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In the past few years, the privatization movement has targeted Los Angeles as a ripe target, in part because billionaire Eli Broad wants to squash the public schools where he lives, and also because the state has exceedingly lax regulation of charters. The state laws were written during Arnold Schwarzenegger’s time as governor, when he packed the state board with charter advocates.
In Los Angeles, the privatizers face a stumbling block: an elected school board. Each election, they dump millions into campaigns for their allies.
This is year is crucial. The privatizers’ main target is Steve Zimmer, the board president. Steve began his career in TFA but didn’t move on to a lucrative career in high finance. He remained an LAUSD teacher for 17 years. When he ran for school board, the big names of corporate reform spent millions to defeat him, but he won. He was outspent 5-1, but he prevailed. Can he do it again?
Zimmer is known as a thoughtful, deluberate, and fair-minded leader. He is not a partisan. But the privatizers don’t want a fair-minded board president. They want someone to champion their cause. They want power. They want control.
Yet the privatizers are starting their campaign to unseat him. Expect more millions from a handful of the wealthy elite–none of whom have ever had children in the public schools of Los Angeles–to knock Zimmer off the board.
Here is a description of his challenger, written by Joshua Leibner, a National Board Certified teacher in LAUSD.
As you may know by now, Nick Melvoin is going to be running for LAUSD’ President Steve Zimmer’s seat on the School Board.
It’s important to know his biography which definitely influences his political orientation on education. Nick comes from a very well-to-do Hollywood family and spent his youth in private schools and then off to Harvard and later LMU (the incubator for LA’s Reform movement with John Deasy and Ref Rodriguez as star alumni). He taught for two years in Brooklyn after receiving his five week teacher training and considers his TFA experience important “to make young, promising people aware of the issues of education, so that when they ‘graduate’ from Teach for America and become important leaders in society, they will effect long term change in the education system.”
Melovin as director of policy, communications and associate counsel for former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Great Public Schools Los Angeles and is currently a consultant to the Charter and Reform advocates Educators4Excellence and Teach Plus.
Melvoin worked on the ACLU’s Reed v. California lawsuit, which challenged LA Unified’s seniority-based teacher layoff policies, by helping recruit former students and co-workers from Markham to join the lawsuit. He also testified in the Vergara v. California lawsuit where a group of students successfully argued that the state’s teacher employment laws are unconstitutional.
In LA only four months ago, he penned an article for Campbell Brown’s The Seventy Four where he says of Eli Broad’s plan to charterize LAUSD: “If I were a shareholder of LAUSD — and as a taxpayer, I guess we all are — I might welcome a hostile takeover. In fact, a hostile takeover might be precisely what our district needs.”
Now, I am no huge fan of Steve Zimmer because for too long, he was silent on what was happening in education reform in general and in LA in particular. When educators wanted strong leadership in decrying what was happening in our schools by the rich and powerful, Zimmer oftentimes gave comfort to the very enemies who today have set him in their sights.
There is no doubt this is going to be one of the most publicized races in the nation. With a year to go before the election, we can now see how great the nationwide stakes are in these “piddly” school board battles.
That’s a year of the tsunami of fundraising that is going to be going on on Melvoin’s behalf through dark money contributions. Every charter group, hedge fund and corporate entity is going to pour massive resources into this race.
LA’s District 4 School Board race will be the most expensive battle royale in the country’s history. LA’s UTLA will pour tremendous money into the campaign to back Zimmer but it certainly won’t be enough to compete with what he is going to be up against. Melvoin is a perfect Central Casting school board candidate to “speak” to LA’s more affluent, white and politically engaged West Side. The Reformers know what a great “fit” he is going to be.
The problem is that what Melvoin believes to be “Progressive Education” is radically at odds with mine and other public school advocates definition. His backers are of the same pedigree as those who give to the Jeb Bush campaign and understand completely both Donald Trump’s AND Eli Broad’s use of money to buy the public policy they want. In LA, he will sell himself as a liberal and I’m sure he believes it.
So here’s an opportunity.
This should be the race where the Democrats battle out what Progressive Education is. This is the fight that has been a long time coming between the Neo-liberal Democrats and the Social Justice Democrats. It is going to be an argument that will challenge notions of race and class and privilege. Each side is claiming that mantle and I love to finally have that debate in public.
Our side has got to be ready and smart. The potential pitfalls are numerous. It is very tricky navigating and we have to articulate forcefully why Melvoin’s notion of education is wrong for the MAJORITY of LA.