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Late donations bolster pro-Deasy school board candidates

Two eleventh hour donations have added financial muscle to a campaign seeking to bolster Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy through the results of Tuesday’s Board of Education elections.

The Sacramento-based California Charter Schools Assn. has donated $300,000. And New York City-based News America Inc. has donated $250,000, according to reports filed Monday with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which oversees local campaign spending.

The money has gone to a political action committee called the Coalition for School Reform, which has the endorsement of  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and funding from a relatively small group of major donors. The largest donation is $1 million from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The coalition’s war chest now surpasses $3.8 million, according to campaign manager Janelle Erickson, who is on leave from her job as Villaraigosa’s deputy chief of staff.

The News America donation provides another link between the school-reform battles in the Big Apple and Los Angeles. News America is an affiliate of News Corp., the media conglomerate run by Rupert Murdoch. News Corp.’s executive vice president is Joel Klein, former superintendent of the New York City school system under Bloomberg. Klein himself gave $25,000 to the coalition.

It was not immediately clear whether the infusion would be spent before Tuesday or was a down payment for a possible runoff in the event that no candidate claimed a majority of votes cast.

The coalition is backing school board President Monica Garcia in District 2, challenger Kate Anderson in District 4 and Antonio Sanchez in District 6, an open seat. All three have made it clear they want to keep Deasy on the job. Deasy gets a range of mixed reviews from the other candidates.

Deasy’s overall support on the seven-member board has eroded somewhat in recent months. His position has been stable in part because board member Steve Zimmer, the incumbent in District 4, was unwilling to remove Deasy, despite some key policy disagreements. Deasy’s supporters regard Zimmer as a swing vote who could turn against Deasy, so they opted to go with Anderson.

The charter association is especially displeased with Zimmer, who proposed a moratorium on charters pending a review of district policy and oversight procedures. Charters are independently managed; they are authorized but not controlled by the school system. Zimmer’s proposal went nowhere because it lacked majority support. It also may have been illegal under state law. His critics accused him of pandering to the teachers union, whose leaders are concerned about the growth of charters -- most of which are non-union.

Separately, Zimmer worked to block a handful of charter proposals that he said would undermine traditional neighborhood schools. At the same time, he voted to approve nearly all charters or charter renewals that passed the scrutiny of the district’s charter office. L.A. Unified has the most charters of any school district in the nation.

The charter association had previously spent at least $40,000 on the campaign.

Zimmer enjoys the support of employee unions and the L.A. County Federation of Labor, which are mounting an independent campaign on his behalf. That campaign was recently bolstered with $150,000 from the American Federation of Teachers. Its head, Randi Weingarten, used to lead the New York City teachers union and once did battle with Klein and Bloomberg there.

The contest between Zimmer and Anderson will be settled by Tuesday’s primary because there are only two candidates on the ballot.

Garcia is running against four opponents: Isabel Vazquez, Abelardo Diaz, Robert Skeels and Annamarie Montanez. Sanchez’s opponents are Maria Cano and Monica Ratliff.

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-- Howard Blume

 
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