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Corporate Reform "Shill" Beat by Labor-Backed Zimmer in LA School Board Election

Local contest drew millions from outside interest groups

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

On Tuesday, March 5, Los Angeles voters chose incumbent Steve Zimmer to the school board post, despite the $1.6 million spent backing his opponent. (Photo: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In a win for public education, the billionaire-backed corporate reform candidate was handed a loss in Tuesday's Los Angeles School Board election.

As one teacher put it, "democracy has beat out plutocracy."

With outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Coalition for School Reform serving as a $3.8 million war-chest, a national group of billionaires have weighed in heavily on this local race, backing candidates expected to support the controversial expansion of charter schools and the use of student standardized tests for teacher evaluations.

In a clear victory for public education, despite the $1.6 million spent backing pro-charter candidate Kate Anderson, the labor-backed incumbent candidate Steve Zimmer was announced the District Four winner with 52% of the votes. 

“Everyone knows that the School Board of Los Angeles is not for sale,” Zimmer told a group of over 100 cheering supporters Tuesday night at a campaign party. The local teachers union said that Zimmer’s win proves that voters were not swayed by “outsiders and their millions.”

Of the three school board positions that were up for grabs, the District Four race was the most contentious and expensive as Zimmer became the target of school privatization advocates when he proposed a hold on creating new charter schools and spoke against the use of standardized tests for teacher evaluations.

To the delight of so-called "reform" advocates, two-term incumbent Board President Monica Garcia has been re-elected to her post.

Garcia is known for establishing policies that allow private groups outside the school district to bid for administration of L.A. Unified’s newly built and lowest performing campuses. She is also a strong advocate for the approval of more charter schools and pushed for revised teacher evaluations which include the use of student test scores.

The coalition's third candidate, newcomer Antonio Sanchez, is reportedly headed to a runoff with 5th grade teacher Monica Ratliff. As of Wednesday morning, Sanchez received 43 percent of the vote; Ratliff with 34 percent.

Spending to elect Sanchez was more than 20 times the total spent on his opponents.

The attention and capital of outside interests drew the rancor of local officials, who felt that the true objective of the school board—to support the education of the city's youth—was being drowned out by private interests.

“This campaign has taken such a national flare it has lost its meaning about the students of L.A.,” said board member Marguerite LaMotte. “The money that was sent to Los Angeles – the millions of dollars raised by these mayors and billionaires – will not be put in security in my campus.”


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