LA School Report Expands Campaign Coverage

A new section of LA School Report launches today, devoted to the three hotly contested Los Angeles School Board races. Election 2013, features in-depth information about each of the ten candidates, including questionnaires, biographies, endorsements, and the latest news on campaign contributions and spending.

The enhanced coverage provides readers with easy access to information as the March 5 primary, for District 2, 4 and 6, draws near.

New Leadership Inside UTLA

There could be small signs of change going on inside UTLA. This week’s internal elections for the 350-member House of Representatives were contested in 22 of 32 districts for the first time in recent years.  Some of those seats were expected to have been won by a new caucus within UTLA, called NewTLA, which is working for broader representation within the tightly run organization. However, NewTLA has not responded to our requests for information about how they did in the election.

To see the full list of elected UTLA representatives, click here. The new House of Representatives will be ratified on January 23 and will meet for the first time on January 30.

Previous posts: Internal Elections for UTLA Leadership,Insurgents Aim for Union TakeoverTeachers Endorse Multiple CandidatesUTLA Board Keeps Options Open

Meet District 6 Candidate Maria Cano

So far, just three school board candidates have turned in their signatures for review and approval: sitting school board President Monica Garcia in District 2, Kate Anderson in District 4, and Maria Cano in District 6. (See: City Clerk filing status list)

Maria Cano, left, pictured with City Councilman Mitch Englander, second to the left, and school board member Tamar Galatzan, second from the right

Pictured above on the left, the 42 year-old Cano is running for District 6 along with others such as Antonio Sanchez, Ernie Cardenas and Iris Zuñiga. (See:Campaign ’13 Candidates To Watch).

When asked about her platform, Cano gives the impression of being a UTLA-friendly candidate.

“It’s definitely part of my platform, the importance of teachers,” says Cano.

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Event: Meet District 2 Candidates

Several District 2 LAUSD Board Member candidates including Michelle “Hope” Walker, Robert D. Skeels, and Isabel Vazquez are scheduled to convene Thursday, November 15 at 6 p.m. in the Pico Union area of District 2 to participate in a candidate forum hosted by the District 2 Neighborhood Coalition. The event is endorsed* by the teachers union’s Political Action Council of Educators (PACE) and the Southern California Immigration Coalition (SCIC). LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia, who is the incumbent board member for District 2, has not yet confirmed her attendance. For full event details, click here.

*Information in this article has been corrected.

Betsy Butler: Teachers Union Help Not Enough?

Assemblywoman Betsy Butler

In a race that is still considered too close to call, Assemblywoman Betsy Butler is trailing her upstart opponent, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, by just over 200 votes in Assembly District 50, which covers one of the wealthiest areas of the city from Beverly Hills to the ocean.

In the end, the narrow margin may well hinge on a highly sensitive issue for the teachers union – the dismissal process – as well as a boatload of last minute independent expenditure money.

LA School Report has learned that Opportunity PAC, a group funded primarily by teachers and service employees, spent  $360,000 in late October and early November to help get Butler elected.

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Mike Antonucci: Follow the Money

You’ve probably never heard of Mike Antonucci, but you might be glad — or angry — that there’s someone like him around. Described by Education Week as “the nation’s leading observer — and critic — of the two national teachers’ unions and their affiliates,” Antonucci writes an insider blog called Education Intelligence Agency that tracks teachers union revenues, membership, campaign spending, and the occasional scandal.

On the strength of his research, he’s been published in the Wall Street JournalEducation Next, and quoted as an expert in a long list of mainstream publications.  (Even when he’s not quoted by name, you can be reasonably sure that a reporter writing about union spending spent heaps of time talking to Antonucci.)

Not surprisingly, what Antonucci has to say isn’t always uplifting:  “At the rate we are going, California will soon consist solely of public employee unions, politicians, industries that service ballot initiative campaigns, and Disneyland,” he wrote in a recent blog post (see California Unions Hate All Hedge Fund Managers… Almost).

Read below for some of Antonucci’s thoughts about how to track union (and others’) spending on campaigns and candidates, and whether LA’s relatively stringent disclosure rules really capture the full extent of what’s being spent to help union candidates win elections.  Spoiler alert — he doesn’t.

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Board Member Martinez Touts Union Support & Public Choice

Raised in Pacoima and an alumna of San Fernando High School, District 6 School Board Member Nury Martinez earlier this fall announced that she isn’t running for re-election to the LAUSD board in order to run for City Council (see Martinez Running For City Council).

Board member Nury Martinez, with Supt. Deasy
Photo: USC Annenberg

The announcement hasn’t made the four-year board member any less busy.  Like District 3 Board Member Tamar Galatzan (with whom she is often allied), Martinez is also a mother who has opted to be a part-time school board member and work another job. Last week, Martinez authored a resolution to beef up arts education in the district (see Nonprofit Funds Big Arts Education Push).

In a recent interview in her office on the 24th floor of LAUSD headquarters, Martinez described how she won UTLA’s endorsement (and presumes she still has its support), why the initiative known as Public School Choice is an important vehicle for teacher empowerment, and why she hopes a woman will run to replace her.

Chicago Critics Call For an Elected School Board

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pretty much everything that Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa could ever have wanted when it comes to control over his school district.  By state law, the former Obama chief of staff appoints the school board and the superintendent. He and his City Hall deputies effectively set policy and budget priorities.

But the past 18 months since Emanuel came into office have been full of turmoil and confusion for parents and teachers, including a recent seven-day strike by teachers and — just last night — the forced resignation of Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard. See the Chicago Sun Times here, and the Huffington Post here.

And, in response to all the mistakes and ill will that have accumulated, Emanuel critics and the Chicago Teachers Union are calling for — you guessed it: an independent, elected school board like the one LAUSD currently has.

Dark Money Dominates LAUSD Elections

Until recently, millions of dollars of special interest money flowed directly to candidates for their own campaigns (shown in red).

However, the March election for three LAUSD Board seats promises to be dominated by a torrent of outside money from independent expenditure committees (IEs) – much the way super PACs have eclipsed campaign contributions at the national level. In the last two elections, IE spending (shown in blue) has accounted more than $5 million – up from less than $6,000 in the two preceding cycles.

Where is all this money coming from, and how much might be spent on the 2013 races? As you’ll see, it’s no easy task figuring that out.

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Board Member Galatzan Tells (Almost) All

School Board Member, Tamar Galatzan

School board member Tamar Galatzan (pictured) is quite possibly the busiest elected official in the city. One of two board members who has chosen to serve part-time (along with Nury Martinez), Galatzan also has a full-time job at the City Attorney’s office, and is the mother of two boys in elementary school. (She’s the only board member with a child currently in LAUSD.)

Galatzan, who represents much of the San Fernando valley, typically votes with the Monica Garcia voting bloc, and, as chair of the Budget Committee, she has also been something of a fiscal watchdog.

Recently interviewed in a San Fernando Valley field office located on the grounds of her Birmingham High School alma mater, Galatzan spoke about school board dynamics, her hopes for the most recent labor contract, and Superintendent John Deasy’s performance during a budget crisis.

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“Won’t Back Down” Might Make Debate

Reviews of the new release “Won’t Back Down” vary widely and tend to conform with pre-existing views on education reform issues.

Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal

Critics like The Nation’s Dana Goldstein describe it as a mean-spirited caricature of classroom teachers funded by a conservative millionaire who wants to destroy public schools — a 2012 version of  “Waiting For Superman.”

Supporters describe it as a heartwarming depiction of parents and teachers getting together to say, “We can do better.”  The Manhattan Institute’s Ben Boychuk gives it a glowing review here.

Pretty much everyone agrees that it’s not a great film dramatically, and that we don’t really know whether the parent trigger can literally make a bad school better. However, the issue is a powerful one and there’s an outside chance that Jim Lehrer will ask the presidential candidates about the movie at the debate on Wednesday. That is, if education gets a question at all.

Education-Related Ballot Measures: An Update

A new Los Angeles Times / USC poll shows support for Governor Jerry Brown’s Prop 30 ballot initiative – which would temporarily raise income tax on high earners – has slipped to 54%, down 10 points from March. Despite the erosion, Democratic voters still overwhelmingly favor it, 69-20%.  Meanwhile, Molly Munger’s competing tax measure, Prop 38, has the support of only 34% of voters.

This seems a good time for an update on the three initiatives that will have the biggest impact on LAUSD and public education in California: Propositions 30, 32 and 38. The expenditure data is from a nice interactive feature on the Los Angeles Times website.

Proposition 30
The initiative, being pushed by Governor Jerry Brown, would temporarily raise income taxes on those making more than $250,000 (for seven years) and increase the sales tax by a quarter of a cent (for four years). The money would allow the state to avoid automatic “trigger cuts” – which were designed by Brown himself – that would fall mostly on public education, to the tune of $6 billion. Detractors say this measure won’t result in more money for schools.

Money raised in support: $39.8 million
Money raised against: $1.1 million
Biggest donor in support: California Teachers Association, $6.1 million
Biggest donor against: Charles B. Johnson, $200,000

Brown has worked hard to raise money to support the measure, but will it be enough to get it to the finish line?

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Possible Board Candidates: District 4

Most Angelenos don’t realize it, but the local primary election is just five months away. Even fewer know that in addition the Mayor and City Council, the March 5 ballot will include three school board seats. Three, count ‘em, three (out of seven).

Kate Anderson and family, via Twitter

But why should anyone be paying attention? There aren’t even any candidates yet! Or at least not many of them. Or at least not officially.

Behind the scenes, however, interest groups are searching furiously for the perfect candidate — and potential candidates are huddled around kitchen tables deciding if they should go for it.

One of the most-discussed contenders to run against Steve Zimmer for District 4 is Kate Anderson (pictured), executive director of a reform organization called Children Now.

Read below for more about Anderson and other possible District 4 candidates, and check back soon for the rundown on Districts 2 and 6, which are also in play.

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Zimmer Alienating Both Sides

Board Member Steve Zimmer

Just about everyone who watches LAUSD is scratching their heads wondering just what board member Steve Zimmer is doing — lately more than ever.

He’s introduced two incredibly polarizing motions recently– one to reject the use of Academic Growth Over Time in teacher evaluations, and one to provide greater oversight for charter schools and, more importantly, place a moratorium on new charters. (See: Big Moves From Zimmer)

“I’ve know Steve for 20 years,” says David Tokofsky, a former LAUSD board member and current strategist for Associated Administrators Los Angeles. “He’s always trying to bring people together to discuss issues, and somehow, he’s gotten both the unions and the charters to issue fatwas against him.”

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State Teachers Beef Up Prop 32 Opposition

Yesterday, the CTA dropped another $6.9 million into the fight against Proposition 32, which would, among other things, prohibit unions from taking money automatically deducted from their members’ paychecks and spending it on political activity. (See LA Times:  Teachers union gives another $6.9 million to Prop. 32 fight.)

“This is a huge priority for us, for unions,” David Goldberg, a teacher in Los Angeles and an elected CTA board member, told me yesterday. This morning, the CTA also released a new web ad entitled “Meet a SuperPAC Billionaire who supports Prop 32.”

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Education At The Conventions

Screen shot 2012-08-27 at 11.57.06 AM

Nothing really important will probably happen at the conventions this week or next but there are more education-related events scheduled than in previous years (when there was next to nothing) and some of the education events that will be taking place might be interesting or at least amusing.  Check below for a list, and let us know if you know education people or groups who are going to be showing the flag there, especially if they’re LA-related

Garcia’s First Half Charter School Money

Garcia

Campaign disclosure statements for the first half of 2012 are now online, providing information on contributions for the two LAUSD board members next up for re-election.  Steve Zimmer‘s fundraising appears not to have really begun in earnest (he’s raised less than $10,000. However, Board President Monica Garcia (pictured) has raised a hefty $100,000, about half of which comes via donations of $1,000, the maximum amount allowed. And, as you can see from the partial list below the fold, Garcia has received at least 30 checks worth $9,400 from charter school operators and employees.

All this is perfectly legal. It is, however, another example of something you see time and again in politics – elected officials receiving contributions from industries they are charged with regulating. Charter schools must be re-approved every five years. The superintendent’s office makes a recommendation but the ultimate decision lies with the board and politics can sometimes intervene to save an underperforming school.

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Morning Read: Get Smart

Federal Money For Low-Income Students’ AP Tests:  California will receive $7.6 million from the federal government to pay for Advanced Placement tests for low income students. LA Times

PTA Endorses Munger, Not Brown: The California Parent Teacher Association has endorsed Proposition 38, Molly Munger’s ballot measure to raise taxes to pay for education, which it helped write. It has also decided to stay neutral on Governor Jerry Brown’s more moderate proposal, Prop 30. PTA

UTLA President Sets Record Straight: In response to an LA Times article suggesting that an agreement had been reached, Warren Fletcher reiterates that his union has not agreed to any evaluation system that includes use of students’ test scores.  UTLA

Former Columbia Ed School Dean Calls For Smarter Testing: An op-ed in the Times from Arthur Levine argues for the development of “smarter testing,” like GPS:  “Tests should gauge what students are learning in real time and continually recalculate the instruction each student needs to learn it.” LA Times

Morning Read: Summer’s Dying Embers

• John Myers tweets that Molly Munger has sunk another $5 million into her Proposition 38 campaign, which would raise taxes to boost education funding in California. She has now given a total of $13.7 million. The Democratic Party and the teachers unions are backing Jerry Brown’s more moderate proposal, Proposition 30.

• Local blogger Paul Hatfield objects to LAUSD’s new teacher evaluation system (still in its pilot program phase), which at 30 pages is ten times longer than the old one. CIty Watch

• School starts August 14! LAUSD has posted its calendars here.

Martinez Running For City Council

Nury Martinez

School Board Member Nury Martinez has long been rumored to be planning a run for Tony Cardenas’ City Council District 6 seat, which will become vacant when Cardenas gets elected to U.S. Congress, which he is expected to do in a walk. This would set the stage for a fight for Martinez’s school board seat, and it could also upset the delicate balance of the current school board, which narrowly re-elected Monica Garcia as president and is just one UTLA-sponsored candidate away from tipping the board over to a Garcia opponent like Dr. Richard Vladovic.
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