L.A. Unified school board member Monica Garcia dominates fundraising in re-election bid
Sarah Favot | August 3, 2016
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Seven months out from the primary, L.A. Unified school board member Monica Garcia has already raised nearly 150 times more money than her opponent, including donations from former L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy and both charter school and L.A. district employees.
Garcia, seeking her third term on the seven-member board, collected $119,858 in donations between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to the latest campaign finance documents filed with the city Ethics Commission. She has spent about $18,000.
Challenger Carl Petersen has raised $805 and spent $412. Neither candidate responded to requests for comment.
Garcia’s 2013 re-election bid and the two other contested school board races that year received national attention for the large amount of money — $6.16 million — poured into the campaigns by independent expenditure committees, which are not subject to fundraising limits.
About $1.2 million of the independent expenditure money went into Garcia’s race to support her. Independent expenditure committees meanwhile spent $113,000 trying unsuccessfully to defeat her.
She received support in 2013 from a coalition formed by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that donated money to all three school board races and received backing from outside donors like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She raised $504,224 on her own that year and spent $507,032, according to city finance documents. Her closest competitor in the five-way race, Robert Skeels, raised and spent $19,000.
This year, in addition to donations from Deasy and charter and L.A. Unified school educators and officials, Garcia’s contributors so far include philanthropists, film executives, the Los Angeles School Police Management Association PAC, several employee unions, Eli and Edythe Broad, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
Garcia, who was board president for an unprecedented six consecutive years, from 2007 to 2013, has been an advocate of charter schools and sweeping reforms to low-performing schools. She has called for “Diplomas for All” with a goal of 100 percent graduation rate in the district.
“It has been an incredible honor to serve you for the last 10 years; together we have been able to increase graduation and reduce the dropout rate,” Garcia wrote in a letter to supporters earlier this year announcing her re-election bid. “I am looking forward to continuing our work transforming this district so that all children can learn to read, write, think, believe and be college ready and career prepared. But I need your help to win.”
In the past, Garcia has not been endorsed by the L.A. teachers union, UTLA.
Petersen has said he and his family will move into District 2 specifically to run against her. District 2 covers East L.A., Pico-Union, downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods and is heavily Latino.
On his campaign website, titled Change the LAUSD, Petersen said the board needs a “parent’s perspective.”
“This campaign will not be funded by the California Charter School Association,” he writes. “I will answer to the parents and students of the district, not corporate donors.”
Petersen ran unsuccessfully in 2015 for the school board District 3 seat against incumbent Tamar Galatzan and came in fifth place in the primary. (Scott Schmerelson won that seat.) District 3 includes the west San Fernando Valley. Petersen raised $2,160 and spent $2,641 in that failed bid, records show.
The primary election will take place on March 7. Also running are Board President Steve Zimmer in District 4, who is seeking re-election against challenger Nick Melvoin. Melvoin has raised about $124,000, compared to Zimmer’s $7,300, according to city filings.
Zimmer said he has been focused on statewide ballot measures in the Nov. 8 election, such as Prop. 55, an extension of income taxes on the wealthy for public education, and Prop. 58, which would repeal a law that prohibits non-English languages from being used in public schools. Zimmer said he is also working to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as president.
No one has officially declared for an open seat in District 6 where school board member Monica Ratliff is running instead for a seat on the City Council.
So far, no one else has entered the District 2 race against Garcia. She was first elected in 2006 in a special election where she replaced her boss, Jose Huizar, who had won a seat on the City Council.
School board candidates officially file for the race in November, but they can begin to raise money and declare their intent to do so with the Ethics Commission.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes in the March 7 primary, the top two vote-getters go on to compete in the May 16 general election.