Could the L.A. school board's balance of power tip pro-charter?
On Tuesday, charter school supporters have their best chance yet to tip the scales and win a controlling majority on the Los Angeles Board of Education.
Three of the seven seats are up for grabs, and charter backers have strong candidates, seemingly unlimited financial resources — with major help from former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan — and the enthusiastic support of a growing number of charter-school families.The charter-backed candidates are Kelly Gonez in District 6, incumbent Monica Garcia in District 2, and Allison Holdorff Polhill and Nick Melvoin — both running against school board President Steve Zimmer — in District 4. If they prevail, they could form a majority alliance along with board member Ref Rodriguez, a charter school founder who is not up for reelection.
That would be a major power shift for a governing body that leans anti-charter but also is required to follow state laws friendly to charter schools’ rapid growth.
Their votes could move the nation’s second largest school system from steady, strong charter growth to swift expansion at a time when L.A. Unified is struggling with years of enrollment decline. At the very least, a pro-charter majority on the board could make more space available for charters on district-owned campuses, a longtime goal of charter operators.
Winners of the school board seats also will have extra-long terms, 5 ½ years rather than four, because the city is changing the timing of municipal elections.
Charter critics insist a pro-charter majority could permanently harm traditional public schools and the students they serve. Charter supporters see more charters as a benefit to families, especially those whose children now attend public schools with low standardized test scores. Some of them downplay the potential importance of the current election, as if averse to jinxing their prospects.
“We have some very talented candidates on the ballot, and voters who are much more engaged this time around,” said Richard Garcia, elections director for California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, which controls much of the pro-charter campaign funding.
Voter engagement will matter in what is expected to be a low-turnout election.
Garcia and Rodriguez spoke at a February rally with participants from 20 charters, located mostly north and east of downtown, an area where many low-income Latino parents have opted for charters. Organizers said more than 1,000 people took part in the event, which included a march from City Hall to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. The charter-parent profile in District 4 is somewhat different, with many middle- and upper-middle-class parents.
Charters are publicly funded, free public schools that in California are managed by nonprofit organizations and are exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. Most charters are nonunion, and their growth has presented a challenge both to powerful employee unions and the school district, which loses funding tied to enrollment when students leave its schools for charters.
With faster charter growth, L.A. Unified would find itself under increasing financial strain, because of enormous fixed costs from such things as lawsuit settlements, building Could the L.A. school board's balance of power tip pro-charter? - LA Times: