By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Charter schoolsare semi-autonomous, allowed to save money by avoiding certain state regulations and hiring non-union teachers. Anyone can try to launch a charter school, but such schools must show that their curriculum and teachers are producing solid student achievement.
United Teachers Los Angeles steadfastly opposes charter schools for complicated reasons. While it’s common wisdom that charter schools save money by hiring non-union teachers, outgoing L.A. Unified board member David Tokofsky notes that teachers at Green Dot — a charter-school system that has made headlines by stealing students and teachers from L.A. Unified — are part of the California Teachers Association union.
The fact that, as Tokofsky notes, Green Dot’s unionized teachers earn about 10 percent more than other Los Angeles teachers may also play a role in why United Teachers Los Angeles is opposing this new competitor on its turf.
Tokofsky, a widely respected high school teacher before entering politics, has represented District 5 since 1995 and was expected to run again, but recently dropped out. He “wasn’t looking forward to clashing with the mayor” he says, and after years in the $24,000-per-year post, he wanted to focus on building financial security for his family.
Seeking Tokofsky’s seat in the tattered Eastside district are Yolie Flores Aguilar, whom Tokofsky narrowly beat eight years ago and whose salient feature appears to be her acceptance of charter schools, and Bennett Kayser, a technology expert for L.A. Unified. Aguilar met recently with Silver Lake parents and Steve Barr, head of the Green Dot charter schools, and decried a “cookie cutter” approach to education. But Tokofsky — an Aguilar critic — notes that she has a history of backing disastrous education fads.
Eight years ago, Tokofsky says, Aguilar was board president at the obscure Los Angeles County Office of Education, and was a big supporter of the Spanish-first “bilingual education” theory that sent achievement among Latino students crashing down. Aguilar also backed the now-discounted fad known as whole language — an anti-phonics theory.
Interestingly, Villaraigosa, who supports Aguilar, also backed those old classroom fads when he was a state legislator. Aguilar did not respond to the L.A. Weekly’s request for an interview, but according to Tokofsky, during her time with the county Office of Education, she was especially lenient on school suspensions and expulsions, often sending violent students back to school.
Kayser, an L.A. Unified technology coordinator who calls himself a “tireless advocate for education, social justice and community participation” has no major formal endorsements, although Tokofsky has been giving him guidance.
Another touchy battleis unfolding in District 1, which largely takes in South Los Angeles, where incumbent Marguerite Poindexter La Motte, a former district administrator, is endorsed by the teachers union. She opposes charter schools, but she’s gotten far more attention for openly slamming Green Dot leader Barr as “a rich white millionaire trying to make money off our babies” — and then absurdly denying using the dreaded “W” word.
Union leader Pechthalt, who backs La Motte, attacks her opponent, Johnathan Williams, as “one of the most visible charter-school advocates in Southern California” — a slam that might actually help Williams with Los Angeles voters, who are increasingly embracing the charter-school movement. Indeed, Williams is backed by Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, state Senator Gloria Romero and the local Young Democrats.
But La Motte says Villaraigosa’s schools takeover dream makes little sense: “I am really not clear about what the mayor wants,” she tells the Weekly, “and the [mayor’s] recently published 52 points do not help much because just about every one of the 52 points is currently being implemented by this board.”
With the departure of no-nonsense school board member Mike Lansing — a popular former executive director of the Los Angeles Harbor Boys & Girls Clubs — several candidates are fighting it out for the wide-open District 7 seat.
District 7, a long finger of land that begins at Normandie Avenue and runs south through Compton and Lomita, ending in San Pedro, has attracted candidates Richard Vladovic, a retired school superintendent who has the mayor’s endorsement, retired middle school principal Neal Leiner and retired teacher Jesus Escandon.
Between the unions, mayor and school board, the issues — reading and math scores, dropout rates and classroom reform — have been shrouded in a Byzantine haze of politics. Beyond that haze are 740,000 students — one in every 12 students educated in California — who are at ground zero of the Education Wars.
Editor's Note: The March 6 LAUSD school board race features two incumbents, not three. In addition, outgoing school board member David Tokofsky is not making formal endorsements, and has not endorsed candidate Bennett Kayser.