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California

A surprise big spender funds attack campaign mailers in key L.A. school board races

Bill Bloomfield
Retired businessman Bill Bloomfield isn’t on the ballot, but he’s been the big spender in two Los Angeles school board races.
(Peter Phun)

The barrage of campaign mail flooding voters in a Los Angeles school board race includes images of a child holding what appears to be a gun, with the message that school board member Jackie Goldberg is responsible for putting children at risk from gun-related violence.

The multiple mailings that Goldberg calls “pieces of lies” also suggest that she is responsible for the notorious sexual misconduct at Miramonte Elementary that came to light in 2012, and that she doesn’t care about Latino children.

“I’ve never before in my life been attacked with vicious lies like this,” said Goldberg, 75, who first served on the school board in the 1980s before being elected to the L.A. City Council and state Assembly.

Goldberg, who is running for reelection in the March 3 primary, finds herself in the crosshairs of Bill Bloomfield, a wealthy, retired businessman from Manhattan Beach, who has spent close to $2 million so far in two L.A. school board campaigns.

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In Goldberg’s District 5, which stretches from neighborhoods north and east of downtown to the cities of southeast L.A. County, he has spent more than $1 million through Monday’s reported totals. In District 7 — the South L.A.-Harbor seat held by termed-out Board President Richard Vladovic — Bloomfield has so far spent nearly $800,000.

Jackie Goldberg
Jackie Goldberg
(Los Angeles Times)

Bloomfield’s involvement occurs as four of seven board seats are up for grabs in the nation’s second-largest school system. The ideological shift of even one seat could determine whether charter school supporters or the teachers union gain more power. The outcome is likely to affect whether the charter sector continues to grow in Los Angeles, drawing students from traditional schools, or whether the teachers union can push for better pay and more school staffing, even as the district faces future financial problems.

“We need a fresh perspective,” wrote Bloomfield, explaining his thinking in a letter that he provided to The Times last week. “We need board members who are focused on making dramatic improvements to the system by putting children first. That is not Jackie Goldberg.”

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Countering Bloomfield’s spending is the United Teachers Los Angeles union — with help from Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents most non-teaching employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Although the unions had not as of last week targeted any candidate with a negative campaign, teachers union president Alex Caputo-Pearl said, “billionaires are trying to buy our elections” in an effort to “privatize” public education.

“The latest mailers show their deplorable tactics to win,” he said, calling Goldberg “a lifelong educator and civic leader of high regard.”

Bloomfield has stepped into a campaign spending role that had been filled by the political action committee of the California Charter Schools Assn., which was previously the biggest spender. The teachers union has typically been the second-biggest spender. That familiar faceoff has surfaced only in the District 3 race in the west San Fernando Valley.

“I absolutely did not engage in these races as a ‘surrogate’ for CCSA, charter supporters or anyone else,” Bloomfield wrote to The Times. “I launched these campaigns because I am passionate about helping children, and I believe LAUSD and the Board has failed the highest need children for decades.”

Although Bloomfield donated more than $2.5 million to the charter school campaign fund in 2017 — when charter-backed candidates won their first board majority — he insisted he is not fundamentally pro-charter: “In the short-term, 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.”

High stakes

Charter supporters worry about a law that takes effect in July, which could make it easier for school boards to turn down petitions to open new charter schools. The union also has concerns: All four board seats on the ballot are held by union-friendly incumbents, and one loss could shift the board’s direction.

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Charters are privately managed, mostly non-union, public schools that compete for students with district-operated schools. Nearly 1 in 5 L.A. district students attend more than 200 local charters, the largest number within any school system in the country.

Supporters say charters offer high-quality choices for parents and provide needed competition that improves all schools. Critics say that charters can destabilize public education by siphoning off students who are easier and less expensive to educate.

Charter backers do not have a candidate to oppose incumbent George McKenna, who is lukewarm to charters and is running unopposed in District 1, which takes in south and southwest L.A. The charter PAC has so far not endorsed candidates in District 5 or the open District 7 seat.

Some observers perceive a disorganized charter political team, which has experienced recent turnover and statewide losses of endorsed candidates in the races for governor and state schools superintendent. Others simply see a strategic shift — avoiding longshot races and early commitments to candidates.

The group’s reorganization has not hindered its strategic thinking, said Chief External Affairs Officer Luis Vizcaino.

“We do not discuss our political campaign strategy publicly, but CCSA is committed to supporting candidates statewide who believe parents should have access to high-quality public schools for their children, including high-quality, nonprofit public charter schools,” Vizcaino said.

Against this backdrop, up stepped Bloomfield, whose family became wealthy in the coin-operated laundry business and other ventures. Bloomfield evolved from a registered Republican — and an ardent supporter of John McCain’s presidential bid — to an independent to a registered Democrat with a dislike for President Trump. Bloomfield’s previous activism has included opposing Big Tobacco.

Goldberg and Duran face off

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Goldberg’s lone challenger is Christina Martinez Duran, 68, a semi-retired education consultant, with a long career as a teacher and administrator. In recent years, she has served on volunteer accreditation teams who’ve reviewed education programs at local campuses.

In an interview, she talked about the importance of being a voice for parents and of her decades of work in education.

“I believe I need to be at the table to represent children, parents and the community,” Duran said.

Christina Martinez Duran
L.A. school board candidate Christina Martinez Duran
(Duran campaign)

When asked later about the spending by Bloomfield, who also is paying for the positive mail in support of her, Duran responded by saying her goal as a first-time candidate is to introduce herself to voters.

Goldberg, who previously served two terms on the school board, returned to the board last May, claiming about 70% of the vote in a low-turnout special election.

Hoping to topple Goldberg, Bloomfield has unleashed factually misleading allegations.

For example, the mailers link Goldberg to the scandal involving bizarre sexual misconduct by a teacher at Miramonte Elementary, which was uncovered in 2012, 20 years after Goldberg left the Board of Education. Repeatedly, the mailers also cherry-pick tidbits from Goldberg’s decades-long career as an elected official to misrepresent her record of pushing for increased school funding and strong gun-control measures.

The anti-Latino claim replays a smear tactic used in 2014 against then-incumbent Bennett Kayser, who, like Goldberg, is white. The new anti-Goldberg mailer uses the same layout and the same picture of a group of dejected young Latino students sitting on a curb. That anti-Kayser ad was funded by the charter school association PAC. Kayser lost his reelection bid.

So far, Bloomfield has outspent Goldberg and the union combined by a more than 4 to 1 ratio.

With weeks left in the race, union strategists will probably weigh whether to risk financial resources needed in the other campaigns to buttress Goldberg. She’s less well known in the southern, heavily Latino part of her district, which she had not represented until her return to the board.

Five vie for open seat

In District 7, five candidates are seeking the seat of the retiring Vladovic.

In that race, Bloomfield has backed two candidates. One is Tanya Ortiz Franklin, 36, who taught at an L.A. middle school for five years and went on to oversee programs that focus on social and emotional issues affecting students for a nonprofit organization that runs 18 district campuses. He is also supporting former two-term L.A. school board member Mike Lansing, 63, who has served for 25 years as the head of the Boys and Girls Club of the Los Angeles Harbor.

Both Lansing and Franklin said they wished the high-volume spending could directly benefit students.

The unions have poured more than $460,000 in support of Patricia Castellanos, 49, the workforce development deputy for L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Castellanos, a district parent, also has worked as a senior labor organizer.

More than $100,000 of Bloomfield’s money has gone to a negative campaign against Castellanos.

Bloomfield also is directing a smaller amount of money in a negative campaign against Long Beach second-grade teacher Lydia Gutierrez, 62, the only Republican in the otherwise Democratic field.

Also on the ballot is Silke Bradford, 39, a Compton school district administrator with extensive experience overseeing charter schools on behalf of traditional school systems.

If no candidate wins a majority in March, the top two vote-getters in District 7 will face off in November. The Goldberg-versus-Duran race will be settled in March because there are only two candidates.


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