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Exclusive: The campaign cash for your local school board candidates isn’t local

Mike Antonucci | October 30, 2018

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

Whenever stories about the political spending of California’s teacher unions appear in the news, they focus on the major statewide races. This year is no different, with school employee unions devoting about $15 million in independent expenditures so far to elect Tony Thurmond as state superintendent of public instruction. The California Teachers Association also recently added $2 million to its allocation for ballot initiative campaigns.

What isn’t widely reported is the amount of money CTA spends on local school board campaigns and issues. The vast majority of union locals are too small to form political action committees or generate campaign cash. For that, they turn to CTA.

For the most part, local teacher union officials are still the ones making local school board endorsements, but they have to apply to CTA for contributions to candidates. While my list cannot be considered comprehensive, I have been able to track donations from CTA to 312 local school board candidates across California in the November elections, with contributions totaling $999,080.

The biggest beneficiaries of CTA’s largesse are three candidates running for seats on San Francisco’s school board. CTA allocated $108,700 to help elect Alison Collins, Li Lovett and Faauga Moliga.

CTA will spend $54,500 to keep Kevin Beiser and Michael McQuary on the San Diego school board. The state union is also keen on the Santa Clara County board, backing several candidates but contributing the most — $32,900 — to Claudia Rossi.

CTA’s top 10 donations to November’s school board races:

1. San Francisco: Alison Collins, Li Lovett and Faauuga Moliga – $108,700

2. San Diego: Kevin Beiser and Michael McQuary – $54,500

3. Santa Clara County: Claudia Rossi – $32,900

4. Southwestern Community College: Nicole Jones, Tim Nader and Nora Vargas – $32,900

5. Santa Clara County: Peter Ortiz – $31,500

6. Saddleback Valley: Barbara Schulman and Dan Walsh – $25,000

7. Anaheim Union High: Al Jabbar, Anna Piercy and Annemarie Randle-Trejo – $24,500

8. Oakland: Clarissa Doutherd – $23,900

9. East Side Union High: Frank Biehl, Manuel Herrera and Kristin Rivers – $22,200

10. San Dieguito Union High: Amy Flicker, Kristin Gibson and Rhea Stewart – $19,000

Large school districts draw large amounts of campaign cash, and opponents often are able to outspend school employee unions there. But no other group is willing or able to drop disproportionate amounts of money in so many small districts. A $3,000 contribution to a school board race may be more than enough to put a selected candidate over the top.

Other than parents of school-age children, the people with the largest stake in board elections are school employees. They are, in essence, electing their own bosses. Getting friendly candidates onto boards can end up paying bigger dividends than winning Assembly races or ballot initiatives, if it is done on a wide scale, as CTA is attempting.

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