Rachel Johnson using experience to boost District 1 chances

Rachel Johnson

Rachel Johnson

Beginning today, LA School Report is taking a longer look at each of the seven candidates running for LA Unified’s vacant District 1 board seat. The series starts today with Rachel Johnson and will continue over the weeks ahead.

After three decades as a LAUSD elementary school teacher and nine years as a member of the Gardena City Council, Rachel Johnson is hoping her extensive teaching and fiscal policy-making background will help her secure a seat on the LA Unified school board.

As one of three teachers among the seven candidates running for the District 1 board seat, left open by the passing of the board’s only African American member, Marguerite LaMotte, Johnson, 54, believes she has the practical and administrative expertise to make a difference.

“Since I put in the time in LAUSD, and I saw how policy that school board members implement and how it directly affects my practice, I said ‘you know, I think I can do better, I think I can contribute, I think I have a voice that would be valuable,’ ” she said in an interview with LA School Report.

Johnson, who teaches kindergarten at Purche Avenue Elementary school, wants to empower educators by raising awareness on several issues impacting District 1, such as why there are so many charter schools in the district.

Johnson believes low-performing traditional schools would greatly benefit if they were allowed to invest in a similar teaching model used by charter schools, giving administrators the flexibility to craft an innovative curriculum that she says would invigorate learning and motivate students to achieve.

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LA County Fed decides not to endorse in the school board race

afl-cio_logoDelegates of the LA County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, which represents 600,000 workers in the Los Angeles area, decided last night not to endorse any of the seven candidates for LA Unified school board after a motion to endorse candidate Alex Johnson failed to carry a required two-thirds majority vote.

The decision mirrors that of SEIU Local 99, the LA Unified support staff union, which also voted not to endorse anyone in the special election for the South LA seat, left vacant by the death of longtime school board member Marguerite LaMotte.

The vote was a reversal of sorts. Last week, the County Fed’s political action committee, COPE had voted to recommend “no endorsement” in the race, a decision made after interviewing four candidates: Alex Johnson, and the three teacher union-backed candidates, Sherlett Hendy-Newbill, Rachel Johnson and Hattie McFrazier. But a day later, that recommendation was trumped by the Federation executive board, which recommended Alex Johnson’s name be put before the delegates for a vote.

Johnson, an aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and a product of the LAUSD school system and American University Law School, is the top fundraiser in the election but has little name recognition.

The other three candidates, including George McKenna, considered by insiders to be a front-runner, were not involved in any round of the process because they failed to obtain a required letter of recommendation from any one of the 300 labor affiliates in the federation.

McKenna, a retired administrator, was the subject of a made-for-TV movie and has the backing of the prinicipal’s union, AALA.

Filling LaMotte Seat by Election or Appointment? Board is Decider

LaMotteIf history is any guide, a school board election is in the offing.

As officials at the LA Unified school board scramble to work out options with the city and county on how best to fill the school board seat left vacant last week by the sudden death of longtime member Marguerite LaMotte, they are weighing elements of timing, tradition and of course, politics.

The law relating to vacancies on the school board, written into the LA City Charter, clearly lays out two options for the school board: appoint a replacement or call a special election.

And while appointing someone may seem simpler, cheaper and faster, doing so has big liabilities.

For one, it’s dangerous politically. The seat for school board district 1, which encompasses a wide swath of south LA, extending from Hancock Park to Gardena, has been held continuously by a black woman since 1979. That was the first year board members were no longer elected at-large, a change brought about in part because the black community argued it was under-represented electorally. So having the school board hand-pick an appointee raises red flags in the black community, which is already voicing concerns.

For another, there’s a long tradition of vacancies being filled by election, not appointment. City council seats — which are frequently vacated by members seeking higher office — have uniformly been filled by special election. The last long term appointment was in 1966.

But calling a special election takes consensus, too. The last time a special election was called by the school board was when Jose Huizer vacated his seat after being elected to city council in 2005.

Screen shot 2013-12-08 at 11.49.34 PMThat year, the school board fast-tracked a special election in late November by giving notice and approving a motion (seconded by LaMotte) to hold a stand-alone primary the following March and consolidating with a statewide election for a run-off in June 2006.

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Teacher Advocacy Group to Interview Board Candidates

It’s not a live public forum or debate where we can see the candidates answer questions or exchange views in real time, but it’s better than nothing:

Educators 4 Excellence, an organization that advocates for teachers to take a more active role in shaping education policies, plans to host a podcast interview with District 6 (East San Fernando Valley) runoff candidates Monica Ratliff and Antonio Sanchez.

E4E will interview Sanchez and Ratliff, who have both agreed to participate, on May 8. The podcast will available on E4E’s website to stream or download on May 13.

Previous posts: School Board Candidate Praises Deasy’s Efforts to Limit Tenure;  Sanchez Unavailable for Candidate ForumDaily News Addresses Ratliff Union Role.

Reminder: Monday Voting Registration Deadline

The runoff election that will decide Los Angeles’ new mayor, the LAUSD Board member for District 6 (East San Fernando Valley), and several other city offices is now less than a month away.

Monday, May 6 is the last day you can register to vote for the May 21 runoff. If you still haven’t registered, go here to register to vote online.

Click below for other deadlines for applying to vote by mail and to drop off a vote by mail application. Continue reading

Morning Read: Parents Rally to Save Classroom Breakfasts

Parents Rally to Save Classroom Breakfasts
Union officials representing school cafeteria workers led a noisy rally of parents Tuesday to save a Los Angeles Unified classroom breakfast program that feeds nearly 200,000 children but was in danger of being axed after sharp criticism by teachers. Los Angeles Times
See also: LA Daily News, CBS

LAUSD Supt. John Deasy Faces Performance Evaluation by Teachers Union
Barely two weeks after delivering a stinging no-confidence vote on the leadership of Superintendent John Deasy, the teachers union announced it will do a first-ever “performance evaluation” of the Los Angeles Unified chief. Daily News
See also: LA School Report

Voters Can’t Let LAUSD Seat Be Bought: Elect Monica Ratliff
For a glimpse of what’s wrong with politics in Los Angeles, look no further than the campaign to fill an open seat in the LAUSD’s northeast San Fernando Valley district. LA Daily News Editorial

Lawsuit Targets Union Fees Collected from Nonmember Teachers
A conservative organization has joined with a group of California teachers in an effort to overturn laws that allow teacher unions to collect fees from those who don’t want to be members. Los Angeles Times
See also: Bloomberg, AP

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Morning Read: Board Likely to Back Classroom Breakfast

L.A. Unified Board Will Back Classroom Breakfast Program
A majority of L.A. Unified School Board members said they will vote to continue a classroom breakfast program that feeds nearly 200,000 children but was in danger of being axed after sharp criticism by the teachers union. LA Times
See also: LA School Report, KPCC

The Messy Complications of Breakfast in the Classroom
The Los Angeles Unified School District is in a period of tremendous upheaval that, it’s hoped, will result in better education for its students. With so much changing and so much at stake, of course there are more than a few daggers drawn. But when the teachers union and district administration can’t even get together over feeding hungry kids, something sick is going on. LA Times Opinion

Pre-K Funding is Delivered Another Blow
California state funding per child fell by more than than $400 compared with the previous year, and only 41% of 4-year-olds were served by public pre-K programs and Head Start in the 2011-12 school year, the institute reported. LAT

Washington and Sacramento Must End Cold War on Education
It is too late for California to get more than the sliver of Race to the Top funds it has already received. But the administration’s rejection of California’s NCLB waiver request is too important an issue to accept without further urgent efforts on both sides to reach a resolution. EdSource (opinion)

Walton Foundation Gives $8 Million to StudentsFirst
A foundation associated with the Wal-Mart family fortune has expanded its support for the education advocacy group run by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. LA Times

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District 6 Candidate Commits to Support Deasy

Monica Ratliff. Via LA Times

Concerned that District 6 (East Valley) School Board candidate Monica Ratliff might oppose the leadership of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, the LA Times editorial page secured a commitment from Ratliff to keep Deasy at the helm of the district as part of re-iterating its endorsement:

“Ratliff, who was a public interest lawyer before she became a teacher, advocates smart solutions to vexing issues — such as improving instruction by giving weak teachers time to sit in on the classes of highly effective ones. She is neither a gung-ho member of the school reform movement nor a backer of the union’s anti-reform rhetoric…. [And] if she were in a position to decide on Deasy’s contract today, she would vote to renew it.” [emphasis added]

Previous posts: Board Candidate Changes Position on Deasy (Again);  District 6 Candidate Hardens Position on DeasyUnion Endorsements Unchanged for District 6

Forum Scheduled for District 6 Candidates

District 6 Candidates Monica Ratliff and Antonio Sanchez

The May 21 LAUSD Board runoff for District 6 is less than a month away, and Teach Plus, an urban education advocacy group, is hosting a candidate forum on Thursday, May 2.

Both candidates Monica Ratliff and Antonio Sanchez have been invited, but only Ratliff has confirmed her participation so far. The event is interactive, and audience members will have opportunities to ask the candidates questions and offer input on education issues in LAUSD.

The forum is aimed at LA-area teachers, but Teach Plus said other members of the community won’t be turned away at the door if they show up. See full event details here.

Morning Read: Classroom Breakfast Program in Peril

L.A. Unified Classroom Breakfasts May Be Axed, Deasy Says
An L.A. Unified classroom breakfast program feeding nearly 200,000 children but sharply criticized by the teachers union will be eliminated next year unless school board members vote to reinstate it, Supt. John Deasy said Thursday. LA Times

Decrease in Pink Slips Thanks to Prop 30
The sharp decrease in the number of pink slips from 20,000 last year to 3,000 this March can be directly attributed to the historic passage of the CTA-supported Proposition 30 in November. CTA Blog

Senate Counters Governor’s Funding Plan for Disadvantaged Students
Brown wants to make sure disadvantaged students get more of the funding pie, but the Senate disagrees with the formula the governor wants to use. KPCC
See also: LA TimesEdSourceSI&A Cabinet Report

Endorsement: Monica Ratliff in L.A. Unified District 6
She would, she said, terminate Supt. John Deasy’s contract and initiate a new search for a superintendent, in which he would be invited to reapply. That would be a mistake. LA Times Editorial

LAUSD Reassigns Valley Superintendent, 3 Other Administrators
Four senior Los Angeles Unified officials, including the San Fernando Valley’s local superintendent, have been removed from their positions pending an internal investigation into “a confidential personnel matter,” a district spokesman said Thursday. LA Daily News
See also: LA Times, CBS LA

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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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Early Voting Starts Today, Can Determine Elections

Monday, April 22 is the first day Los Angeles voters will receive and can apply for vote-by-mail ballots for the May 21 East Valley District 6 runoff election, which means that campaigning will finally begin in earnest. (Go here to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot.)

The election will pick between Monica Ratliff and Antonio Sanchez for the LAUSD Board’s District 6 seat representing the East San Fernando Valley. Voters will also elect LA’s next mayor and a number of other city offices.

Early voting might seem like a sleepy issue, but it plays a big role in election outcomes. In the LA Daily News, Rick Orlov wrote about its “increasingly important role in all elections,” making up 46 percent of the total vote in the primary election. We saw  proof of the impact of vote-by-mail ballots in the March primary, when District 4 (Hollywood/Westside) LA School Board incumbent Steve Zimmer beat his challenger Kate Anderson thanks to a significant early voting advantage. (Read the story here.)

Previous posts: Calendar: Registration & Vote By Mail Schedule; How Steve Zimmer *Really* Won

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.

Board Member Kayser Relives the 2011 Runoff

Bennett Kayser

Picking up on a comparison LA School Report first made last month, LAUSD Board Member Bennett Kayser published an op-ed in the LA Daily News last week in which he compared his 2011 runoff against Luis Sanchez to this year’s runoff between District 6 candidates Antonio Sanchez and  Monica Ratliff:

“I beat the big money.  My campaign coffers never topped $35,000. My opponent Luis Sanchez raised more than five times as much.”

Read the full Kayser op-ed in the LA Daily News here. Kayser neglects to mention the $1.4 million the teachers union spent on his behalf, which you can read about here, or the stubborn reality that UTLA has endorsed both Sanchez and Ratliff. For Luis Sanchez’s recollections about the 2011 race — and how it compares to 2013, read here.

Calendar: Registration & Vote By Mail Schedule

Mark it on your calender: Important voter registration and vote-by-mail deadlines are coming up for Los Angeles’ May 21 runoff election for the District 6 seat on the LAUSD School Board:

May 6, 2013 (Monday): The last day to register to vote in the May runoff election. (If you still haven’t registered, go here to register to vote online.)

May 14, 2013 (Tuesday): The last day to apply by mail for a vote-by-mail ballot in the May runoff election.

May 20, 2013 (Monday): The last day to drop off a vote-by-mail ballot at the Los Angeles City Clerk’s election division office. (You can also fill out and mail in the vote-by-mail ballot application on the back of an official sample ballot.)

May 21, 2013 (Tuesday): Runoff election day. It’s also the last day to drop off a vote-by-mail ballot at any polling place by closing time at 8:00 p.m.

As you may recall, Board Member Steve Zimmer won his primary challenge against Kate Anderson by building up a large advantage in early vote by mail ballots. At stake in the runoff is a School Board seat representing the East San Fernando Valley’s District 6, the mayor’s office, city controller, city attorney, and several city council seats.

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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Concerns About Republican Endorsement of Ratliff?

In anticipation of tonight’s UTLA House of Representatives debate over the union’s District 6 runoff endorsements, an anonymous tipster sent LA School Report a copy of a flyer sent out by District 6 candidate Monica Ratliff during the primary campaign that touts her support from Republican LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich and describes her as “the Republicans’ choice for School Board.” (See mailer here.)

While the concerned tipster describe Antonovich as “one of the most conservative Republicans there are,” Ratliff is a classroom teacher and member of UTLA’s House of Representatives who has recently hardened her positions on some key education policy issues. Her endorsement by Antovich was known during the campaign. Thus far, nobody from Ratliff’s camp has responded to our request for comment.

Previous posts: District 6 Candidate Hardens Position on Deasy LeadershipJust How Connected Is Antonio Sanchez?; Union Schedules Special Session To Reconsider Endorsements

April 11 Next Disclosure Date for Independent Committees

Now that the dust has started to settle around last week’s LAUSD Board primary election, you might be wondering what outside spending groups have in store for the May runoff election for the District 6 (East San Fernando Valley) Board seat.

However, it may be awhile. The Coalition for School Reform and UTLA-PACE won’t have to report contributions or expenditures again until April 11, when the next round of pre-election reports will be due at the LA City Ethics Commission. UTLA-PACE, which is a longstanding general purpose committee that is active throughout different election cycles, doesn’t have to provide updates until it begins spending, so we may have to wait until after April 11 to see its reports.

Previous posts: Union Schedules Special Session To Reconsider Endorsements; School Board Primary Averaged $55 Per Vote