|Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons|
One might well wonder why New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending $1 million of his own hard-(hardly)-earned cash to influence the Los Angeles school board race (the largest donation yet in this hotly contested race). Yet it is not just Bloomberg—several other billionaire outsiders have also ponied up large sums to help their favorite candidates win and it is not because they care about the wellbeing of LA’s children. Los Angeles Unified (like New York) is a battleground school district in the quest by wealthy investors and entrepreneurs to siphon off tax dollars from public education and crush their biggest enemy—the unions. What goes down in LA, they hope, will soon follow throughout the country, aiding their ability to weaken or destroy public sector unions, while increasing their share of the profits.
Bloomberg’s donation to Coalition for School Reform was meant to aid incumbent L.A. school board president Monica Garcia, in District 2, challenger Kate Anderson, in District 4, and Antonio Sanchez, who is fighting for an open seat in District 6. Each of these candidates has been a strong supporter of Superintendent Deasy’s reform agenda and two (Garcia and Anderson) have been vocal critics of the teachers union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA).
While Bloomberg’s $1 million has been the largest single donation, Coalition for School Reform (CSR) has also raised more than $1.5 million in smaller donations, according to the LA Times, from other billionaires ($250,000 each from veteran free market education “reformer” Eli Broad and former Univision chief A. Jerrold Perenchio). CSR also includes Megan Chernin, who runs a nonprofit formed by Deasy to raise funds for LAUSD schools and who used to head L.A.’s Promise, which managed three LAUSD charter schools. A smaller donation of $10,000 was made by Steven Prough, the current head of L.A.’s Promise.
The coalition has also received six-figure donations from Lynda Resnick, creator of POM Wonderful juice, and journalist Jamie Alter Lynton, who is on the board of Deasy’s nonprofit and who is married to Michael Lynton, chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Lynton has used her journalism connections as a bully pulpit to criticize UTLA and its defense of due process rights for its members. Former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein has also ponied up $25,000 to support the cause.
The Coalition for School Reform is a pro-charter and pro-accountability outfit that Mayor Villagairosa set up to fund his pro-privatization candidates back in 2011. In that election, the coalition raised over $1 million from right wing billionaire Phillip Anshutz (a “reactionary that makes the fascist-friendly Koch Brothers look moderate” wrote Robert Skeels), as well as billionaires Eli Broad, Jerrold Perenchio and others. Skeels, an education and social justice activist who writes for Schools Matter and Solidaridad, is also running against Garcia, but has raised his comparatively infinitesimal funding entirely through small donations and community organizing.
So who are the candidates the coalition is supporting in this current election and what is their agenda? Let’s start with current Board President Monica Garcia, a raving union-buster, who said that if she were president of UTLA she would go on a rampage and fire all “ineffective” teachers and eliminate seniority. This only shows that she has no clue how school districts actually operate (e.g., the district is the boss, with the power to hire and fire; the union is the employee of the teachers, with the responsibility to defend their interests and no ability to fire teachers). More significantly, it implies that she despises teachers, presuming great numbers of them to be incompetent, or at least an expensive burden, who should be replaced en-masse by lower-paid and more compliant novices.
The coalition’s candidate for District 4, one of LAUSD’s more affluent districts, is Kate Anderson, an attorney who once worked for Munger, Tolles & Olson, a high-powered law firm with members who are currently working in President Obama’s cabinet and who have served (or who currently serve) as CEO’s and directors of large investment firms, like Salomon Brothers and Berkshire Hathaway. One of the coalition’s priorities for District 4 is “stand[ing] up to special interest groups that make it impossible to remove poorly performing teachers.” In other words, they are counting on Anderson to attack collective bargaining and weaken the union by eviscerating teachers’ due process rights. Anderson’s supporters include Ben Austin, founder of Parent Revolution, the astroturf group behind most of LAUSD’s Parent Trigger battles, and another charter school advocate and profiteer.
Anderson, like Garcia, has publicly expressed ignorance about how the school district operates, calling into question her credibility as a future board member. She was quoted in the L.A. Weekly saying “I’m really frustrated by the lack of a teacher evaluation system. . .” though LAUSD does in fact have a teacher evaluation system, one that was negotiated by the district with the union and signed into a contract by both parties. Like Garcia, she, too, is disdainful of teachers, saying “We need a system that. . . when appropriate, helps teachers gracefully exit from the system.” This is essentially a euphemism for, “we need a more efficient way to get rid of teachers.” It is probably safe to presume she is referring to expensive veterans, union organizers, student advocates, charter school critics, and others who stand in the way of CSR’s privatization schemes. Ironically, Anderson’s opponent, Steve Zimmer, is a Teach for America alumnus who is supported by both UTLA and several charter schools.
In response to the large donation by Bloomberg, UTLA has asked for outside funds from the state and national teachers unions to help it support its own favorite candidates for the L.A. school board and has said it planned to spend several million dollars on the election. As of last week, the NEA was unwilling to get involved, but the California Teachers Association and AFT have left the possibility open, according to the LA School Report. Regardless, it is unlikely that UTLA will be able to keep up the coalition’s spending, as it has no billionaire supporters.
The third candidate being pushed by CSR is Antonio Sanchez, another Villaraigosa ally, who also once worked for the County Federation of Labor, making him seem like a pro-union (rather than pro-privatization) candidate. Indeed, the Daily News reports that several unions have endorsed Sanchez, including UTLA and SEIU. However, despite his labor credentials, Sanchez supports much of Villaraigosa’s “reform” agenda, according to the L.A. School Report, saying that he wants to “break” the divide between unions and school choice and accountability advocates. This ought to give UTLA pause, as “breaking the divide” means getting the union to accept harmful concessions. For example, Sanchez supports the use of student performance data in teacher evaluations.
“Breaking the divide” between teachers’ unions and “reform” advocates is one of the main goals of CSR and its billionaire funders. As the reform movement sees it, the unions’ opposition to evaluation reform, Value Added Measures (VAM) and charter schools is irrational, selfish and meritless—and something that can be whittled away with persistence and finesse. They have good reason to believe this. UTLA—as well as CTU, in Chicago, and UFT, in New York—have all acquiesced to the use of student performance data or actual test scores to evaluate their teachers, despite the fact that such data is inconsistent, unreliable and correlates more strongly with students’ socioeconomic backgrounds than with teacher quality.