Green Dot Charter Schools founder Steve Barr weighs 2017 challenge to Garcetti


The founder of a prominent chain of Los Angeles charter schools said Wednesday he is considering running for mayor in 2017, the second person in as many days to muse aloud about challenging incumbent Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Steve Barr, who established the successful Green Dot Charter Schools group and has been a high-profile player in the battle to overhaul the L.A. school system, said his exploration of a potential run was driven by frustration over what he described as Garcetti’s hands-off approach to public education.

Although the mayor in L.A. has no formal control over the school district, Barr said Garcetti had abdicated any meaningful involvement in the school system — in contrast to Garcetti’s predecessor, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who placed education reform at the core of his agenda.


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Barr said he believes Garcetti is avoiding education issues out of fear of alienating the powerful interest groups involved in the schools debate.

“When people move to a new neighborhood, their first question is not, ‘What’s the water system like?’ or ‘Are there enough press conferences about climate change this week?’ It’s, ‘What are the schools like?’” Barr said. “It seems I’ve talked to at least a half-dozen people who will tell you he won’t get involved because it’s too controversial.”

Barr, 56, of Silver Lake, said he is meeting with potential supporters and donors but has not decided whether to run. He said he wants to enter the race but will only do so if he can see a path to building a campaign with adequate political and financial backing. He said he expects to make his decision by the beginning of April.

Villaraigosa’s foray into public education saw mixed results. His effort to assert mayoral control of the school district, emulating the systems in cities such as New York and Chicago, was defeated in court.

However, he succeeded in establishing direct control over a group of district schools and was an advocate of charter-school expansion. The prolonged fight earned Villaraigosa the enmity of the local and state teachers’ unions, the latter a major donor to political campaigns.


Garcetti, by contrast, has not been vocal in the intensifying battle over charter-school expansion or other education issues.

At Green Dot, Barr led a successful effort to take control of Locke High School, near Watts. It was the first time that operation of an L.A. Unified school was handed over to a charter organization. Barr’s group was distinguished by its acceptance of unionized teachers; most charters are non-union.

Barr, whose campaign flirtation was first reported by LA Weekly, made his statements about a potential run a day after former Obama and Clinton campaign operative Mitchell Schwartz said he plans to file papers to challenge Garcetti in 2017.

Schwartz, who directed the 2008 Obama primary- and general-election campaigns in California, said he is running out of frustration at city officials’ inattentiveness to quality-of-life issues such as rising homelessness and crime.

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