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In L.A. school board race, sky-high spending continues

The contest between Antonio Sanchez, a former mayoral aide, and Monica Ratliff, a teacher, will be decided in May's runoff. Money pours in for their campaigns.

April 21, 2013|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Superintendent of LAUSD, John E. Deasy addresses the media outside Gardena High School.
Superintendent of LAUSD, John E. Deasy addresses the media outside Gardena… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Record spending will continue in the last remaining race for a seat on the Los Angeles school board, as a political action committee has put together a war chest of about $600,000 to use on behalf of a candidate endorsed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

In all, the Coalition for School Reform, which is spearheaded by the mayor, has raised nearly $4.5 million for three Board of Education races to support candidates who would back the aggressive policies of Supt. John Deasy and pledge to keep him on the job.

Contributors praise Deasy for including student test scores in teacher evaluations and limiting job protections that they view as impediments to academic progress.

These and other moves have alienated many employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District. In a referendum sponsored by the teachers union this month, more than 90% of participants expressed "no confidence" in Deasy.

The coalition spent about $3.8 million on behalf of three school board candidates before the first round of elections in March. One of those candidates won, and one lost to an incumbent backed by unions for teachers and other school employees.

A third contest between Antonio Sanchez, a former mayoral aide backed by the coalition, and Monica Ratliff, a teacher, will be decided in next month's runoff. Both candidates are Democrats.

Sanchez was the leading vote-getter in the first round. Thanks to support from independent groups — most of it from the coalition and some by unions — he benefited from an 84-to-1 money advantage over Ratliff.

It's not clear that the election's outcome is crucial to Deasy's effectiveness. So far, he has been able to cobble together majority support for most of his policies from the seven-member Board of Education.

But the coalition isn't taking chances. The group collected $250,000 from L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad to replenish its war chest for the runoff, according to campaign finance disclosure reports filed through Friday. That brings the total contribution of Broad, a Democrat, to $500,000.

The only donor who has been more generous is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a political independent who gave $1 million to the coalition before the March election.

Other new donations include $100,000 from StudentsFirst, the Sacramento-based national advocacy group headed by former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a Democrat who has backed mostly Republican candidates. StudentsFirst had already contributed $250,000.

Local philanthropist Frank Baxter, a Republican, also gave $25,000 to the coalition after donating $100,000 previously.

In addition, the coalition raised $50,000 from Texas philanthropist John Arnold and $50,000 from companies associated with local businessman Gerald Parsky, who has ties to five Republican presidents. Neither source made a comparable previous contribution to the coalition.

Sanchez's campaign has reported raising close to $15,000 since the March election, compared with about $7,300 by Ratliff's. Those reports are current only through April 6.

Ratliff held a fundraiser last week that drew school board members Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte and Bennett Kayser, who are closely aligned with United Teachers Los Angeles.

But Ratliff was not able to push the union off its dual endorsement of her and Sanchez. That in effect helps Sanchez by keeping UTLA — which has sharply criticized Deasy — on the sidelines.

When UTLA's singular support was still a possibility, Ratliff attracted attention for a comment published in the blog L.A. School Report, which is run by a coalition supporter. The blog quoted Ratliff as saying that if she won, Deasy would have to re-interview for a chance at keeping his job.

That comment was "a galvanizing and clarifying statement" to Deasy's backers, who view him as "one of the most dynamic and effective superintendents anywhere," coalition campaign consultant Sean Clegg said.

Ratliff does not contest the literal quotation but said it did not capture the nuances of her position.

Two years into Deasy's tenure, it would be impractical to have him reapply for his job, she said. Her goal, she said, would be to evaluate Deasy with an open mind based on his record, his working relationship with the board and other relevant factors.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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