May 4 Candidate Forum: LAUSD School Board District 1 Special Election

May 4 Candidate Forum: LAUSD School Board District 1 Special Election

I was asked to cover the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) School Board District 1 Special Election Candidate forum held on Saturday, May 4, 2014. The event took place at the University of Southern California (USC), and it was hosted by the Walton Family Foundation’s key neoliberal privatization organization—Parent Revolution. Parent Revolution, henceforth pRev—a nickname coined by families that successfully prevented pRev from privatizing McKinley Elementary School—is a well financed member of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC), with inextricable ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and The Heartland Institute.

Who funds the Parent Revolution?The event began with a bombastic speech by pRev’s well heeled Executive Director, Ben Austin. A polished rhetorician, he mentioned that at his daughter’s school the parents had a voice, and they got everything they wanted. He didn’t mention that he lived in Beverly Hills, that parents at Warner Elementary School fundraise to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars to supplement their school budget, or that the parents work with the faculty instead of against them to educate their children. Nor did Austin mention that class and racial diversity are all but of unheard of at Warner ES, but that didn’t stop Austin from proclaiming that his organization somehow empowers parents in low income communities. Issues of race and class never come up in pRev’s diatribes, since their organization is funded by the Walton Family, Gates, and Broad Foundations to blame systemic issues like income inequality and urban poverty on working class schoolteachers rather than on plutocratic billionaires.

The event covered two seats being contested on June 3, 2014. The first portion addressed the LAUSD School Board District 1 Special Election in order to replace my long-time friend and colleague, the late Marguerite P. LaMotte. The second part of the program was for the State Superintendent of Instruction seat. Five of the seven candidates for LAUSD were on hand, Donald Trump reality show participant Omarosa Manigault, and mother/teacher/coach Sherlett Hendy Newbill had other commitments. Professional educator Lydia Guitierez and business banker Marshall Tuck were the candidates on hand for State Superintendent of Instruction portion, incumbent Tom Torlakson was not present. Austin and pRev made no disclaimer about both pRev and Tuck having both been originally from the Green Dot Charter Corporation. I suppose that disclosure that they all worked for the same charter company just a few years ago would have shown too much bias. There were less than 140 people at the affair, including the organizers, press, and participants.

It’s no surprise then that all the questions at the forum were pre-scripted, contrived, and biased, read by parents in a stilted, unsure fashion, since they didn’t write them themselves. Most of the questions dealt with topics the candidates weren’t prepared for. Billed as a “nonpartisan” event, the corporate partisanship behind most of the questions was palpable and transparent. Of course, pRev asked all of the candidates to swear fealty to the ALEC Parent Empowerment Act, also known by the callous name “Parent Trigger.” While the privatization legislation was passed under dubious circumstances, and pRev’s Ben Austin illegally tampered with its implementation, Parent Trigger is pRev’s raison d’être. The only candidates present with the courage to stand up to neoliberalism and privatization were Hattie McFrazier and Lydia Guitierez. Sherlett Hendy Newbill, while not present, is officially on record opposing Parent Trigger and all other forms of school privatization.

With one exception, there were absolutely no surprises at the event. That one surprise was when Rachel Johnson expressed unequivocal support for the Parent Trigger law that hands our schools over to private corporations. Otherwise, the corporate reform candidates Marshall Tuck and Alex Johnson spouted off neoliberalism, meaningless platitudes, expressed hatred for teachers, and demonstrated their utter lack of understanding of pedagogical matters. The teachers and administrators fared better, but the questions were so biased that there wasn’t much meaningful discussion. I’ve written extensively on the LAUSD District one candidates in the LA Progressive, and also wrote an informative epilogue to that article. Weeks prior to this event I had endorsed Sherlett Hendy Newbill.

Robert D. Skeels is a social justice writer, public education advocate, and immigrant rights activist. He lives, works, writes, and organizes in Los Angeles with his wife and cats. Robert holds a BA in Classical Civilization from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and is currently a law student at Peoples College of Law (PCL). A US Navy Veteran, he is a proud member of Veterans for Peace. A student of Liberation Theology and Paulo Freire's work, Robert devotes much time towards volunteer work for 12 step, church, homeless advocacy, and grassroots groups. Robert's articles and essays appear in publications including Truthout, CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Schools Matter, Daily Censored, Regeneración, Patch, K12NN, LA Progressive, and The Los Angeles Daily News. In 2013 Robert ran for the LAUSD School Board against a billionaire funded corporate reform candidate, finishing second in a field of five, with over 5,200 votes.

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