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The importance of this Tuesday's runoff election for school board

by Robert D. Skeels Saturday, May. 14, 2011 at 2:55 PM 90026

Tuesday's election will determine whether we have a school board member who listens to our community and parents or one beholden to the deep pocketed corporate charter school sector. If you live in LAUSD District 5, your vote matters.

First published in EchoParkPatch on 2011-05-13

"Luis Sanchez...worked the room at a posh Beverly Hills condo...The nearly 50 guests drank Au Bon Climat chardonnay and Piper Sonoma sparkling wine as Sanchez's backers, including school board President Monica Garcia and charter school leaders, lauded him..." — Los Angeles Times

Photo Credit HJ Ralston. Tuesday's election will determine whether we have a school board member who listens to our community and parents or one beholden to the deep pocketed corporate charter school sector. If you live in LAUSD District 5, your vote mattLos Angeles School District Board of Education District 5 encompasses the broadest region of all districts, including all of Silver Lake, and slivers of Echo Park, Elysian Heights, and Historic Filipinotown. While most of the latter mentioned areas are in District 2, enough are in District 5 to make a profound difference in the outcome of the Tuesday, May 17, 2011 elections. Please check with the Los Angeles City Clerk Elections Division if you are unsure of your district.

What's at stake? The current LAUSD Board is comprised of a solid majority of trustees who serve the interests of the corporate education reform cabal that is privatizing public education at an astonishing rate. Outgoing District 5 Board Member Yolie Flores is leaving behind a tragic legacy of privatization, vindictive school closures, and hostile takeovers. For her loyal service to the Billionaire Boys Club, she has been rewarded with a cushy six-figure job working for the anti-public education Gates Foundation.

Tuesday's runoff election will determine whether Flores and her corporate backers' handpicked successor Luis Sanchez will continue selling off the school district one piece at a time to wealthy charter school interests, or if neighborhood local, retired teacher, and public school supporter Bennet Keyser will be elected to start a process of implementing real reforms at LAUSD.

I've been writing about Sanchez and his political cohorts for some years. He has been Chief of Staff to LAUSD Board President Mónica García since she was first elected. Garcia is one of Mayor Villaraigosa's closest allies and a major collaborator with the lucrative charter-voucher school industry.

During the first round of the deceptively named Public School Choice (PSC) process:

Sanchez and his wife, Maria Brenes, used their 501C3 Inner City Struggle (ICS) to help Yolie Flores threaten the Garfield High School (GHS) community for over a year. Providing political cover and material support for Flores' PSC and Ben Austin's LAPU/PR, ICS kept the Garfield community in turmoil with constant fear of a hostile take over. Ironically, in the end, none of the Charter Management Organizations bid on GHS in the PSC round because they realized it would impact their bottom lines. Sadly the GHS community's own school improvement progress was held back by Sanchez, Brenes, and Flores' power politics on behalf of their charter backers.

Not content with using his 501C3 ICS for Green Dot Charter Corporations' fortunes alone, Sanchez also allegedly used those selfsame offices and employees to phone-bank for his campaign. All the while he has been a public employee — certainly a conflict of interest. In fact, there hasn't been a single time during his career as a LAUSD bureaucrat that he hasn't sided with the wealthy executives of the charter school sector, partly explaining the LA Times quote at the start of this article.

On key issues important to Echo Park area voters, the difference in the candidates couldn't be more pronounced. When asked if they agreed with our community's choice of the public school plan for CRES #14 versus the takeover by the privately run charter operator CNCA Corporation, Kayser unequivocally supported the public school plan by Local District 4 and Echo Park Community Design Team Partners, while Sanchez avoided answering the question altogether, probably because of his close friendship with several CNCA Corporation executives. Even when pressed by members of Echo Park Moms 4 Education, Sanchez evaded the question that meant so much to our community. In the end, Sanchez's close ally on the LAUSD Board, the current holder of the District 5 seat, handed the multi-million dollar facility over to an outside private operator that still hasn't committed to teaching English classes in a neighborhood noted for it's cultural diversity.

On the issue of the PSC advisory vote, currently threatened by Superintendent John Deasy and the Coalition for School Reform backed School Board members (the same group financing much of the Sanchez campaign), Sanchez again refuses to comment. His campaign offices were sent multiple email messages as well as several phone calls to Lizette Patron at his headquarters, but they refused to respond to the question. In contrast, Kayser not only supports keeping the advisory vote, but said in a telephone interview that "I want it to be more binding." In other words, he wants the district to actually listen to the community and parents, something PSC was ostensibly supposed to do when it was first being proposed. We only have a few weeks left to save the advisory vote, and the support of a potential incoming candidate could sway some of the current fence sitters on the current board to keep democratic measures and rights associated with voting as part of PSC.

Who funds the candidates also says a lot about who they will serve. Sanchez handily outstripped his opponents in the primaries, with more and more pouring in every day from far right-wing ideologues and billionaires bent on destroying public education including Eli Broad, Philip Anschutz, and many more. Here's an abbreviated quote from the website of the corporate and plutocrat funded Coalition for School Reform:

Luis Sanchez...paid for by the Coalition for School Reform. Major funding by Jerry Perenchio and Reed Hastings.

In other words, the biggest enemies of public education and those that stand to either profit from privatization via charters are dumping millions into Sanchez's coffers. Not too hard to figure out who he will serve if elected.

Kayser on the other hand is supported by the working class organization United Teachers of Los Angeles, community members, social justice groups, and The Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP).

In the end, on all the issues that matter to the communities and parents of Echo Park, Historic Filipinotown, Elysian Heights, and Silver Lake, Bennet Kayser is the obvious choice.

Several of us will be volunteering our time this weekend for a last minute push, contact me if you want to help, and don't forget to Vote on Tuesday.

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