School board candidates debate Bloomberg's $1-million donation
A record-setting donation to Los Angeles school board contests quickly became a topic Wednesday night at the first candidate forum after word broke of the $1-million contribution by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg’s donation is targeted for an independent campaign on behalf of three candidates: L.A. school board president Monica Garcia in District 2, challenger Kate Anderson in District 4, and Antonio Sanchez, who is vying for an open seat in District 6. Wednesday's forum was for candidates in District 2 and took place at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex.
Challenger Isabel Vazquez, an elementary school teacher and a former adult school administrator, teed up the issue. She used her opening statement to quote at length from a Robert Kennedy speech on the imperative of government to serve all citizens, and, she improvised, “not just those who can donate $1 million to the campaign.”
Abelardo Diaz, a high school teacher, was next. He cited the contribution as evidence of the need for change. Later, when asked to relate experience relevant to the job of managing a multibillion-dollar budget, he joked that he lacked the billions of Bloomberg.
The forum was organized by the United Way and other groups, and organizers did not choose to ask a question about Bloomberg’s largesse or the fund to which he donated, which is called the Coalition for School Reform. But moderator Marqueece Harris-Dawson did ask candidates to address money given by the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which also is expected to spend big in the campaign.
(Union officials have said they can’t match the coalition’s resources and will compensate instead by sending teachers out into the field.)
“We don’t have millions,” asserted Diaz, referring to the union. “We are broke.” Then he went back on the offensive: “Look at what happened with the New York mayor…That’s a red flag. Corporations are not citizens, but they are taking control of our public schools…We need money in the schools, not the campaigns.”
Challenger Annamarie Montanez, an adult school teacher, noted that huge money plays have come from various parties.
“It makes me question what the true motives are,” she said. “Are we really here to help our students and do what’s best for them?”
“Elections are expensive,” Garcia said. The outside, independent campaigns “have their role.” She added: “I am interested in the grass-roots organic campaign that is reaching out, talking, listening to voters.”
Three other questions dealt directly or indirectly with union influence. One asked candidates to explain what the union had done to improve student performance. Another asked candidates whether they favored streamlining the dismissal process for teachers guilty of gross misconduct — a reference to the union’s opposition to legislation that would speed up teacher dismissals. Not surprisingly, not one candidate favored protecting teachers who sexually abused students.
Candidates also were asked what they would do as president of the teachers union.
Garcia was ready.
She would “celebrate amazing teacher leadership,” she said, and work to “fire every ineffective teacher.”
After the forum, Garcia said the Bloomberg donation is “more evidence that it matters what we do.” She added: “It is of national consequence what happens in L.A.” The L.A. Unified election “has national implications, no doubt.”
Writer and activist Robert Skeels, a candidate who was unable to attend the forum, also weighed in by email: "I find it dismaying that a single out-of-state billionaire has a greater voice in our school board election than all the working families of District 2."
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-- Howard Blume
Photo: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City on Thursday. Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images