Charters set to spend more for LAUSD board, teachers undeterred
Vanessa Romo | March 4, 2015
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Charter school supporters battling for a stronger influence over the LA Unified school board have the checkbook ready again.
After providing heavy financial support for newcomer Ref Rodriguez, winner over District 5 incumbent Bennett Kayser last night, the charter group is weighing how much to spend for Rodriguez in the weeks leading to the May 19 runoff.
“We absolutely consider this a success,” Gary Borden, Executive Director of California Charter Schools Association Advocates, a political action committee told LA School Report, stepping away from the Rodriguez celebration late last night.
The next step, he said, “is to assess what we end up doing for the general election.”
The charters pumped nearly $800,000 into the primary’s three contested races, also backing Tamar Galatzan and Richard Vladovic, who won their respective primaries and are headed for a runoff. But the vast majority of the spend, nearly $600,000, went to support Rodriguez, whose election in May would change the political leanings of the seven member board if the other two incumbents prevail.
Rodriguez finished slightly ahead of Kayser in the primary vote, 38.6 percent to 35.8 — a virtual tie that almost certainly means the teachers union is gearing up for a battle with the same intensity.
And why not? While it is not uncommon for the charter school group to outspend union-backed candidates by millions, it seldom guarantees success.
Last year, for example, the charters outspent forces helping George McKenna by three-to-one in the District 1 special election, yet McKenna prevailed. And two years ago, union-backed candidates Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff overcame the same kind of charter and reform-based financial onslaughts.
The charter group has succeeded in helping pro-charter incumbents retain their positions, but it has failed in defeating a pro-union candidate.
When asked if CCSA Advocates planned to change tactics for Rodriguez moving into the general election, Borden responded, “We feel that the public needs to know the facts about his record, and we will keep telling those facts.”
As the only candidate in any contested race that UTLA supported, Kayser had benefit of more than $541,000 in union spending. Marco Flores, chair of the teachers union political action committee, PACE, told LA School Report, he anticipates that the union will be outspent again in the general election.
“They always outspend us two-to-one or more,” he said, referring to titans behind CCSA, including the Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad and the Walton foundation. “But if you look at the results and who gets elected, we’re even.”
Flores is not unnerved by Rodriguez’s triumph in the primary, comparing it with events of four years ago.
“When Kayser ran against Luis Sanchez, he came in second but then he won,” Flores said. “We are not going to overreact.”
UTLA knows how to allocate its resources well, he said, adding, “We spend our money wisely and our teachers go out there and spread the word.”
He said he expects Kayser will draw voters from Andrew Thomas’s camp in the general election. Thomas, a self-described centrist, came in third against in the District 5 election.
UTLA also has a big decision to make in District 3, where Galatzan has strong support from charters — in all they injected nearly $240,000 into pro-Galatzan efforts — but Scott Schmerelson, the second-place finisher, received no financial support from the teachers union.
Schmerelson is a former teacher and administrator, who was backed by the administrators union, AALA. He is also a Republican.
Flores contends the union is keeping an open mind and plans to meet with Schmerelson soon. “We didn’t interview him,” for the primary, he said. “We’re going to sit down with him and see what he says.”
A union press release today said, “our members will continue the work necessary to remove Galatzan from the school board.”