Jackie Goldberg for School Board: The Fight Over Control of Los Angeles Unified School District

On the eve of a historic teachers strike, Jackie Goldberg, speaking at the United Teachers of Los Angeles union headquarters, addressed a packed meeting of Democratic Socialists of America to solicit support for her candidacy for the Los Angeles School Board.  The 2019 special election to replace Refugio Rodriguez, convicted of money laundering campaign contributions in the school board’s fifth district, will decide control of the school district split three to three between pro-charter school and pro-union board members.  The stakes could not be higher.  After a contested 2018 State Superintendent race narrowly won by pro-community school candidate Tony Thurmond, the Los Angeles special election to determine the deciding vote in an ideologically divided school board mirrors national divisions within the Democratic Party ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

On Friday, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, representing over thirty thousand educators, rejected the pro-charter school board’s latest contract offer Friday, demanding the school district lower class sizes in a state that the union claims has one of the most crowded classrooms in the nation.  With a strike date Monday, the city is on edge.

The 5th district, with skewed gerrymandered boundaries, encompasses both the heavily Latin@ cities southeast of Los Angeles, including Bell Gardens, South Gate, and Huntington Park, as well as the more affluent gentrifying Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silverlake, and Highland Park.  Jackie Goldberg addressed a crowd to win the endorsement of Democratic Socialists of America Los Angeles’ chapter, comprised of over 1,500 socialist organizers, grouped into neighborhood committees across the city.  Over a hundred fifty packed the teachers’ union hall to hear her speak, a speech simultaneously broadcast to meetings in Van Nuys and Venice.  The audience, a multi-generational diverse crowd, included grey haired children of the 60’s who had known Jackie for decades, charter and public school teachers, union activists, mothers chasing toddlers crawling and racing between seats across the carpeted floor, and a slew of progressive young creatives; east coast and mid-west transplants inhabiting increasingly hip and unaffordable Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods in LAUSD’s District 5.

Jackie Goldberg said she was an unwilling candidate; at age 74, she mentioned she just wanted to hang out with her two grandchildren and her wife.  But she decided to run for school board because she had the best chance of defeating pro-charter billionaires like Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, and Wal-Mart’s Walton family in an important snap election.  There are two main reasons these billionaires want to get rid of public education, Jackie explained slowly and methodically.  First, education is potentially a trillion-dollar industry.  The billionaire privatizers asked—why aren’t we getting it?

Second, for these bank and hedge fund owners, school boards are annoying.  With charter schools, there is no annoying Democratic process; no school boards, public testimony, school board meetings, or elections.  With charter schools, their boards are handpicked.  You don’t have to worry about pesky elections.  Plus, the vendors are all friends of the charter operators; conflict of interest policies have been thrown out the window.

               The first massive expansion of charter schools occurred in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, when the entire city turned charter.  Today, there are no schools in New Orleans 9th Ward; kids have to go to schools in other parts of the city.  New Orleans schools are the worst performing in Louisiana and Louisiana has the second lowest performing schools in America.  So much for the success of the charter experiment, Goldberg enunciated.

Four or five years ago, someone leaked secret document written by Eli Broad detailing plans to spend $450 million dollars to take over the LA Unified School District.  Writing to billionaire co-conspirators, Broad outlined a plan that would push half of LA children into charter schools within five years.  They spent 13.4 million getting rid of Steve Zimmer; the Charter backers wanted four votes (a majority) on the school board, but one of the guys they elected was convicted of money laundering and had to resign.  That is why the special election is so important, Jackie concluded.  We need your support.

Absentee ballots go out February 4th; the election is March 5th.  It is a three-month election. The billionaire charter proponents think they will have no problem winning the seat. 

I have good name recognition. I am endorsed by State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, Judy Chu, and Rep. Karen Bass.  I’m running because it’s too short an election for an unknown candidate to win.  We have to raise $200,000 in three weeks.  There are two others running against me, Alison Greenwald Bajracharya, a senior charter school executive, and Heather Repenning, an ally of Mayor Eric Garcetti.  My job is to hold the seat until 2020 to stop a charter supporter from running as an incumbent. 

LAUSD has 2 billion in reserves, California is the 5th biggest economy and we need to spend it on psychiatric social workers in every classroom.  Music, art and smaller class sizes. Supporting teachers not about salaries, it is the future of the district and education for children. 

The hedge fund operators say, Destroy the district.  Split it into 32 parts that are hard to take care of.  They want to pit teachers against each other on a spreadsheet and if schools aren’t doing well, close them; fire everyone and turn them into Charter schools.  They’ve hired these school closers and privatizers from Chicago, Denver, and Newark to rationalize their plan to ‘turnaround’ schools based on certain set characteristics.  They use testing to rationalize closing schools.  Goldberg said she says schools have been overdoing testing—90% of testing is not useful.

We spend a dollar for every two dollars they spend in New York schools.  Special education is incredibly underfunded in California, even more underfunded in LA Unified, because the most expensive kids go to LAUSD rather than charter schools—Charters find a reason to not admit or expel special needs students.  More special education aides are needed.  The cut them back in 2011 and never restored the positions.  They need more special ed teachers also.  Another issue in that children with emotional and behavioral conditions are all lumped in the same classrooms as children with Autism and those with physical disabilities.  They don’t differentiate between the needs of groups of kids that have different special education needs.

               A man from South Gate asked what about the ones who say we need Latino representation on the school board?  In two months, they’d never have a chance against a charter candidate.  There are ten people in the race.  Two I’d support in 2020.  Two more dropped out.  I’d help them all to learn to organize and get their 2020 campaign formed.  It is my responsibility to find new folks.  When I was in the assembly trying to get the sentencing disparities for crack vs. powder cocaine changed, and they really need to legalize it to end the crime, the newspaper La Opinion said I was the best Latina in Sacramento. 

The LA Times has had a forty year hate on for LAUSD, but they never mention we get half the money that New York does for its schools.  We have to change this in Sacramento.

One of the ways Jackie Goldberg discussed to do that is tax reform.  Proposition 13, a 1978 law that cut property taxes and limited the growth in tax assessments as property values skyrocketed was a bad idea brought about by the ineptitude of the state legislature at that time.  People on fixed incomes and living on retirement savings were losing their homes because of rising assessments; the state failed to fix the problem.  Republicans changed the tax law for everyone, including businesses; commercial property owners who were not taxed except when the owner died or sold the company.  California is the 5th wealthiest economy in the world but has some of the worst public schools.

We also need to get rid of sales taxes, a regressive tax that disproportionately takes from the poor and working families, and replace it with a tax on luxury items and expensive business services, such as pricy lawyer fees and consultants.  It takes a 2/3 vote to change the tax structure.  We have 2/3 in each house in the State Legislature, so maybe we can get it done—change sales, business, and property taxes.  There is no excuse to have homelessness, hunger, and extreme poverty in California, in such a rich state.

In terms of a law letting non-citizen parents of children attending public school vote in school board elections, we can’t do it now; maybe in 2020 or 2022.

In addition to supporting the teachers’ strike, and my campaign, parents, progressives, and community advocates who want to help should call school board president Monica Garcia every day.  She is the leader of the pack of charter school backers.  Tell them what you think privatizing public education.

Also, we need to have to reform charter school legislation in Sacramento.  I am a member of DSA, and will add DSA to my kitchen cabinet along with a lot of other folks.  

               Goldberg described herself.  She attended the University of California Berkeley in the 1960’s, and was actively involved in the Free Speech Movement, student protests and sit-ins that shook off the last shackles of McCarthyism and proceeded the New Left and wave of student protests against the war in Vietnam. After earning a Masters’ degree from the University of Chicago, she tried to get a job as a teacher, but because of her political activities, was unable to secure employment.  The FBI kept sending letters to schools she applied for, telling them that she was a radical troublemaker, and not to hire her.  One day standing in line to apply at the Compton school district, she came across a social studies teacher who was leaving to work in a community college.  She managed to sign an employment contract right there, before the FBI could let the district know not to hire her.

In the early 80’s Los Angeles schools were severely overcrowded.  Students would go to school for forty-five days, then have fifteen off, or only go to class alternating half days.  She joined a movement to desegregate the schools; not just black and white, but also black and brown, and was elected to the school board and served as its President in the 1980’s.  Claiming that every student could take band camp when she ran the school board, Goldberg boasted that hundreds played band in every high school class, and the district made significant improvements.

As a city council woman in the 1990’s Jackie boasted having helped pass a living wage ordinance, a worker retention ordinance that prohibited government contractors from laying off their staff once contracts switched hands.  She also claimed to have helped pass an ordinance requiring landlords to fix derelict buildings, which resulted in 1000 units sold and converted to low income housing.  Jackie rattling off a list of accomplishments in her long career as an elected official, said she helped bring same sex domestic partner benefits to the city of Los Angeles.  Everyone was in favor of it, but no one wanted to be the first one to stick their neck out, she explained.  After Los Angeles, Disney followed, and then the rest of the entertainment industry.  Disney, with same sex benefits, would hire all the creative gays, stealing talent from other companies, who then began to offer same sex benefits to compete.  She wanted to teach again, but served as a Children’s deputy to County supervisor Gloria Molina, to help Foster Children – kids in group homes who are often neglected and abused.

She didn’t want to serve as an Assemblywoman, she claimed, but at the urging of now Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, decided to run to secure funding for education.

School construction was funded by school bond issuance, but school districts had to have their own property in order to get in line for the state construction funds.  Overcrowded districts had trouble securing land, there wasn’t much open land in LA, Anaheim and other crowded districts, it took forever to buy parcels or take land by eminent domain.  By the time LAUSD was able to get the land, the state bond money had been spent.  With Bob Hertzberg as the speaker, Goldberg wrote the Bond issuance that divided funds into two groups—one for severely overcrowded districts like Los Angeles, and one for everyone else.

In response to a question from a member of DSA criticizing Goldberg for her relationship to certain elected officials, she responded. “Eric Garcetti,” she declared, using questions to prolong her longwinded campaign speech, that glossed over her life and accomplishments in four decades of public service, “he’s a mixed bag.  He put me in charge of a targeted local hiring program.”  It’s hired 504 people, formerly homeless and incarcerated.  That was a bold move.  He put me in charge of it.  We changed civil service to allow vulnerable workers to get into city jobs—living wage jobs with a career path.  We hired 500 in 18 months.  I always find ways to be critical.  On some of what he’s done in terms on homelessness and police, I don’t agree with him.  If I have an occasion to speak, I do it.  I play a different role.  Tony Atkins and Anthony Rendon, the leaders of the legislature—I support them on things I agree with and if not, I’m critical. 

She worked on car emissions standards and diesel standards in Sacramento, it really showed the power of the oil companies.  But I was able to work across the aisle, even Republicans supported emissions standards.  It was the kids in Bakersfield and the central valley, in Republican areas, that were getting asthma and getting sick because of diesel they used on the farm equipment.

There is no Trump Hotel in Los Angeles because of me, Goldberg boasted.  Trump’s ambassador hotel we had a three-day fight in Sacramento led by Maxine Waters, among others, and set aside 300 million to get Trump to sell the hotel.  He got into financial trouble and took the money.  Now we have community school at that location.

After Jackie Goldberg’s long speech, Democratic Socialist, union leader, and LAUSD teacher Erika Alvarez spoke.  Erika, a self-described indigenous Latina teacher, had dropped out of the race for District 5, but plans on running again in 2020.  What if, she asked, if on Monday, after picketing schools in the morning and leafleting parents in the afternoon, the union’s 30,000 teachers all spent a few hours knocking on doors of parents in their school’s communities.  In two hours, we could knock on 1.2 million doors, and directly engage parents and community members who are fed disinformation by the LA Times and other media outlets about why we are striking, and how we are fighting for students, their parents, lower class sizes, and better schools.  This is how we get the word out.  We go door to door to put posters in businesses; we sit in bars and give posters to our friends to distribute and put up in their windows.  

It is an exciting time for DSA and teachers in Los Angeles.  We have the organization and vision to make a drastic change.  Its like what we tell students in the classroom.  They say, Ms. Alvarez, I don’t know how to do anything!  Yes, you do, I tell them.  And I teach them to have confidence in themselves and their own abilities.  We must do the same thing in Los Angeles.  We have to capture the voter imagination and the imagination of all the people.  I will never take charter school money, money from Wal-Mart, who are pouring funds into schools because all they want for our students’ future is to be Wal-Mart workers.  This is the future of organizing, and election campaigns, everywhere.  DSA should build a teacher arm, to reach out to these parents, to reach out to other teachers so they know their rights and the power of their voice.  Together, we are stronger than the money of multi-million-dollar political machines.

The final speaker, Mark Campbell, a Democratic Socialist labor committee member, teacher, and union activist, read a speech about the importance of the fight to defend public education.  Public education empowers and emancipates working families, with knowledge and economic upward mobility.  It levels the playing field, and gives the children of immigrants, of the poor, of working mothers the same educational opportunity to study hard, learn, and go to college as the rich.  It is the starting point of social democracy.

Strikes weaponize the withdrawal of workers labor to be an instrument of power.  But it takes more than going on strike to win.  We have to have the support of families, children, and the community.  Bosses can’t thrive when the community turns against them.  We have to let them know that the whole city is watching.

One comment

  1. Like many of my progressive friends, we side against special interests, and corporate greed. We have to watch them and regulate them adequately and timely. But, in a democracy, in good government and transparency, let’s not forget the people and whom best represents its majority, especially after years of marginalization, with the “we-know-better” narrative. And this article speaks of this tactic. And the article even goes further to marginalize the southeast portion of the district by getting the WRONG city included in the district. There are more than a few highly qualified candidates whom are latino. I, for one, have shown my effectiveness as a passionate activists and experienced representative to hold all accountable in the delivery of public education to all.

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