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Mayoral Debate Reveals Few School Differences

Hillel Aron | May 7, 2013

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Photo by Timothy Norris, c/o KCRW

Tuesday afternoon’s KCRW Mayoral debate — about half of which focused on public education — began with a bold assertion by candidate Wendy Greuel:

“There’s probably no other subject where my opponent and I differ than on education.”

But in a debate that covered topics such as the publication of teacher ratings in the LA Times, the School Board runoff, the district’s failed Race to the Top application, and teacher dismissal legislation, perhaps the only real issue on which Greuel and Garcetti disagreed in an obvious way was over whom to endorse for District 6 — and only so because Garcetti hasn’t yet met with both candidates.

“I kept listening for an actual difference and I didn’t hear one, said Joe Mathews, the California editor of event sponsor Zocalo Public Square. “It made me yearn for a different kind of debate — maybe a Survivor-style contest.”

As moderator for the live debate, Which Way LA host Warren Olney did an impressive job of forcing the two candidates to answer his questions with specifics and not stray to far into their own talking points.

It wasn’t an easy task, however, requiring Olney to interrupt candidates left and right.

In general, both candidates sounded closer to the “school reform” end of the ideological spectrum. Garcetti, who has been endorsed by UTLA, came out perhaps a millimeter or so more towards the pro-teacher end of the spectrum, if only in tone.  He reminded audience members that it was Teacher Appreciation day, and criticized those who  “demonize teachers.” He also twice dropped the name of UTLA-supported School Board member Steve Zimmer.

Garcetti pushed back at an assertion by Olney that the Mayor has no power over public education.

“I refuse to accept that because there’s no formal power that we don’t have any informal power or financial power,” said Garcetti, noting that as Councilman he took federal money to build school libraries and fix up athletic fields on campuses. “We actually took anti-poverty dollars that would have gone into something like a community center 12 blocks from a school, and I put it into a school. And at City Hall it did ruffle feathers. It upset the status quo. Because they said, ‘let the school district do that by themselves.'”

Photo by Timothy Norris, c/o KCRW

Unfortunately for journalists and undecided voters, the candidates agreed on virtually everything.

Both said that missing out on Race to the Top money was a “missed opportunity.” Garcetti said he lobbied members of the School Board and even UTLA President Warren Fletcher to sign off on the application, but to no avail.

Both also said they support LAUSD’s application for a No Child Left Behind waiver, which would free the district up from some rigid federal rules and allow it to use funding a bit more flexibly.

Both candidates said they supported a bill in Sacramento that would make it easier to dismiss teachers suspected of misconduct. Olney neglected to specify which bill, but he was likely referring to the one being championed by Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo).

And they both favored reducing class size over giving teachers raises.

Garcetti said, “I want to see a reduction in class size. That should be our priority for new money.”

Greuel, too, said she did not support a higher salary for teachers.

Even on such controversial issues as making teacher testing data available to the public (as was done by the LA Times in 2009), the candidates were in agreement. Yes, the data should be made available, they both said — something even Superintendent John Deasy doesn’t support.

“I think it’s fair, absolutely, for parents to look at that,” said Eric Garcetti. “It’s critical that parents and community members have accountability and know where teachers are, but have that not be the only measure.”

Greuel agreed.

When asked which candidates they support in the District 6 School Board runoff, which is also on the May 21 ballot, Greuel immediately answered: Antonio Sanchez.

“Antonio has demonstrated that he is going to be able to build consensus… going to make sure that he is going to get dollars into the classroom,” she said.

Garcetti said he’s talked to one of the candidates and was waiting to talk with the other before making a decision.

“Two weeks left, how come you’re waiting so long?” asked Olney, interrupting.

“I’m running for Mayor right now, that’s why,” said Garcetti, dryly.

The audience laughed, seemingly forgetting that earlier on in the debate Garcetti had indicated that mayoral influence over education was going to be a hallmark of his administration.

One topic that did not surface during the debate was the $60,000 recently given by the American Federation of Teachers and the California Federation of Teachers to a pro-Garcetti super PAC, even as Garcetti repeated his attack on Greuel for the DWP union’s donations to one of her super PACs, the amount of which is in the millions of dollars.

Asked  by LA School Report after the debate if the two contributions weren’t similar, he replied, “No, there’s no comparison. It’s 63 times more money that she has. When it’s times 63, I believe at a certain point, you do become [beholden to that union].”

His spokesman Jeff Millman added that the Mayor “doesn’t negotiate teacher contracts. They’re not a city union.”

You can listen to the whole debate here:

Previous posts: Mayoral Debate: Teachers Give to Garcetti Super PACHandful of Education Issues Could Split Mayoral CandidatesGarcetti and Greuel to Meet With “Trigger” ParentsGarcetti Praises Partnership School, Differs with UTLA Poll

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