In LA school board race, candidates try to move beyond the issue that pays: charter schools
"Who says that I'm a 'charter school advocate?'" asked García, who's running for her third full term on the board. I laughed — she meant the question partially in-jest. But García also didn't seem to mean it rhetorically – she really wanted to know how she acquired the label.
García's overriding goal during her 12 years representing central and East L.A.'s District 2 has been, she said, to shake up L.A. Unified. When first elected in 2006, that goal attached García to then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's bid to take more control over the school board.
Now, García said, "charters are one part of the solution" — but, she argued, her candidacy was about much more.
L.A. Unified faces titanic challenges: falling enrollment, rising benefits costs and persistent student achievement gaps — all issues that the winners of this spring's elections to the city's school board will be charged with tackling. Voters in three districts will cast primary votes for 13 candidates on March 7.
But the issue that motivates the biggest campaign spenders is charter schools.
More than two-thirds of the outside money pouring into the L.A. Unified race – money that pays for phone bankers, campaign mailers and consultants – has come from pro-charter school groups. Another quarter of those "independent expenditures" comes from charters' chief political rival: L.A.'s main teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA).
This outside money has flooded the race at a remarkable pace. With less than a month until election day, outside groups have spent more than $2.9 million on L.A. Unified races, nearly twice the amount that had been reported by this point in the 2015 school board campaign.
That financial dynamic means that school board candidates are often pigeonholed as the "pro-charter" or "pro-teachers union." Some candidates embrace these labels. Others chafe at them.
Like García. "It’s interesting," she said, "when you run for office… we have a society that comments. What I want to make sure they talk about is that our graduation [rate] is at 75 [percent]."
Imelda Padilla, one of six candidates running for the District 6 seat in the East San Fernando Valley, also dismissed the charter-versus-union framing.
"In this community," explained Padilla, who won UTLA's endorsement, charter school groups and teachers unions "have won together; and in this community, they've lost together."
But it's less relevant whether candidates embrace their labels as "pro-charter" or "pro-union" as it is whether one of those two sides embraces you, said Loyola Marymount University political science professor Fernando Guerra.
In District 6, UTLA and the Service Employees International Union have together In LA school board race, candidates try to move beyond the issue that pays: charter schools | 89.3 KPCC: