ULTA super PAC holds off on LAUSD school board endorsement

UTLAPACE endorsementIn an unusual move, PACE, the political arm of the second-largest teachers union in the country, is sitting on the sidelines for the moment, after voting last night to “recommend no endorsement” in the upcoming LA Unified school board race to fill the vacant seat in South Los Angeles, District 1.

At the endorsement meeting at union headquarters, the PACE committee interviewed 5 of the 7 candidates – George McKenna, Sherlett Hendy Newbill, Alex Johnson, Rachel Johnson and Hattie McFrazier  — and reviewed answers to a questionnaire sent out prior to the meeting. Two other candidates, Genethia Hudley-Hayes and Omarosa Manigault, were not invited to appear.

In the end, the committee voted for no recommendation, according to a source at UTLA.

The endorsement process next goes to the March 19 meeting of the UTLA board of directors, which itself can issue a recommendation for the UTLA House of Representatives. The representatives meet on March 26  as the final forum when an endorsement can be made.

That endorsement can often be an important one. With the city imposing campaign limits on direct contributions, school board elections often depend on the involvement of super PAC committees.

The UTLA super PAC typically plays a big role. Last year it activated a field operation and spent millions of dollars for direct mail pieces and phone banks on behalf of its candidates. The other big union player in the race is expected to be SEIU Local 99, the union of school support staff, which will decide on its endorsements later this spring.

Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, AALA, the union representing principals and other administrators, endorses but spends little money.  Reform groups, which also spent millions last year, have not yet picked a candidate to support.

The District 1 seat became vacant when longtime school board member, Marguerite LaMotte died in office late last year.

 

Ratliff Retires Campaign Debt With Broad Base of Support

Monica Ratliff is sworn in by her mother

Monica Ratliff is sworn in by her mother

Before her election to the LA school board in May, Monica Ratliff was virtually unknown. Now, the race to influence her is on — and all sides have entered.

Ratliff, a former teacher and upset winner over Antonio Sanchez in District 6, has raised just over $30,000 since her election to help retire her campaign debt, according to a campaign finance report just released by the city ethics commission. The donors come from all poles of the education debate, giving her at least a veneer of political nonalignment. Ratliff’s ideological stance — that is, how she might line up on school board votes — has been the subject of much speculation. By some indications, she could be something of a swing vote, like board members Steve Zimmer and Richard Vladovic, even though she received strong teacher support in the general election campaign.

Among post-election contributions, UTLA President Warren Fletcher gave $1,000, the maximum allowable amount in School Board races, while UTLA Secretary David Lyell gave $350, and Brent Smiley, vice chairman of the union’s political action committee and a campaign volunteer, donated $50. The California Federation of Teachers’ Political Action Committee also gave $1,000.

On the other end of the spectrum, the California Charter School Association’s Political Action Committee gave $1,000, while Kathrine Baxter, wife of Frank Baxter, chipped in $500. Both Frank Baxter and the CCSA gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Coalition for School Reform, which spent heavily in an attempt to elect Sanchez.

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Friday’s Garcia Swearing-In Ceremony

Monica Garcia

Monica Garcia

On Friday, School Board member Mónica García was scheduled to be sworn in for the 2013-2017 term at the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes.

According to a press release sent out by LAUSD, Garcia is “only the third Latina in 155 years to serve on the Los Angeles City School Board of Education” and was slated to be sworn in by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. Other VIPs scheduled to be in attendance were Gabriela Teissier, Univision News Anchor.

Tomorrow, Board member-elect Monica Ratliff will be sworn in and the Board is scheduled to pick a new President and approve the 2013-2014 calendar of meetings. Earlier in the week, Board member Steve Zimmer was sworn in at Hollywood High School.

Previous posts: Harassment Allegations Could Hurt Vladovic’s ChancesBoard Presidency Up for Grabs TuesdayZimmer to Celebrate Re-Election at Hollywood High

 

Campaign 2013: Cheers — and Confusion

At about noon on Wednesday, District 6 School Board candidate Antonio Sanchez conceded the race to his opponent, Monica Ratliff, and wished her good luck  – an hour or two after the Coalition for School Reform had already done so.

“From what I’ve seen, from the reports, I believe Monica’s the winner,” he told LA School Report. “I wish Monica and everybody on the School Board success.”

In a written statement, the teachers union congratulated Ratliff on her victory: “We are overjoyed that a working classroom teacher will be on the School Board.  Ms. Ratliff has seen firsthand the kind of harm that is done when a District is mismanaged.”

UTLA also trumpeted its support for its endorsed Mayoral candidate, Eric Garcetti, who handily defeated Wendy Greuel to become the next Mayor of Los Angeles.

Since LA School Report wrote about the campaign aftermath yesterday morning (see: How Ratliff Won & Reformers Lost), reactions and post-election analysis have continued to pour in, including exultation from Ratliff supporters and head-scratching from Sanchez allies.

Thus far, at least, there’s no real consensus about why Sanchez lost or — just as interesting — exactly how Ratliff won. But there are lots of theories.

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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: Door-to-Door in Sunland with Monica Ratliff

Candidate Ratliff walking in Sunland on Saturday.

Going door-to-door in the Sunland section of the East Valley one evening this past weekend, District 6 School Board candidate Monica Ratliff‘s pitch to voters goes something like this:

“Hi, my name is Monica Ratliff. I’m a teacher, and I’m running for the Board of Education. Do you have any questions or concerns about the school district?”

Most voters are startled by this; it’s unusual for a politician to ask voters for advice three days before the May 21 election.

But then, Ratliff is no politician.

That’s been both a strength and a weakness in the campaign. When speaking, Ratliff comes off as an authentic person with real opinions often based on 12 years of teaching in a classroom.

But her lack of political savvy has also caused her some grief — most notably in her shifting positions on the leadership of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.

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East Valley Power Politics Shaped District 6 Runoff

A diagram of the East Valley clan relationships that shape City Council and LAUSD politics

As you may have read in last week’s LA Weekly about School Board member Nury Martinez’s bid for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, there are surprisingly few women left on the Council thanks in large part to a rivalry between two male-dominated East San Fernando Valley political clans.

The rivalry between these two Latino clans doesn’t just affect the City Council, however.  It also greatly influenced Tuesday’s District 6 runoff between Antonio Sanchez and Monica Ratliff.

A look at the East Valley political factions may provide some insight about how we ended up with the Sanchez-Ratliff runoff rather than any of the other configurations that initially appeared likely — and why teachers union UTLA refrained from picking a single candidate to support in the District 6 race.  They simply didn’t want to get involved in a turf war between the Padillas and the Alarcons.

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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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Sanchez Supports Classroom Breakfast & Teacher Dismissal Initiatives

With less than two weeks to go until election day, the District 6 School Board runoff is remarkably sedate. Very little mail has been sent out for either campaigns, and Independent Expenditure (or IE) committee spending is down compared to the primary.

Monica Ratliff still teaches every day at San Pedro Elementary, so her public exposure is limited to weekends and evening events. Antonio Sanchez, meanwhile, is concentrating on talking to voters and fundraising.

“Sometimes when you get to the runoff it’s very workmanlike,” said Sanchez’s political consultant, Mike Shimpock. “This one is very much about voter consolidation. The IE [committee] is going to be doing a lot of mail.”

Sanchez has, meanwhile, indicated his position on two contentious issues — and either he or Ratliff will likely be announced as Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti’s pick later this week.

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School Board Candidate Praises Deasy’s Efforts to Limit Tenure

School Board candidate Monica Ratliff (right)

School Board candidate Monica Ratliff met with 15 or so teachers and LAUSD employees Thursday night at an event sponsored by Teach Plus.

During the hour-long discussion, the candidate for District 6 (East San Fernando Valley) did as much listening as she did talking, asking teachers about their concerns on issues such as local autonomy and teacher training.

“She was interested in what teachers had to say,” said John Lee, Executive Director for Teach Plus Los Angeles after the event. “It shows what kind of a Board Member she would be.”

She also answered questions from teachers on a number of issues, including Superintendent John Deasy, local autonomy for schools and teacher training. She refused, however, to answer any questions from LA School Report.

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Rumors Swirl Around Sanchez Staff Possibilities

The teachers union is none too pleased about a recent LA Times story by Howard Blume about rumors that District 6 School Board candidate Antonio Sanchez had worked out a secret deal with UTLA Vice President Gregg Solkovits.

“It is sad that the Times has chosen to print rumors and innuendo, instead of doing the necessary research to either substantiate or disprove those rumors,” wrote UTLA President Warren Fletcher on the union’s website. “At no time has UTLA entered into any secret agreement with any candidate running for the L.A. School Board regarding staffing or any other subject.”

The three names dropped in the Times story  – all with strong ties to UTLA  – all denied making any deal, as did Sanchez, according to the Times.

But there’s another Sanchez chief of staff possibility that’s been floating around who has strong ties to the Mayor, LAUSD, and other school reform advocates.

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Union Funding One of Two Endorsed Candidates

UTLA’s political action committee, or PACE, has given $1,000 to the Monica Ratliff campaign, according to paperwork filed with the City Ethics Commission — but hasn’t funded her opponent, Antonio Sanchez.

Both candidates have been endorsed by the teachers union.

The move is all the more notable because on Wednesday, UTLA’s House of Representatives again had the opportunity to change its District 6 endorsements, which had been proposed in a special session held in March.

Both candidates were present at the Wednesday evening meeting of the union governing body, but the item wasn’t on the agenda and wasn’t put to a vote.

Asked why Sanchez critics hadn’t called for a vote on the endorsements, PACE Vice Chair Brent Smiley speculated that disorganization may have played a part.  “Sometimes keeping focus isn’t always the strength of certain people.”

When asked why UTLA hadn’t given equal funding to Sanchez, Smiley responded that the political action committee would consider doing so if Sanchez only asked.

“He hasn’t asked,” said Smiley.  “We’re not in the habit of handing out money to people who don’t ask.”

Runoff: Union & LA Times Might Shift Endorsements

District 6 School Board candidate Antonio Sanchez got nearly 44% of the vote in the March Primary — just 6 points shy of the 50 percent that would have given him an outright victory.

So don’t expect any big changes in his May 21 runoff election with teacher Monica Ratliff.

“We only need to capture less than 10 percent of the outstanding vote,” Sanchez political consultant Mike Shimpock told LA School Report. “It’s not like our model is gonna change considerably.”

But possible changes in endorsements from the UTLA’s House of Representatives and the LA Times editorial page next week could shake things up.

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Final: School Board Turnout Was 20 Percent

The day after the March 5 primary election, a tired-looking Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa mentioned off-hand that turnout for the LAUSD School Board elections was a dismal seven percent. A couple of weeks later on KPCC, he amended that number to 14 percent.

So which is it? Neither, actually.  Voter turnout for the LAUSD races was initially reported at 14.5 percent in the days after the March 5 primary — just under the 16 percent turnout in the Mayoral election.

However, these numbers excluded the 82,000 outstanding ballots, which were finally announced last week.  The final LAUSD School Board voter turnout tally was 20 percent (and 21 percent in the Mayoral election). Voter turnout in the School Board races was highest in the Westside’s District 4, which saw 22.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Turnout in District 2 was 18 percent; District 6 saw 17.6 percent.

Previous posts: Registration & Vote By Mail ScheduleSchool Board Primary Averaged $55 Per VoteVoter Turnout Far Below Expectations

Union Endorsements Unchanged for District 6

Inside last night’s House of Representatives meeting (before LA School Report was ejected)

The union political action committee charged with re-interviewing District 6 runoff candidates last night voted narrowly to remove Antonio Sanchez and make Monica Ratliff its sole endorsed candidate for the May 21 runoff — but fell well short of the two-thirds majority required to make the recommendation official.

UTLA’s governing body, the House of Representatives, met shortly afterwards to consider the situation — but an official vote never took place because not enough elected House members turned up to vote to reach a quorum.

Even if a quorum had been present, it’s unclear if Ratliff supporters would have been able to muster the two-thirds majority required.

“I think it would’ve been close,” said House member Alex Caputo-Pearl.  “I don’t know if she would’ve gotten two-thirds.”

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Just How Connected Is Antonio Sanchez?

When District 6 runoff candidate Antonio Sanchez showed up to the UTLA endorsement interview last year, he was accompanied by Miguel Santiago, an old friend of Sanchez’s as well as a member of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees and — more importantly — State Assembly Speaker John Perez’s District Director.

Santiago’s appearance with Sanchez was interpreted by some within UTLA to mean that Sanchez carried the Assembly Speaker’s stamp of approval.

“In no uncertain terms, it was made clear to us that Sanchez is protected all the way up and down the power structure of the State,” said a highly placed source within UTLA.

This was one of the reasons that UTLA endorsed Sanchez in the primary — and one of the reasons the union leadership and members may struggle tonight when the House of Representatives reconsiders the union’s District 6 endorsements.

But it is not entirely clear whether pulling Sanchez’s endorsement would have any political consequences, in Sacramento or in Los Angeles — or even how it might affect the runoff.

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District 6 Candidate Hardens Position on Deasy Leadership

District 6 runoff candidate Monica Ratliff

On Wednesday evening, UTLA’s House of Representatives will vote on whether to stick with its endorsements of Antonio Sanchez, a former aide to the Mayor, and classroom teacher Monica Ratliff, or to pick one candidate over the other in the District 6 school board runoff.

Sources say that UTLA leadership doesn’t mind Sanchez, a politically connected candidate who’s positioned himself as a consensus candidate.

But some within UTLA’s House of Representatives are looking for a candidate with firmer stances on things like teacher evaluations, due process for teachers accused of sexual misconduct, and Superintendent John Deasy.

“The question is, ‘What the hell are we doing supporting Sanchez?’” said a UTLA source who has in-depth knowledge of how decisions are made within the union.

Meanwhile, Candidate Ratliff has hardened her stance on whether or not to give Deasy another term as Superintendent.

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Defiant Mayor Promises Continued Involvement

Photo by Don Liebig / UCLA Luskin

Before and during a Wednesday evening education event held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, a tired-looking Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed frustration about the previous day’s election results — and pledged to keep working on school reform issues even after his term expires.

“Obviously I was disappointed with the results in the fourth district,” Villaraigosa told LA School Report. “I had hoped Kate Anderson would prevail.”

However, he said he was emboldened by District 2 incumbent Monica Garcia‘s victory and was already rolling up his sleeves to help elect District 6 challenger Antonio Sanchez in the runoff. He cast the election in startlingly personal terms.

“I won one, I’m leading in another, and I lost one,” he said, referring to Tuesday’s outcomes. “And I’m not giving up.”

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SEIU Local 99 Wins Highlight Value of Field Operations

SEIU Executive Director Courtni Pugh

Unlike the closely watched Coalition for School Reform and the teachers union, SEIU Local 99 — which represents LAUSD classified employees like cafeteria workers and custodians — came out of Tuesday’s election an unequivocal winner.

The union was two for three on election night, having backed both Monica Garcia and Steve Zimmer — and could end up three for three if District 6 frontrunner Antonio Sanchez wins in May — though few paid attention.

“We did some incredible work,” said Courtni Pugh, Executive Director of SEIU Local 99.  “It just fell off the radar screen.”

SEIU spent significant money on Independent Expenditures — $550,000 plus another $170,000 through the LA County Federation of Labor, according to the City Ethics Commission’s website – although not as much as in 2011. It also spent, according to one source, another $200,000 on “in kind” contributions, where union staff members shift their duties from working for the union to working on a union campaign.

But perhaps most important was SEIU’s field organization. “That is the one thing the SEIU is known for,” said Pugh, estimating 100,000 doors knocked on and 40,000 voters saying they were going to support the SEIU slate. “That’s why we are a coveted endorsement.”

The field campaign may not have led to a measurably higher voter turnout, but it may have made an important difference given the low numbers, according to Pugh.  “We started walking and calling in January, before the election was even on anyone’s radar,” she said.  “You can’t replace someone that looks like you and talks like you knocking on your door.”

Previous posts: Local 99, LAUSD’s “Other” Labor UnionSEIU Endorses Garcia, Zimmer and Sanchez