Los Angeles 2013: The Most Expensive School Board Election in History

Given the abysmally low success rate of certain minority groups in Los Angeles public schools, the race for school board might be very important. But $3.2 million important?

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Los Angeles School Board election is now the most expensive school board election in American history. As the paper explains:

A coalition of local organizations, wealthy donors and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have decided that the election is all about keeping [school superintendent John] Deasy on the job and accelerating the aggressive policies he’s putting into place.

This group has come together for the campaign through a political action committee called the Coalition for School Reform. So far it’s raised on behalf of three candidates more than $3.2 million, including $1 million from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Deasy, former deputy director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, came to LA in 2011. Since then he’s been a dedicated reformer, committed to improving student scores on standardized tests. He has proposed a new plan that would make 30 percent of teacher evaluations dependent on standardized test performance. He has also limited the school district’s longstanding seniority system.

Though the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has not demanded Deasy’s removal, it is not supporting the coalition.

The coalition is spending so much money on three races because it believes that keeping Deasy’s reforms in places (and ensuring their continuance) is essential. He has a “relentless focus on improving student performance, rather than on protecting a system that does not always serve students,” said the president of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, who also characterized Deasy as a “target for those who are comfortable with the status quo.”

While technically spending $3.2 million to keep an incumbent in office is an example of a pretty serious desire not to upset the status quo, the United Way has a point. As far as student test scores go, Deasy has demonstrated some real improvement. His supporters are understandably anxious to ensure he stays in power.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer