A Pro-Charter Majority on the LAUSD School Board Is Within Reach

Voter turnout was estimated at less than 16 percent, but that apathy did not extend to campaign contributions: Outside spending on the school board races reached $5.4 million, a record high that's partly the result of the city reforming campaign finance rules in 2012. If you were to break the donations down to dollars per vote, $50 was spent for each vote cast in the three races. And despite all that money, there's not even a final resolution; two of the three races are headed for a runoff in May.

Charters and the teachers union tend to operate at cross-purposes. LAUSD has more than 130,000 students enrolled in charters, more than any district in the nation. Most of the charters are non-union and tend to rely on volunteers to perform many tasks that are paid positions in traditional district schools. There are concerns that continued charter growth will both siphon students from district schools and deplete the ranks of union membership; that fear has compelled backers of the teachers union and supporters of the charter schools to enter into the arms race of rampant campaign spending.

In the runoffs, charter supporters will seek to tip the balance of the school board to a pro-charter majority. To do so, they will have to succeed in ousting board president Steve Zimmer and getting Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez into the seat left vacant by board member Monica Ratliff, who ran for City Council. Zimmer, who as school board president has favored more stringent fiscal and operational oversight of charters, has the firm backing of unions representing educators in the district.

Morgan Polikoff, associate professor of education at USC, says it is unclear exactly what a pro-charter majority on the board could do. He also says research shows that local charters typically outperform their traditional counterparts but that pro-charter personnel decisions involving district leadership could lead to labor strife.

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Chris Alexakis