School & District Management

N.Y. Mayor Donates $1 Million to Slate of L.A. School Board Candidates

By Lesli A. Maxwell — February 13, 2013 2 min read
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New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has raised the stakes in an already pitched battle for control of the Los Angeles school board by giving $1 million to an education reform group that is backing a slate of three candidates in the March 5 election.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg’s eye-popping contribution was brokered in part by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who, along with Los Angeles-area billionaire and philanthropist Eli Broad, is keen to ensure that the policies of Superintendent John Deasy won’t be dismantled by candidates who are backed by United Teachers Los Angeles. The donation actually went to the Coalition for School Reform, a Los Angeles-area group that favors policies that Deasy has pushed since he became schools chief in that city two years ago: Revamped teacher evaluations based in part on students’ test scores; and accelerating the process for getting rid of poorly performing teachers and principals.

The group is supporting Mónica García, the school board’s current president, and two other candidates, one of whom is challenging sitting board member Steve Zimmer, a former teacher and first-term incumbent. That’s the most hotly contested seat, as Zimmer, a former Teach for America alumnus, is often the swing vote on the board who is not reliably aligned on every issue with either Deasy or UTLA. The teachers’ union is supporting his re-election bid, along with other influential local labor unions.

Outside cash from wealthy donors flowing to local or state-level school board races appears on the uptick. Last fall, a race for a local school board seat in New Orleans, brought in more than $150,000 for a single candidate backed by national education activists who favor a certain brand of reforms. The most notable outside donor in that race was Joel I. Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City schools, who, of course, worked for Bloomberg.

But Los Angeles, as the nation’s second largest school district with more than 650,000 students and more charter schools than any other, presents a far larger stage. While big spending in school board races (among local sources) is not a new phenomenon in Los Angeles, the average school board race in the United States remains a modest endeavor. In a 2010 survey by the National School Boards Association, 87 percent of elected members reported that they spent less than $5,000 on their most recent election effort. In districts with at least 15,000 students, 10 percent of elected board members reported that they spent more than $25,000 on their most recent campaigns, according to the survey.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.