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Millions from Corporate Interests, Including $1M from NYC Mayor Bloomberg, Were Not Enough to Buy the L.A. School Board Superintendent Chair

School board elections in Los Angeles brought some big money from corporate donors looking to unseat Steve Zimmer, an Independent and former teacher/community leader with a reputation for working with others. In the end, though, Zimmer and organized labor’s on-the-ground efforts won the day.

Unlike other major cities such as New York and Chicago, the Los Angeles School Board has the power to select and therefore replace the superintendent. Zimmer’s independent stance and reluctance to fall in with the rank and file of the corporate education agenda made him a target and brought about a close race that saw an unprecedented amount of money flown in from outside interests. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $1 million himself but the race ended with Zimmer winning District 4 by a margin of 52-48.

In response to the outcome, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten celebrated the victory over corporate interest:

“Steve Zimmer’s re-election to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Board of Education is a victory for the city of Los Angeles and the families whose children attend public schools. Big monied interests – most of whom live far away from Los Angeles and virtually none of whom have children in LAUSD schools – were rebuked by parents, teachers and the community. They saw these efforts for what they were: an attempt to spend millions to elect a candidate who they believe would help them carry out an ideological agenda that has both polarized and failed in cities all across America.

“Real public education reform is hard work. It is not ideological. Nor can teaching and learning be reduced to a test score, an algorithm or a sound bite. Real public education comes from the bottom up, with teachers, parents and communities all working together to help all children learn and thrive. Educating our children works best when it is viewed as a shared responsibility. When some view or treat it as a hostile corporate takeover, not grounded in the values and the aspirations of the larger community, parents have every right to reject it, as they did yesterday in Los Angeles.

Superintendent John Deasy and outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa both support the ideology of corporate education reform and its reliance on standardized testing, privatizing, and weakening teacher protections. To combat the more than $4 million in donations that went to candidates supported by Villaraigosa the teachers union (UTLA) had to step up their ground game.

Crenshaw High School teacher Alex Caputo-Pearl told LaborNotes,

He won because of a lot of boots on the ground: parents and teachers and others who have had enough.

Speaking about the push for privatization and the large amounts of outside money that entered the election, Caputo-Pearl added, “It just really rubs a lot of folks the wrong way.”

The question now becomes, ‘how did this Teach for America graduate who has been on the board since 2009 and has voted to authorize and keep charter schools open become the prime target for corporate interests?’ The answer lies in his independent status, and his refusal to enter the zealous, ideological “education reform” zone that has befallen other big cities. It is very much a cut and dry, “with us or against us” kind of situation.

Zimmer’s opponent, Kate Anderson, was fully in support of the corporate educational agenda and supported getting rid of teacher seniority during her campaign. Anderson and her fellow Villaraigosa-supported candidates saw donations come in from a who’s who of corporate educational leaders. On top of the one million from Bloomberg, donations came in from:

Michelle Rhee’s Students First, former New York Schools chancellor Joel Klein, who now works for one of Rupert Murdoch’s media corporations, the California Charter Schools Association, and the Broad Foundation, a philanthropic organization in line with Students First and other market-driven education models.

In her statement, Weingarten asserts Zimmer’s ability:

Steve Zimmer has been a thoughtful and independent voice on the school board.  His victory will allow UTLA and LAUSD to continue the hard work of finding smart and innovative ways to provide the children of Los Angeles with a quality education.”


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