About $3.5 million worth of attack mailers have targeted Jackie Goldberg and other LAUSD school board members.
With majority control of Los Angeles Unified’s school board hanging in the balance, it has surprised no one that a flood of outside privatization money has put March 3’s Super Tuesday election on target to smash LAUSD’s 2017 record as the nation’s priciest school board primary ever. At last count, laundromat tycoon Bill Bloomfield and the Reed Hastings- and Jim and Alice Walton-bankrolled Charter Public Schools PAC have poured in nearly $6.4 million to stop L.A. teachers from returning to office three pro-public school progressives — George McKenna (Board District 1), Scott Schmerelson (BD 3) and Jackie Goldberg (BD 5) — and electing an education justice veteran to fill the sole open seat in BD 7, LAUSD parent and Reclaim Our Schools L.A. co-founder Patricia Castellanos.
One measure of the California Charter Schools Association’s desperation in the wake of 2018’s statewide rejection of charter billionaire-backed candidates is the $3.5 million worth of attack mailers with which Bloomfield and CCSA have inundated voters. The most surreally beyond-the-pale missives have targeted Goldberg, who last week issued a point-by-point rebuttal. A close runner-up, however, has been a smear against Schmerelson. Seizing upon some nuisance complaints filed by a member of the charter Astroturf group Speak Up, the mailers caricature some modest stock holdings in Schmerelson’s broker-controlled account — duly disclosed in the board member’s ethics filings — into a frothing vision of Trump-scaled rapaciousness and malfeasance.
Perhaps more revealing are the operatives behind the ads. They include controversial attack consultant John Shallman of Encino-based West Coast Public Affairs (and a go-to “go negative” guy for CA Big Real Estate), and “political vulnerability researcher” Mark Bogetich of Sacramento-based MB Public Affairs. Bogetich has dug dirt for Big Ag in farm labor disputes, Big Plastic in polystyrene ban battles, and the big ambitions of Florida Tea Party Republicans primping for national office. But the loudest klaxon alarm sounds for Sacramento law firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, which, through their famously misleading and regressive ballot initiatives, are literally the co-authors of California inequality.
The latest annual PACE/USC Rossier California education poll may shed light on why state privatizers invariably go so low in election attacks. Its most significant finding? This year’s overall approval rating for California public ed fell to its lowest point since 2015, effectively reversing years of increased public optimism fueled by the post-recession recovery of state revenues and K-12 funding. Blame the pessimistic downtick on the 2018 midterms and last year’s California teachers’ strikes, offered PACE executive director Heather Hough in EdSource. That’s when the public was saturated with bleak messaging about under-resourced schools, unaffordable college and untenably poor teacher pay. But it also turns out that parents with kids in neighborhood public schools consistently have a much higher opinion of those schools than does the general electorate, suggesting that voters without children in the system might be more susceptible to the distorted hyperbole of negative school board electioneering.
The good news? The poll found that California voters mostly continue to lean progressive on ed:
- 64 percent support Proposition 13, the $15 billion school construction bond on the March 3 statewide ballot to help pay for school, community college and higher ed building projects.
- 55 percent like the Schools and Communities First funding initiative heading for November’s ballot and its proposal to end California’s 40-year corporation property tax giveaway. 36 percent polled oppose the measure.
- 59 percent said it was “very or somewhat important” to increase “the number of teachers of color in California.”
- 63 percent gave a thumbs-up to require high school kids to take a social justice-themed ethnic studies course focused on social change and the impacts of racism.
- 56 percent supported California’s new charter law reforms, with 16 percent saying they don’t know.
A new Trump administration weapon was test-fired in the Donald’s unrelenting war on 800,000 immigrant Dreamers. The latter are eligible under the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) program to lawfully work, attend school and plan their lives unclouded by the threat of imminent deportation. On February 10, the public comment period ended on a proposed rule change by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to hike DACA’s biennial renewal fee 55 percent, from $495 to $765. The change would also raise the fee for naturalization 83 percent, from $640 to $1,170. The twist of the knife? $112 million of the new fees would then fund ICE detentions and deportations for two years.
Column: You’ll need a shower after reading about this school board race that’s descended into the gutter
There she was, sitting right in front of me.
Evil in the flesh, or so you’d believe from the fliers now landing in mailboxes across a wide swath of Los Angeles.
She stands accused of discriminating against Latino families, putting children in the line of fire because she’s sold out to the NRA, and being responsible for L.A. Unified’s horrible Miramonte Elementary School molestation scandal.
Who is this wretched, reprehensible person?
Jackie Goldberg is her name, and she is the school board member representing District 5 of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
When I visited her last week, she sifted through a pile of political mailers, retrieved from her own mailbox in Echo Park, in which all her alleged crimes against humanity were laid out against her.
“As a person who’s been in public office a long time, I’ve received death threats and other sorts of terrible things in the mail, so it doesn’t kill me,” said Goldberg.
Maybe not, but as she looked at the mailers, she slowly simmered before reaching a full boil. One by one, she explained how each allegation was a gross distortion, or a half-truth taken out of context for the sole purpose of running her out of office in the March 3 school board election.
Some of the allegations concern times when “I wasn’t even on the board,” she said.
In answer to a charge that she cut funding for schools, she said she “pulled my hair out” trying to reduce deeper cuts during a financial crisis, and she said she has “a permanent F rating with the NRA because I banned Saturday night specials when I was on the City Council.”
So here we are again. Another election, another descent into the gutter.
Attack ads are nothing new, of course. In election season, you should always use gloves when retrieving your mail, then toss political mailers into a sturdy metal can and immediately set fire to them. You’ll feel better and be less misinformed.
I find this kind of manure particularly odious in school board elections, when adults should be setting a better example for the kids. But this is LAUSD, where opposing forces are battling for control of the nation’s second-largest school district.
On one side you’ll find United Teachers Los Angeles and those who believe traditional public schools are being drained of students and resources by the growth of charters. On the other side you’ll find those who think major reforms, including more charter schools, are the way to go.
I’m not going to wade back into that battle today. In fact, it’s fine with me if you like or dislike charters, and it’s fine with me if you like or dislike a certain candidate.
But it would be nice to get through one school board election without vile, smarmy personal attacks, distortions and outright lies.
In 2014, pro-charter forces went after board member Bennett Kayser, a union ally. The attack included a photo of Latino kids sitting on a curb and looking as if someone had just stolen their lunch. Kayser, branded a racist in one of the most tawdry, duplicitous political attacks I’ve seen, lost his reelection bid.
Now that same photo has been dragged out again, this time in a mailer attacking Goldberg. Another mailer declares:
“Jackie Goldberg doesn’t believe Latino families value education.”
It’s so base and crude, it strikes me as an insult to Latinos. It presumes they aren’t astute enough to know better, or to do a little research and see how preposterous the claims are about an elected official who has spent her whole career standing on the left side of the political spectrum, railing against inequalities.
So who’s got it in for Goldberg?
The guy who’s been firing all that artillery into mailboxes in neighborhoods in and around downtown Los Angeles and southeast L.A. County is retired Manhattan Beach businessman Bill Bloomfield.
As reported by my colleague Howard Blume, Bloomfield has spent more than $1 million to take down Goldberg and support her opponent, Christina Martinez Duran, a semi-retired education consultant who has served as both a teacher and an administrator. Bloomfield has spent four times as much in the race as the union and Goldberg have spent on her campaign.
Bloomfield has spent an additional $800,000 in LAUSD’s District 7 contest, supporting two candidates for an open seat in the South L.A.-Harbor area, and attacking a third candidate. In 2017, he donated more than $2.5 million in support of the California Charter Schools Assn.'s political action committee.
“I’m in it for the kids, that’s it,” Bloomfield said, telling me he once toured a charter school and wished there were more schools like it in the district.
Goldberg doesn’t deny there are some very good charter schools, but she believes they leave traditional schools with the most challenging students and fewer resources to serve them. Some people disagree with that version of reality, but does it mean Goldberg should be vilified for something in which she believes passionately?
“It was never my intent to do a character assassination. It was just to lay out the facts,” Bloomfield told me, saying he stands by everything in the mailers.
And I stand by my claim that he cherry-picked her long record as a legislator, City Council member and school board member to paint a picture that fundamentally misrepresents the essence of who Goldberg is.
The truth, Bloomfield argued, is that he’s been the victim of misrepresentations coming from “the other side” following his attacks on Goldberg.
“I never gave a dime to the Koch brothers, nor did I give the Republican Party any money last year,” he said. “I do not favor cuts to education, I do not favor cuts to teachers’ healthcare, and I do not want to privatize schools.”
What he does want is for Duran to beat Goldberg in March, but there’s something worth noting about that.
Bloomfield has not met Duran, the candidate he has spent $1 million to support.
Then how does he know she’s got what it takes?
“Because someone whom I highly respect and is an expert in education has,” Bloomfield said, “and that person highly recommended her.”
I’m going to have to give Bloomfield a D-minus on that effort, and I’m being generous. And by the way, if Duran is the answer, why not spend more money building her up and less money shooting down Goldberg for things that have zero to do with real, day-to-day issues of running a school district?
“The saddest thing,” Bloomfield said, “is that comparative mailers work.”
Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but either way, no one has to stoop to that level.
Bloomfield made a what-goes-around-comes-around argument. He said that when charter-friendly Marshall Tuck ran for state superintendent of schools in 2018, he was smeared by union-friendly supporters of the victorious Tony Thurmond. Bloomfield ripped The Times for not criticizing negative campaigning in that race, and maybe his gripe is fair. The union side can play dirty, too, and in recent years has pilloried charter supporters as tools of President Trump. Bloomfield insists he is no fan of Trump.
“I was emotional after what happened to Marshall because I think kids in this state would have been much better off if he won,” he said.
In clarifying his position on charters, Bloomfield said this to my colleague Blume:
“I do think charters play a role in communities where the traditional public schools continue to fail our children, but I would absolutely prefer for the district public schools to do better and thus eliminate the need for charters.”
I understand the sentiment, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think our public schools are failing our children, no matter how many well-intended millionaires in the so-called reform movement think it’s as simple as that.
The story of what happened to California’s public schools is that they became less of a priority for many in the state when the student body went from majority white to majority nonwhite, and Proposition 13 shredded funding for school systems that have never recovered.
There’s plenty of room for improvement, sure, but 80% of LAUSD’s roughly 550,000 students live in poverty, and California’s national rank in spending per pupil is well below what it was when I attended public schools in the state. It’s not easy to reverse massive socioeconomic disparities in a district that has seen draconian cuts, with falling-apart buildings and the gradual stripping of support staff.
If Bloomfield wants to make a difference, Goldberg said, he’d be better off spending his money on the new Proposition 13, a bond measure that would raise $15 billion for upgrades and new construction in K-College schools.
“I just wrote a check for $100,000,” Bloomfield said.
That’s a start, and a better way to make a difference, in my opinion, than paying for those rubbish mailers.
This Might End Up Being The Most Expensive LAUSD School Board Primary Ever
Los Angeles is home to the most consequential school board elections in the country. L.A. Unified is the largest school district in the U.S. with an elected board. Board members' decisions touch the lives of 587,000 children.
On top of being important, L.A.'s school board elections have become expensive. Very expensive. In fact, if the current rate of spending continues, this March's election will be the costliest LAUSD primary in history.
With barely two weeks until Election Day, outside political groups have spent more than $3.7 million attempting to sway the three competitive LAUSD board races. That total is slightly ahead of the pace set in the 2017 school board elections, which saw more outside spending than any other LAUSD primary in recent history.
Here's what that $3.7 million total reflects: whenever an outside political group spends money trying to sway an election — on mailers, advertising, or paid outreach like phone banking — they must report it as an "independent expenditure."
Independent expenditures have come to dominate LAUSD races in recent years because outside political groups aren't subject to the strict fundraising limits that candidates face in school board races. (Thanks, Citizens United.) Plus, unlike in L.A. City Council elections, LAUSD candidates aren't eligible for matching funds.
There's a familiar storyline behind all of this spending: two rival factions with contrasting views on education policy — charter school advocates and L.A.'s main teachers union — are vying for control of the LAUSD board.
WHY ARE CHARTER GROUPS SPENDING SO MUCH MONEY?
For the schools represented by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), the stakes of the LAUSD election are high. In California, charter schools often need the permission of their district's school board in order to open — and in July, a new law will take effect giving school boards more discretion to block new charters from opening.
"The challenge is we have an organization — the teachers union — that's interested in closing down high-quality schools," said Gregory McGinity, executive director of the charter association's political arm, CCSA Advocates. "We just don't see how that's good for families and communities."
CCSA is also looking to bounce back from almost two years of disappointments. In 2018, former LAUSD board president Ref Rodriguez resigned, breaking up a loose majority of CCSA-endorsed members on the board. CCSA then sat out the special election held to replace Rodriguez, and watched as an outspoken charter school critic, Jackie Goldberg, won the right to fill out Rodriguez's term.
This time around, CCSA didn't endorse Goldberg's challenger, Christina Martinez Duran. But prominent pro-charter donor Bill Bloomfield has papered the district with anti-Goldberg ads. (More on those later.)
Bloomfield's $1.5 million in independent expenditures — much of which is going against Goldberg — makes him the largest single source of outside spending in the LAUSD primary so far, according to a KPCC/LAist analysis of campaign finance figures.
WHY ARE TEACHERS UNIONS SPENDING SO MUCH MONEY?
For United Teachers Los Angeles, this pro-charter spending underscores the importance of the election.
Ingrid Gunnell, chair of UTLA's political action committee, acknowledged the union is a traditional power in LAUSD politics — but she said its power comes from 13,000 union members pooling small-dollar donations, rather than deep-pocketed philanthropists.
"This is public knowledge: we don't have unlimited funds," said Gunnell. "We don't have people like Eli Broad, Bill Bloomfield, Richard Riordan, writing a $100,000 check the night before the election."
In the union's view, a "friendly" school board could act as a buffer against the influence of pro-charter groups, and help the 30,000-member union — which represents LAUSD teachers, nurses, counselors and others — pursue its own goals.
"If we had a friendly, consistent school board, we probably wouldn't have had to go out on strike," said Gunnell.
Before the strike, Gunnell said UTLA had two reliable allies on the board. Even after Goldberg took office following the strike, UTLA says they're still one vote short of a solid majority — termed-out incumbent Richard Vladovic, who's received both UTLA and CCSA endorsements in the past, is a swing vote.
In short: for UTLA, a majority bloc on the board is at stake in March.
WHERE ARE THE UNION AND CHARTER FORCES SPENDING MOST?
In the three competitive races, CCSA only endorsed one candidate: Marilyn Koziatek, who's challenging incumbent Scott Schmerelson in the race for the Board District 3 seat.
But in races where the charter association declined to endorse, ally Bill Bloomfield has been actively spending. In Board District 5, he's spent almost $950,000 attempting to unseat Goldberg.
Many of the mailers Bloomfield's purchased criticize Goldberg for concerns that date back to the 1980s, issues that came up during her first stint as a LAUSD school board member. In an email, UTLA executive director Jeff Good characterized Bloomfield's anti-Goldberg mailers as "race-baiting."
For example, several ads claim Goldberg "forced Latino students to attend academically inferior and dangerous schools."
The 1985 L.A. Times story cited to back up this statement covers a racially-fraught dispute over school attendance boundaries. The story doesn't mention Goldberg's name, though — and in a message to supporters, Goldberg said she didn't represent the area where this dispute took place. (The board vote on the change in question was unanimous.)
In a message to supporters, Goldberg called them "bald-faced lies." When asked to respond, Bloomfield stood by the claims in his ads.
"Every single statement," he wrote in a letter, "in the mail we've supported has been factual and thoroughly researched and fact-checked." He also said, "LAUSD does not work well for low-income communities, especially Latino and African American children," and that he believed Martinez Duran is "the kind of person this district and its diverse families deserve."
Meanwhile, UTLA has spent $144,000 attempting to ensure Goldberg keeps her seat, and $432,000 backing Schmerelson in BD3.
But CCSA has outspent UTLA in BD3 by a two-to-one margin. The charter association has spent more than $489,000 to boost Koziatek's candidacy, and another $472,000 on negative ads against Schmerelson.
The teachers union has also spent around $430,000 supporting longtime labor activist Patricia Castellanos in BD7, one of five candidates seeking to replace the termed-out Vladovic.
CCSA didn't endorse a candidate in the BD7 primary, but here again, Bloomfield has stepped up. He has chipped in $580,000 to support two candidates — Tanya Ortiz Franklin and Mike Lansing — perhaps in a bid to force Castellanos out of the likely runoff between the top two finishers.
HOW WILL THIS ELECTION PLAY OUT?
In recent years, LAUSD races have played out in odd-numbered years in low-turnout elections. But this year, LAUSD elections are on the same ballot as California's presidential primary, meaning school board election turnout will certainly be higher.
Both UTLA and CCSA theorize the alignment with a high-visibility election helps their side. CCSA's McGinity says polling data shows public support for charter schools, but that this broader sentiment wasn't always reflected in low-turnout election. Is he right?
"There's all kinds of possibilities," said Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. "We haven't had an experiment with this in L.A. yet, and this is going to be it."
Still, Sonenshein's inclined to believe UTLA's contention — that the Democratic presidential primary is likely to draw more progressive voters who are interested in supporting traditional labor powers. He says it's even possible the presidential candidates themselves may weigh in on the school board debate.
Another dynamic: if a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on March 3, that candidate wins the school board seat. But if no candidate wins a majority, the top two finishers advance to a runoff election.
In previous years, that runoff would've taken place only two months later. This year, failing to win without a runoff means a long slog to November.
"The big gap between March and November is a problem for everybody," Sonenshein said. "It's the biggest flaw in this reform."
Mail-in ballots have already been sent — and voters can begin casting ballots in-person as early as Feb. 22.