Great Charter School War of 2017: Los Angeles School Board Election Tomorrow!

Dear Commons Community,

In perhaps the most-watched school board election of the year, Los Angeles tomorrow will be electing two new board members.  At stake will be whether the teachers union or charter school advocates will win these seats.   As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

“The four people vying for two pivotal seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education agree on at least two things: The campaign has been brutal, and there’s a lot at stake.

The nastiness leading up to the May 16 runoff election has been generated by independent campaigns set up on behalf of the candidates because of the election’s importance.

Charter school partisans and unions had spent about $13 million combined through Friday. The candidates themselves had spent another $1.5 million.

If the charter-backed candidates prevail, charter advocates will win their first governing majority on the seven-member body. If the election goes entirely the other way, unions will strengthen their influence on a board that leans pro-labor. In that scenario, the board would be more likely to limit the growth of charters in the nation’s second-largest school system, which has more charters and more charter students than any other school district.

 “Think of this as the great Charter War of 2017,” said Dan Schnur, former director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “The stakes are unusually high, substantively but even more symbolically. The outcome of these races will determine control of the largest school district in the western United States.”

Union-backed school board President Steve Zimmer and charter supporter Nick Melvoin are vying for the seat in District 4, which stretches from the Westside to the west San Fernando Valley. Kelly Gonez, with charter support, and Imelda Padilla, with union backing, are competing in District 6, in the East Valley.

Zimmer, the lone incumbent, has borne the brunt of the pummeling. And although holding him responsible for the state of the school system is fair game after eight years in office, most of the attacks in a flood of mailers are exaggerated or false.

So too with Zimmer’s opponent, Melvoin. Though negative mailers have correctly noted that both Melvoin and the Trump administration support the rapid expansion of charter schools, Melvoin is neither a Republican nor a Trump supporter….

At a recent candidate forum in Sylmar, Kelly Gonez and Imelda Padilla agreed that some charter schools are great and some are not. Both pledged to support strong charters and teachers. They both said that L.A. Unified needs to bolster parent involvement and decried the influence of “outside interests.”

It’s difficult to say whether, if elected, they would prove as independent as they claim or fall back on the positions of their financial backers.

Gonez, 28, has about five years of teaching experience, most of it prior to a two-year stint in Washington, first as an assistant and then as a policy adviser to an assistant education secretary in the Obama administration. Last fall, she began teaching middle school science at a charter.

Gonez attended Catholic schools before graduating from UC Berkeley and talks about nearly dropping out from the stress of working three jobs while in college. She often speaks of her classroom experiences and her family background.

“Growing up in this community, I saw the struggles my mom went through because she was an immigrant, because English wasn’t her first language, because of her skin color,” Gonez said of her Peruvian mother at a recent forum. “That’s what motivates me; it’s the experience of my family.”

Padilla at the same forum responded to questions almost entirely in Spanish. She said later her goal was to address Spanish-language attack ads against her.

Padilla, 29, who also went to UC Berkeley, noted that she went to public schools in her district throughout her childhood, during which she overcame rickets — with surgery to straighten her legs — and gang influences. (Her brother, she said, was not so fortunate and is currently in prison.)

She said her passion is “keeping youth out of jail.”

She has been an organizer for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which promotes economic equality and strong communities, and a coordinator for Pacoima Beautiful, which focuses on neighborhood improvement.”

Important race that will be closely watched!


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