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Jackie Goldberg Is Back: Liberal L.A. Veteran Takes on Charter Movement in L.A. School District Special Election

7:04 AM PST on February 17, 2019

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he L.A.’s teachers union is on a roll. They led the first teachers strike in 30 years and, by most accounts, won big. They forced superintendent Austin Beutner to sign a new labor contract largely on their terms. And they forced a majority pro-charter school board to sign off on a temporary cap on new charter schools.

    The pendulum began to swing in their favor last year. That’s when Ref Rodriguez, the District 5 representative and president of the seven-member board, was forced to resign under a cloud of scandal. He left the board split three-three on the question of charters. Now the race to replace Ref is underway. A special election is scheduled for March 5.

    Perhaps best of all for the teachers union's results, the word “charter” may have become in this election something like Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort – “he who must not be named.” Campaign funding pleas and endorsements are announced without any mention of the word for reform proponents from the charter-school community, who are supporting candidate Allison Bajracharya.

    One figure relishing the new atmosphere after the strike in January is Jackie Goldberg, who has emerged as the candidate to beat by virtue of her massive name recognition and liberal street cred. Goldberg, a veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960s, sat down for an interview with L.A. Taco at her home of 40 years in Echo Park.

    "That worm has turned,” Goldberg said.

    “It is still eating at things, but the fact that the charter candidate cannot use the word charter is telling" Goldberg said. "We’ve been at 10 debates already and [Bajracharya] has not used the word ‘charter’ once. The word has not come out of her mouth.”

    Jackie Goldberg is an icon of California liberal politics. (Photos courtesy of Jackie Goldberg.)
    Jackie Goldberg is an icon of California liberal politics. (Photos courtesy of Jackie Goldberg.)

    [dropcap size=big]G[/dropcap]oldberg, 74, represented this same district in the 1980s. If she wins election next month she'd be coming home, a liberal icon in a city of liberals.

    Goldberg's legacy of left-wing activism goes back half a century, to the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in the early 1960s. That history is depicted nostalgically in the documentary Berkeley in the 60s.She left the California state Assembly in 2006, and after more than a decade on the sidelines, she’s now re-entering electoral politics.

    Goldberg is disarmingly straight forward, accessible and down to earth. She’s cut from a unique cloth for an L.A. politician. She even lists her home phone number in the white pages — yes, she still owns a landline — and an older model Prius in need of a car wash, complete with scruffy KPFK bumper sticker can be spotted in her driveway.

    So, she comes out of semi-retirement to run for her old District 5 seat. It was left vacant when Rodriguez stepped down last year in July. He was convicted of one felony conspiracy charge relating to campaign contributions during the 2015 LAUSD election.

    No single candidate will likely garner more than 50 percent of the vote on March 5, sending the top two into a runoff for the final May 14 vote, according to Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.

    The winner of the special election will fill the seat until what would’ve been the end of Rodriguez’s term in December 2020.

    Although there are 10 candidates, three have already emerged as front runners. Goldberg faces Heather Repenning, former vice president of the Public Works Commission, has the backing of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the SEIU Local 99, which represents thousands of education workers.

    Another top tier candidate is Allison Bajracharya, who recently left an administrative position at the Camino Nuevo network of charter schools. She could have an inside track to nab support from the powerful California Charter Schools Association, according to analysts.

    Bajracharya rejected Goldberg’s characterization that there is a “charter school candidate.”

    Actually, the CCSA has yet to formally endorse any candidate.

    “Why is Jackie trying to alienate those families?” Bajracharya told L.A. Taco. “Jackie Goldberg is creating a false divide that pits parents against parents. Over 150,000 families send their children to L.A. charter public schools, because they believe those schools offer the best chance of success.”

    RELATED: When One School Is Wedged Onto Another and Starts Taking Its Space ~ An L.A. Campus Story

    UTLA Teachers Strike Rally on January 18, 2019. Photo by Brian Feinzimer.
    Los Angeles, CA - Jan. 18: UTLA Teachers Stike Rally on January 18, 2019. (Brian Feinzimer)

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he struggle between charter school proponents and the teachers union has fueled bitter electoral LAUSD contests for decades, beginning as far back as the 1990s, according to Sonenshein. “It is a little bit like World War 1 with the trenches moving one way for a while, and then they would move back the other way,” he said.

    Attrition warfare may explain why $17 million was spent in three school board contests two years ago, lending the upper hand to charter forces for a short time. That’s also why this special election is pivotal. The top three candidates have accumulated so far about half a million dollars in campaign contributions, according to the L.A. Ethics Commission. That’s huge?

    “I have always put the interests of kids and families first, and I am fighting to make sure every child has a good education, whether at a traditional LAUSD school or a charter public school,” Bajracharya said.

    LAUSD schools in District 5 are, by one estimate, 89 percent Latino. While seven of the 10 candidates running are Latino, with just two weeks left before the March 5 runoff, it’s unclear any candidate can break out from such a crowded field to claim the mantle, the Latino candidate.

    The inkblot-test-shaped district that is Board District 5 has been drawn, and re-drawn to increase Latino representation. The top three candidates are white women vying to represent an overwhelmingly Latino district.

    Courtesy of Jackie Goldberg.
    Courtesy of Jackie Goldberg.

    From 1991, when Goldberg stepped down from the board, a Latino represented the district just twice: Yolie Flores from 2007 to 2011 and Ref Rodriguez from 2015 to 2018, seven of the last 28 years.

    “That’s fine, as far as that’s how democracy works sometimes. I get it,” said Michael Trujillo, who was appointed by school board member Richard Vladovic to the LAUSD redistricting commission in 2011. “But that is neither the spirit of the civil rights act nor the voting rights act.”

    “We drew this district to make it a majority-minority district so we could have better Latino representation on the school board,” she said.

    What is likely is that the school board election will again become a proxy fight between the teachers union and charter schools advocates over the future of education in Southern California.

    Amid that contest in education politics, L.A.’s Latinos have been under-represented. Worse still, the kids in the fifth attend underperforming schools.

    RELATED: L.A. Taco Podcast: A Conversation About Teaching and Tacos With an Educator on the Picket Lines

    Golberg at home today. (Photo by Philip Iglauer)
    Golberg at home today. (Photo by Philip Iglaur)

    [dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]s many as 39 LAUSD schools, out of 98 examined by Parent Revolution, a nonprofit and at times sharp critic of L.A. Unified’s traditional schools, were the lowest-performing. About 27,500 students are not meeting basic academic standards, according to the group’s analysis, and only six schools or 3,000 students made the grade. Tellingly, everyone of those six schools are located outside the heavily Latino southeast part of the district.

    They were assessed in English language ability and mathematics in the fall semester of 2017. Parent Revolution used data published by California School Dashboard, a state-funded database of school assessments.

     Goldberg insists the solution to underperforming schools lies in Sacramento.

    She wants to push for revision of Prop 13. Such an initiative has already made it on to the state’s November 2020 ballot. Goldberg says Californians should vote to roll back protections for commercial and industrial properties and leave protections for homeowners, an approach termed as “split roll” by proponents.

    They call the initiative, the “California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act,” and some claim the tax increase could raise as much as $10 billion for local communities and schools.

    Goldberg said she wants to increase the school board’s budget by also raising taxes on property owners and on what she describes as California 150 billionaires: “They should have a 2 percent tax on the wealth every year.”

    “The only way we get changes in Sacramento is if we get changes at the most populous school district,” Goldberg added.

    RELATED: Who Is L.A. Teachers Union’s Chief Negotiator? ~ Meet Arlene Inouye

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