There’s a school board race on; VBM ballots are out and LAUSD’s Board District 5 votes at the polls March 5, 2019

This time the “out-of-state billionaires” are “sitting this one out”. And it’s true, there are no outsized, multi-million dollar Independent Expenditure Committees (IEC) overflowing with money from privatizers and the California Charter School Association (CCSA), bankrolling negative, deceitful, messaging-campaigns.

But there are very clear lines to be drawn in the sand by scrutinizing the pattern of giving in this race. The seat vacated by the disgraced Charter School operator, Ref Rodriguez, constitutes a swing vote on today’s school board. At stake is no less than the balance of power between representatives of the Charter School industry (e.g., CCSA, PUC, Alliance, PLAS, Magnolia, Green Dot, KIPP, etc, etc, etc.) {Garcia, Gonez and Melvoin}, and the board’s former-Superintendents {McKenna and Schmerelson, joined variously by Vladovic who has taken considerable money from the CCSA but likes to keep everyone jumping}.

In the void left by CCSA is a different kind of indebtedness.  Political Patronage is a different if not new form of paymaster that three of the candidates are drafting.

Tables 1 and 2 show the distribution of donations reported to the CoLA Ethics Commission prior to 2/8/19 among 9 of the 10 qualified candidates running for LAUSD BD5 (Rivas has apparently reported no donations). Donations have been roughly categorized according to each donor’s character or affinity, e.g. as a charter school teacher or administrator; or, say, as a political consultant or Developer. These are not exhaustive categories and were assigned quickly without deep scrutiny or cross-checking; accuracy is not assured. Individual’s categorization may be requested via email for interest or the purpose of crowd-sourced corrections. “Other” means none-of-the-above, and includes, for example, many in allied health care fields, or lawyers or retirees of uncertain affinity. As a rough generalization for comparison between and within candidates’ donors, individual mis-attributions are unlikely to bias the general trends and patterns that characterize different candidates’ donations.

Table 1 shows in green the relatively heaviest category characterizing donors giving to each candidate. That is, the relative strength of donor-type “within” or to a candidate’s campaign.
Table 2 shows in green the candidate who has received the most from each donor-type. That is, the relative strength of donation-type “between” candidates or opponents.

The data present an awesome display of the power of machine politics. The number and size of donations from among City contractors, Developers, Commissioners, public employees and appointees, political consultants and public-private partners, is simply breath-taking.

The fundraising front-runner by 30%, Mayor Garcetti’s one-time Director of External Affairs and lately Vice-President of the Board of Public Works Repenning (retiring to run for school board in the wake of a federal corruption investigation that resulted in the resignation of her Public Works Board colleague President Jacinto, and the raid of City Councilmember Huizar’s offices, for whom LAUSD5 opponent Cubas once worked as Chief-of-staff), counts nearly 2/3 of her donations from a machinery of incumbency. In fairness, having worked for so many years at City Hall, these colleagues would predictably also be heavily represented as friends. But it is also true that there is an automatic expectation of giving from among the politically indebted. One political appointee explained that while the requirement for donation was not explicit, ante-ing up was an implicit display of fealty to the patron.

The pattern is also evident for fellow candidates, corruption-tainted Huntington Park City Councilor Ortiz as well as for Cubas, a long-time CoLA (privatization) education-politics operative. These types of patronage-donations account for more than 40% of funds raised by each candidate. Some of the same political operatives implicated in the scandal that touched off an unsuccessful recall of Ortiz in Huntington Park, appear among her big-city counterpart Repenning’s contributions, with concomitant adjustment for size of the political playing field.

The pattern is more apparent than in recent past school board elections because independent privatization-interests are indeed absent at least from this primary, failing to swamp out the signal from local politicos. However it is not the case that Charter Interests, even from far away, are absent entirely. Bajracharya, or more commonly “Greenwood” as she is known professionally, has received the most money in any category at all across all candidates, from Charter ideologues, financiers and practitioners. Typically these personal contributions weigh in at the maximum, $1200 level coming as a rule from multi-million- and billionaires.

So two classes of individual donors give generously at the maximum level: political “partnership” interests, and business/Charter “venture” interests. Comparing the number of these maximum donations with the number of smaller, ≤ $100 donations gives a “Patronage index” reflected in the following distributions of donation-size among the top six (by total of funds raised) candidates:

Figure 1: Distribution of donations by size, including withdrawn and “unitemized” donations; “Patronage Index”.

Chief-of-staff Cubas’ donations were large but not as numerous compared with small donations, resulting in a low “patronage index” rating; she has more “grassroots” support. Repenning and Ortiz’ patronage index is high reflecting relative parity with small donors; fully one-quarter and one-third respectively of all Repenning’s and Ortiz’ donations are from high-rollers. Bajracharya’s reflects a groundswell of small donors. From away:

Table 3: Proportion of donors from Southern California or out-of-state.

Reflecting variously a large proportion of ideologues, presumably supportive out-of-state family, and possibly professional colleagues, just 3 of 4 Bajracharya supporters are from Southern California. While the Charter school industry has not unleashed its professional lobby, donations are called in through ideological pipelines from across the country. Similarly Valdez and Valencia are largely from away; all of Sanchez’ donors are. To be sure some of this money reflects a supportive family network, probably a valuable commodity.  But a sizable proportion of support representing the candidate’s needs rather than constituents’, may be concerning.

Principal Gonzalez’ donors reflect her provenance as an educator, but like Repenning, also reflect her ambiguous stance on Charters. Her present-day, practical experience onsite in the District’s Southeast is invaluable, but not legislatively and politically seasoned. The high-stakes policy deliberations of the school board in this particularly politically fraught season, should go for an abbreviated term to the old war-horse Goldberg. She has pledged to mentor and train a new generation of administrators beholden no more to plutocrats but tomorrow to all pupils, all families and any number of successful methods of pedagogy.