Outside groups are mounting campaigns to influence the outcome of three races for seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education.
The Coalition for School Reform has raised more than $1.5 million, mostly from a small group of wealthy donors who helped fund past campaigns.
The coalition is conducting an independent campaign in support of its preferred candidates for three open board seats in the March 5 election. Separate independent campaigns are being paid for by the teachers union, unions representing other district employees and the L.A. County Federation of Labor.
The clearest battle lines are in District 4, which stretches from the Westside to the west San Fernando Valley. There, one-term incumbent and former teacher Steve Zimmer faces parent and lawyer Kate Anderson. Zimmer is supported by the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, as well as other influential unions.
Anderson is backed by the coalition, which through Friday had reported spending more than $268,000 on her behalf and which strongly endorses the policies of L.A schools Supt. John Deasy. Some coalition backers are especially close to Deasy, such as Megan Chernin, who heads a nonprofit Deasy established to raise funds for L.A. schools. Chernin also formerly headed the board of L.A.'s Promise, which has been variously praised and criticized for its management of three large L.A. Unified schools. Steven Prough, a $10,000 donor, chairs the board of L.A.'s Promise.
Education and arts philanthropist Eli Broad leads the way with a contribution of $250,000 to the coalition, which includes L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Also in for $250,000 is billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio, who headed the Univision network for years.
Lynda Resnick, the entrepreneur behind POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and other ventures, has donated $100,000 to the coalition. Investor Marc Nathanson and his wife, Jane, have together given $100,000.
Veteran journalist Jamie Alter Lynton also has donated $100,000. She’s married to Michael Lynton, chairman and chief executive officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Like Chernin, she’s on the board of the fundraising nonprofit organized by Deasy.
Lynton’s new venture, launched in August, is the L.A. School Report, which has covered the school board elections extensively. In a December editorial, she criticized the teachers union for opposing legislation that would speed up the dismissal of teachers accused of gross misconduct, faulting union leadership for continuing “to insist on sacrificing student well-being to protect even pedophiles.”
Another noted donor is former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, who contributed $25,000.
The coalition also is supporting Antonio Sanchez in District 6, in the east San Fernando Valley, where incumbent Nury Martinez is leaving the board; he has received more than $392,000, more than 70% from the coalition. Monica Garcia, the incumbent in District 2, which is centered downtown, is also receiving outside funds: about $366,000, more than two-thirds from the coalition.
The L.A. County Federation of Labor has spent nearly $42,000 on behalf of Zimmer. He’s also benefited from more than $86,000 from Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents many non-teaching employees in the L.A. Unified School District. United Teachers Los Angeles also is entering the fray on Zimmer’s behalf but had not reported spending through Friday.
The county labor federation and Local 99 have joined the coalition in spending money on behalf of Sanchez and Garcia.