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Charter-school group drags L.A. Unified campaign into the muck

Disagree with a candidate all you want, but wrongly implying he's a racist is just slimy

The Los Angeles Unified school board has enough divisions over educational philosophy to fill a thousand school-board campaigns. The last thing we need is the introduction of phony racial divisions and shameful accusations that strongly and wrongly imply a candidate is racist.

Yet that’s practically the first thing we got in the form of a plug-ugly mailer against incumbent Bennett Kayser, courtesy of the California Charter Schools Assn. and its political arm. “Kayser voted to close high-performing schools serving Latino students,” it says. “Kayser opposed the lawsuits filed by Latino students to improve their schools.”

What the mailer, sent to Latino households, chiefly accomplishes is to take anything that Kayser did regarding students and twist it into an attack on Latino students. In an extremely broad sense, that’s true; in a district where 73% of the students are Latino, pretty much any policy is going to have a big impact on that ethnic group. But the flier makes it sound as though Kayser is a racist who has singled out Latino students and acted to keep them down.

So to what were those quotes referring? Kayser is not a fan of just about any charter school. He has voted against almost every one that has come before the board; he makes an exception for a small group of schools that specifically enroll special-education students. He didn’t target charter schools that help Latino students; he’s an equal-opportunity naysayer on charters. Similarly, he opposes the Vergara lawsuit that sought a change in laws to make it easier to fire teachers. The lawsuit prevailed in courts but is on appeal.

Kayser clearly wants good things for all students, including Latinos. Listen to him describe the care with which he designed classroom study when he was teacher, and you pick up on that right away. But as a close ally of United Teachers Los Angeles, his opinions about how to achieve that differ sharply from those in the movement that favors a bigger emphasis on charter schools and standardized testing.

His votes, especially those against high-performing charter schools that are fully committed to great education, are deeply troubling. Many of these students could not catch a break at their badly run neighborhood schools where standards were low and black and Latino students were routinely shunted into vocational education even when their ambitions and talents called for college prep. Affluent families had the private-school escape hatch; until charter schools came along, impoverished families were just stuck.

This is all fair game for mailers. But the charter-school group, by encouraging racial divide in the district, and scurrilously implying racism in a candidate who hasn’t given the slightest indication of such a thing, dragged the campaign down into the muck almost before it had gotten seriously under way.

A spokesman for the charter group pointed out that the mailer never actually said Kayser was a racist. True. It only heavily implied it. Not much of an excuse.

The charter-schools association favors Kayser opponent Ref Rodriguez, a charter-school founder and impressively well-informed candidate, along with incumbents Tamar Galatzan, Richard Vladovic and George McKenna. McKenna has denounced the mailer, and the other three should quickly follow suit, including Rodriguez. Everyone should be on the same side when it comes to political groups engaging in such slimy tactics on behalf of children.

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