Teachers union and Eli Broad — usually foes — unite behind parcel tax for L.A. schools

Clippers owner Steven Ballmer, billionaire Eli Broad and the teachers union are all uniting to pass a parcel tax measure to raise money for L.A. schools.
(L.A. Times graphics)

The major backers of a property tax for local public schools include two habitual foes: the local teachers union and billionaire Eli Broad, according to campaign filings.

Other unions and groups with business before the city also have donated large sums, as has Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

The tax, Measure EE, will go before voters within the boundaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District in June and would raise about $500 million annually. District officials decided to put the measure before voters soon after the six-day January teachers strike, hoping to build on widespread goodwill generated by those on the picket lines.

Not surprisingly, one big supporter of the tax is United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians in the nation’s second-largest school system. The union has put in $500,000, the City Ethics Commission reported based on filings through Friday.

In a rare convergence of interests, Eli Broad has contributed $250,000 to the effort. Broad and the union typically pour in huge sums for opposing slates of candidates in school board elections. Broad has also been a big supporter of privately operated charter schools, most of which are nonunion and compete with district-run schools for students.

But Broad, a philanthropist with a deep interest in education, also has been supportive of L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner, who favors the measure, which is called a parcel tax. Moreover, charter schools also would benefit from funds that the tax would raise.

Broad’s donation is not the largest from an individual. Ballmer donated $500,000. His donation represents part of his expanding local civic profile. His foundation also has partnered with the school system in providing funding to pay for eye exams and glasses for students — an initiative Beutner started before becoming superintendent.

Both Broad and Ballmer made their donations last week.

All told, supporters of Measure EE have raised $2.075 million. Opponents, a coalition of business and anti-tax groups, have raised $559,000. Although the “yes” side has raised more money so far, supporters of the tax also may have the heavier lift: They have to persuade two-thirds of voters to back the levy. It’s generally more difficult to pass tax measures in low-turnout special elections.

Supporters argue that the money is needed to prevent cuts to education programs and to gradually reduce class sizes and provide more services to students. Critics say the district should focus on operating more efficiently and assert that the tax burden falls too heavily on businesses. The levy would be 16 cents per square foot of indoor space on a property.

Another major player on the yes side is Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents most non-teaching employees in the school system. It has contributed $300,000.

Other major donors include two carpenters unions ($250,000) and HNTB Corp. ($250,000), a Missouri-based engineering company, which has been involved in major public works contracts in the city of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor has donated $25,000.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has urged voters to approve the tax, including in his State of the City address this week.