LA Election Lessons: Anatomy of a Shakeup … in the LAUSD Board Races

ELECTION POLITICS-Anyone doubting that iPads (photo left) are effective teaching tools can study the 2015 LAUSD school board elections as proof. The $1 billion technology investment became a symbol of hubris by the so-called school reform movement. After Tuesday’s elections, it’s a symbol of defeat. 

The only incumbent to survive the mess owes his victory more to his opponent’s lack of funding than to anything else. A donation to Lydia Gutierrez’s campaign by the attorney who has made a fortune off the Miramonte scandal leaves one to wonder why more support was not forthcoming. It’s likely that a more viable opponent could have unseated School Board President Richard Vladovic who had supported Deasy’s folly. 

That was certainly true in Scott Schmerelson’s upset over Tamar Galatzan, the incumbent most closely aligned with Deasy’s iPad boondoggle. Schmerelson’s victory smacked down the corporate privatizers. Schmerelson is a moderate Republican, and that’s the least significant thing about him. A retired principal, he garnered bi-partisan, grassroots support in this West Valley district. The school district will be better with him on the board, experienced as he is in making the instructional and operational decisions that all of our schools face. Departing from Galatzan’s politicized reform agenda, one can imagine board level discussion about a place called “school”. 

In District 5, the iPads helped defeat an incumbent who never even supported them. It’s ironic that Deasy’s tech dream would be used against Bennett Kayser because he had appropriately recused himself from the process as a shareholder in Apple. In a cynical turn, Ref Rodriguez’s backers, who also backed Deasy and the iPad mess, attacked Kayser—for the iPad mess. The absentee mailer campaign painted an ugly and dishonest picture. 

That lesson can be summed up as “big money can buy big lies,” said David Tokofsky, the former LA school board member who once held the District 5 seat. Campaign flyers paid for by the powerful state charter schools lobby falsely accused Kayser of trying to stop Latinos from attending “schools in white neighborhoods” and of being a slumlord. They also ridiculed his symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease in an ad showing a shaky hand spilling a cup of coffee.  

The money for Kayser came too late. After investing in the primary, UTLA disappeared leading up to the absentee voter campaign. Rodriguez was well ahead by the time absentee ballots dropped, and Kayser’s campaign never caught up. 

Kayser’s campaign could not clear the obstacle of Andrew Thomas either—Kayser’s primary opponent. Rumors have flown that Thomas secretly worked on behalf of Rodriguez throughout the election. 

One place money failed was the cynical Voteria. The Spanish language campaign, whose backers were aligned with Rodriguez, was intended to attract unengaged voters by turning voting stubs into raffle tickets in a drawing for $25,000. But last minute voters changed nothing. The election was determined before the polls ever opened. 

The negative attacks targeting absentee voters were enabled by dark money. We won’t know the full extent of the independent expenditure campaign by the group calling itself the Parent Teacher Alliance—yes, confoundingly similar to the PTA—for some time. The group, funded by the Charter Schools Association, Eli Broad, and Richard Riordan, worked around Los Angeles’s engaging City Ethics office by registering as a state group rather than a city group. That meant their spending can be reported quarterly rather than monthly, effectively hiding until after the election. 

These donors are well practiced. The same issue obscured transparency in Governor Jerry Brown’s Prop 30 campaign two years ago. Some of the same donors influencing this week’s LAUSD elections also hid their donations from Jerry Brown, and even lied about their support for his budget measure. 

While publicly stating they supported Prop 30, Eli Broad and others were contributing millions of dollars to the  campaign to defeat it. The Fair Political Practices Commission exposed the donors—but after the election was over. 

The LAUSD election was watched by the entire nation. Some public school advocates have called it a wash, with one corporate reformer losing and another winning. But in another way, corporate reform, symbolized by iPads replacing classrooms headed by real teachers, was resoundingly defeated. 

Unfortunately, voters in one district were deceived about who was responsible for that.


(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent and member of the Venice Neighborhood Council Education Committee and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)






Vol 13 Issue 42

Pub: May 22, 2015