Runoff

2011 School Board runoff competitors Bennett Kayser and Luis Sanchez

At first glance, the upcoming District 6 (East San Fernando Valley) runoff election between Antonio Sanchez and Monica Ratliff looks like it might share many similarities to the District 5 election two years ago.

The 2011 runoff (for an area running from Los Feliz to Maywood) pitted reform candidate Luis Sanchez (no relation to Antonio) against union-backed candidate Bennett Kayser.

Like this year’s District 6 election, the race attracted substantial outside spending, went into a runoff, and its battle lines were drawn around issues like teacher evaluations, budget plans, and school choice.

This year’s race has “a similar dynamic” to 2011, according to Luis Sanchez, who now works with the California Endowment.

There are a number of big differences, however — including that the 2013 race hasn’t yet been dominated by candidates and outside advocates attacking each other.

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