A snapshot look at Kayser’s positions on major LAUSD issues
Vanessa Romo | February 26, 2015
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While the LA Unified’s District 5 board incumbent, Bennett Kayser, did not make himself available for an interview with LA School Report as part of our candidate profile series, he has nonetheless played a high profile role on issues before the school board during his term in office.
With strong support from the teachers union, UTLA, Kayser is running for reelection against two challengers, Andrew Thomas and Ref Rodriguez, in what has become the nastiest of the school board races, heading into next Tuesday’s elections.
Here is what we know about Kayser, based on his voting record on major issues and his stated positions since he was first elected to the board in 2011:
Kayser and his wife co-founded one of LA Unified’s charter schools, but over the years he has turned his back on them. When once they were akin to scrappy start-ups launched by community members with an interest in pioneering new teaching and learning techniques, he now contends they have become cookie-cutter, money-making operations run by corporations.
Additionally, he insists that they drain the district of desperately needed funds that would benefit the greater good if kept in house. As a result, he generally votes against charter school applications and renewals.
In recent months Kayser has had to answer for his part in spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the district’s controversial and possibly illegal iPads for all programs. His response has been somewhat John Kerry-esque: that he voted against them until he voted for them. Actually, what he has said is that he opposed former Superintendent John Deasy’s plan all along and only voted to use bond funds to buy the devices in preparation for the Smarter Balance tests. That is partially true.
Initially, Kayser couldn’t participate in discussions concerning the Apple products because he owned Apple stock. Once he sold it, he did raise a lot of questions concerning the tablets’ cost, lifespan and efficacy in the classroom.
But, when he approved the resolution to purchase testing devices in January 2014, he was also voting to approve the acquisition of one-to-one tablets for 38 schools, which were part of the second phase of the program, as well as additional keyboards and laptops that were part of an earlier plan.
As former health and science teacher in LA Unified and the only person on the board with a Lifetime California Teaching Credential, Kayser has strong and deep ties to teachers and their union, UTLA. The union spent almost $1.4 million to help Kayser win his Board seat four years ago, and it is backing him again. So far, UTLA has pumped $365,000 into his reelection.
Over the years, he railed against Deasy for policies he said harmed teachers. Under Ramon Cortines’ leadership, Kayser continues to advocate for higher raises on their behalf, class size reductions and accelerating investigations of educators put in “teacher jail.”
Kayser is also benefitting from a new-found friendship with SEIU 99, which has endorsed him for the first time. The district’s service workers union has backed all of the incumbent candidates after the board passed a resolution boosting the minimum wage for its members to $15 per hour by 2015.
Some of the causes Kayser has championed through many of the district’s most lean years include early and adult education and after-school programs. He is responsible for growing the district’s supper program and retaining a handful of the district’s most unique field trips, including week-long camping trips for students.
Most recently he was a strong supporter of a plan to make Ethnic Studies a high school graduation requirement.