Thursday, January 29, 2015



Kayser cancels participation in two District 5 candidate debates

Posted on January 27, 2015 10:01 am by LA School Report |


The debating season kicks off tomorrow night with the first of several scheduled candidate forums for those running in the three contested LA United board districts.

But it’s starting with a buzzkill.

LAUSD school board member Bennett Kayser>>

After committing to appear, board member Bennett Kayser has withdrawn from the first of the District 5 debates, scheduled at the Goodwill Community Enrichment Center in northeast LA. His campaign told organizers that a “scheduling conflict” would preclude him from appearing in that debate and another, on Feb. 10 at the Oldtimers Foundation Family Center in Huntington Park.

Both events are sponsored by United Way-LA, which is also staging forums for candidates in the District 3 and District 7 races.

“We believe the constituents in District 5 deserve to hear from all candidates,” Elmer Roldan, a United Way official, told LA School Report. “These forums are designed to give all candidates the opportunity to answer questions from the community and to demonstrate they’re the better candidate running. He and his campaign have a responsibility to prove to communities that he can lead this district.”

Roldan confirmed that Kayser’s two challengers — Ref Rodriguez and Andrew Thomas —  would still appear in the two United Way debates, and so would all six contenders in the District 3 event and all three in a District 7 event. Tamar Galatzan is running for reelection in 3 and board President Richard Vladovic is defending his seat in 7.

Sarah Bradshaw, Kayser’s chief of staff, confirmed that Kayser intends to participate in three other debates for the District 5 candidates, all of them in February.


Why Did LAUSD School Board Member Bennett Kayser Pull Out of Two Debates?

By Hillel Aron, LA Weekly |

Bennett Kayser

Bennett Kayser

Wednesday, January 28, 2015   ::  School board elections don't get a lot of attention, in part because the job pays less than $45,000 and sounds like the rough equivalent of student council vice president. But it's the governing body of the second largest school district in the country, responsible for opening and closing schools which educate one in ten children in California. Despite that power, the board remains obscure.

And in contrast to, say, the nearly unanimous voice of the 15-member L.A. City Council, there's actually a deep idealogical divide on the seven-member school board. That means a lot can ride on the outcome of a single race.

That's especially true on March 3, the first school board election after John Deasy resigned as Superintendent. The resulting school board will, eventually, pick his successor (former supe Ray Cortines is doing the job temporarily), and there's quite a bit on the line. Teachers want a raise even as LAUSD student enrollment continues its long drop. And the courts could soon upend the long process for firing ineffective teachers in California. Oh and there's still that whole iPad mess to sort out.

The pivotal race this year is expected to be over the District 5 seat held since 2011 by Bennett Kayser. The affable, soft-spoken Kayser is the number one ally of the teacher's union, UTLA, and was the number one critic of Superintendent Deasy. He's also done more to fight new charter schools in Los Angeles, schools that are politically controversial but highly popular among parents of all social classes.

And so the "school reformers," who want to make it easier to fire teachers and support the proliferation of charter schools (and who loved John Deasy), have taken aim at Kayser, making his defeat their top priority.

That's a tall order. Incumbents to political office are notoriously difficult to weed out in Los Angeles. The small percentage of people who vote based on name recognition. And reformers, though well financed, have lost their last two school board races, against George McKenna and Monica Ratliff (plus the state superintendent race in November).

Yet the L.A. Unified school board remains delicately balanced, dominated by idiosyncratic, independents like Board President Richard Vladovic (also up for reelection, though he should win easily) and Steve Zimmer. Get rid of Kayser, and reformers stand a chance of hiring a Superintendent with a Deasy-esque ideology, if not a Deasy-esqe hothead temperament. 

Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas

The reformers seem to have found an impressively strong rival to Bennett, in Ref Rodriguez, a 43-year-old son of Mexican immigrants and the founder of Partnership to Uplift Communities, or PUC (pronounced puck.) He opened his first charter school in Eagle Rock and now has a network of 15 in Los Angeles. Unlike some candidates recruited by the reform side to run for the school board, including Alex Johnson and Antonio Sanchez, he's steeped in education experience. Nor is he some political crony.

A third candidate running for the same seat is no slouch either, Andrew Thomas, an educational researcher and co-founder of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, one of the top preschools in the area (known for teaching the children of non-Jewish hipsters all about Shabbat and yamakas).

So it's gonna be interesting to see these three guys in a room together at a debate.

That was supposed to happen tonight, January 28. But last Sunday, the blog LA School Report broke the news that Kayser wouldn't be attending two candidate forums he'd committed to, both sponsored by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.


"Scheduling conflicts," his aide Sarah Bradshaw said.

That's the standard line politicians give when they want to ditch something. When asked what exactly Kayser's scheduling conflicts were, we got radio silence.

Maybe Kayser really did have better things to do, and to be sure, he's still promising to participate in debates on February 5 and February 18.

But why pull out of both United Way forums?

One possible explanation is that United Way isn't exactly neutral. The organization has tentatively aligned itself with the reform movement and charter schools. David Tokofsky, a former school board member and consultant to the LAUSD administrator's union, who backs Kayser, says, "Anybody who thinks the United Way has run even-handed candidate forums should look into buying land in Florida."

A spokesman for United Way, Elmer Roldan, said he's "disappointed" that Kayser dropped out, especially on short notice.

"If he really wanted to engage community members, this should be a priority," he said. The forum will continue without Kayser.

Ref Rodriguez, his rival for the seat, said in a statement:

"It’s disappointing that the public won’t be able to hear from Mr. Kayser, but I’ll be there to talk with the community and outline my plan to transform our school system.” 

Ref Rodriguez

Ref Rodriguez

When told by L.A. Weekly that Kayser was bailing on the debate, the other rival candidate, Andrew Thomas, said: "That doesn’t surprise me at all. I think he thinks that he doesn't come across well in a forum. He has a quiet voice. He doesn’t project himself loudly."

Thomas avoided mentioning what is rarely mentioned now in news coverage, that Kayser has Parkinson's disease, which causes his hand to tremble at times, and at school board meetings he sometimes struggles to make arguments.

It's a delicate subject among reporters, politicos, and other people who watch the school board. Kayser has a disability, and he's written eloquently about it. He certainly shouldn't be persecuted or marginalized for having an illness.

On the other hand, critics feel that Kayser has generally kept himself far from the public eye, perhaps to avoid scrutiny. Skipping out on debates will only add to that sentiment.

Of course, as the frontrunner, Kayser might simply be following in the footsteps of other incumbents, who almost always enjoy the status of frontrunner – staying above the fray, playing it safe.


LAUSD board election ‘debate’ becomes Ref Rodriguez show

Posted on LA School Report  at January 29, 2015 10:54 am by Craig Clough

Ref Rodriguez @mandelljasonIt was supposed to be the first debate of the LA Unified school board races, but it wasn’t: Only one candidate showed up.

With board member Bennett Kayser and challenger Andrew Thomas pulling out, the floor for the District 5 forum belonged to candidate Ref Rodriguez, who had all the time he liked last night to make his case to a packed room at the Goodwill Community Enrichment Center in northeast LA.

The lack of a debate didn’t keep people away as about 200 reportedly showed up to hear Rodriguez.

The forum was the first in a series of campaign events sponsored by the United Way–Los Angeles. After committing to the debate, Kayser announced earlier this week that “scheduling conflicts” would prevent him from participating in it and in a second United Way event, Feb. 10 at the Oldtimers Foundation Family Center in Huntington Park. In response, Thomas also cancelled, saying he would not appear at any forum that did not include all three candidates.

Elmer Roldan, an organizer of the forum, told LA School Report, “The event really went well considering all the improvisation. We had a packed house with 200 residents in attendance.”


●●smf’s 2¢: Let us consider two things:

  • THE SOURCE: Two of these stories come from the LA School Report – LASR’s Fair+Balanced reporting is well documented here. The other story comes from Hillel Aron – who reports and expands upon the LASR article. And Aron is a former reporter for LASR!
  • THE UNITED WAY: The United Way is not the United Way of old, an alliance of do-gooders and charities like the Girl and Boy Scouts, Salvation Army and March of Dimes  who combined their efforts for the  common good - successors to the Community Chest.  Mayor Villaraigosa made over the United Way of Greater Los Angeles as a politically active, nonpartisan stealth delivery system for community action in his image – which includes $chool ®eform, Privatization, Union Busting and Charter Schools. 

I have nothing against political activism or having an agenda – I am guilty of both.

In the last school board election I attended a couple of UW/GLA’s candidate forums;  they were well-engineered affairs with loaded questions and were generally favorable to certain candidates. And during that election season ®eform aligned candidates were notably absent from community debates sponsored by true grass roots rather than AstroTurf community organizations.

There will be an all-candidates District 5  debate next Thursday Feb 5th  at 7 o’clock at Eagle Rock High School sponsored by seven neighborhood councils and public radio station KPCC. | C’mon down!


1 comment:

Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

When Monica Garcia skipped four (4) consecutive District 2 Neighborhood Coalition debate forums in 2013, the lucrative charter school industry didn't say anything. All five other candidates attended those forums. Have a forum financed by Eli Broad through his UWGLA public relations firm, and suddenly the profiteers and privatizers are up in arms. That kind of "selective outrage" on behalf of the interests of the rich and powerful really sums up those that support charter school greed over student need.