Los Angeles Unified School District, whose teachers union UTLA has squelched attempts to raise student learning by making ineffective certified teachers relearn subject matter and skills, just attracted $1 million from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to elect candidates in three LAUSD school board races.
Bloomberg has forced change upon New York's under-performing low-skills teachers. Now, he's reached across the U.S., trying to oust LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, a Westsider who for years has waffled and flip-flopped on reform. Zimmer faces fellow Westsider Kate Anderson in the March 5 primary. Bloomberg is also trying to elect Antonio Sanchez in the Valley and Eastside incumbent Monica Garcia, a slow-starter who now backs reform -- and is hated by UTLA union activists. It's about to get juicy, folks:
The $1 million from Bloomberg was poured into Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Coalition for School Reform, which strongly backs outspoken Superintendent John Deasy's plans to shake up a system of 33,000 teachers who cannot be paid more money for exceptional work and cannot be easily fired for incompetent work -- or even, like Mark Berndt, for gross wrongdoing.
Some say the vast sums spent by the Coalition for School Reform make L.A. a "proving ground" for whether a school board not fearful of the teachers union can upend old practices.
In LAUSD's case, Deasy's overarching focus is upon what needs to change in order to educate some 100,000 to 300,000 young people who fall further behind each year they step inside a Los Angeles classroom.
In a statement to the media, outgoing Westside Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is ill with cancer and has not appeared publicly recently, urged a vote for Kate Anderson against incumbent Zimmer:
Now more than ever, we need someone with Kate's passion, ethics, and energy to bring the urgent change LAUSD needs.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher, who has posted a clock countdown on his group's website showing just 21 days and 8 hours until the March 5 school board election, could not be reached for comment. Suzanne Spurgeon, his communications aide, was not answering her cell phone.
So-called "independent spending" -- meaning, money that's not raised by the candidates -- had as of February 7 surpassed $1 million in spending on Los Angeles City Hall and LAUSD school board races in the March 5 primary. (Anyone who gets 50 percent plus one vote wins outright in March. The rest must face each other in a May 21 runoff of the top two vote-getters in each race.)
The $1 million in outside campaign honey up -- that is, until today -- shows how huge Bloomberg's $1 million entry is into the three LAUSD school board races: he's doubled the "independent spending" cash pouring into all L.A. elections in a single swoop.
Villaraigosa somewhat oddly tipped off Politico, not the Los Angeles Times or perhaps a Los Angeles TV station, to Bloomberg's donation:
"Mayor Bloomberg is the most important voice in education reform today," Villaraigosa says in a statement that will go out later this morning. "It is an honor to have his support, and we deeply appreciate his willingness to invest in our students' futures here. This is a critical juncture for public education reform in Los Angeles, and Mayor Bloomberg's gift will help us support candidates who stand for greater accountability and more choices for parents and students."
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy has become an enemy of the teachers union by, among many other things, pushing for a way to grade the teachers and principals, by tracking student test scores over time to determine which teachers cause previously good students to fall behind, and which teachers cause previously bad students to jump ahead.
Deasy recently backed off, agreeing to a watered down compromise for teacher assessment supported by UTLA president Warren Fletcher.
Supported by court rulings, Deasy has enraged UTLA activists by adopting a plan to limit L.A.'s rigid seniority system, which has long dictated a "last hired first fired" rule for teacher layoffs. The rule has devastated schools in poor areas of Los Angeles, where the younger teachers are assigned. It has also left badly underperforming but veteran teachers safe on the job.
Zimmer, who vacillates wildly between anti-reform and pro-reform views, is backed by labor unions: L.A. County Federation of Labor spent $30,000 on him and $73,000 was spent by Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union.
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Zimmer has raised only $31,000 on his own initiative. UTLA is expected to back him.
In District 2, which covers much of the Eastside and downtown Los Angeles, Board President Monica Garcia is considered a very strong contender, with voters highly familiar with her. Plus, Garcia has raised $260,000 on her own -- and an even bigger sum is being spent by outside reformers including Bloomberg.
As the Los Angeles Times recently put it, in a news report about the race:
The teachers union supports just about anyone but [Monica] Garcia in that contest.