“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
-Sir Winston Churchill
To date, candidates and outside committees have reported spending $1,649,613.26 on the 2015 LAUSD School Board race for District 3. These funds not only ensured that the voices of the charter schools and the unions were heard, it also guaranteed that students and parents could not be heard above the din. Instead of voters having access to a much-needed debate about education issues, they were left to make decisions based on character assassinations and outright lies. Is it any wonder that only 8.6% of registered voters took part in the election? Factor in those who do not even bother to register and citizen participation drops to below dismal.
As long as we have a Supreme Court that confuses corporations with citizenship and money with speech, there is little that can be done about the amount that is spent on our elections. However, before we give up counting votes in favor of just handing offices to those who can raise the most money, there are steps that we can take to reduce the influence of money in LAUSD elections. Some of these the new School Board can take care of by themselves while others will require the cooperation of the City Council. Any action will require pressure from an active citizenry:
END THE HUNGER GAME-STYLE DISTRICTS: It is bad enough that the seven districts of the LAUSD are drawn ignoring obvious geographic landmarks. For example, District 4 plows through the Santa Monica mountains to swallow the southernmost portions of the Valley and even juts past Sherman Way at one point to encompass Sutter Middle School. To make matters worse, it is apparent that this has been done in some cases to segregate races while ignoring neighborhood cohesiveness. Is it a coincidence that the border of District 3 and District 6 is the 405 freeway, with the exception of a section that happens to be heavily Hispanic? Board members should feel responsible to all students and their districts should not purposely exclude any racial, ethnic or socioeconomic group.
EDUCATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION 1: Another negative side- effect to these gerrymandered districts is that some children go to school in one district while their parents vote in another. In some cases, their elementary school may be in a different district than their middle or senior high schools. This makes the board member unaccountable to their stakeholders. The City Council and School Board need to work together to ensure that school boundaries and voting districts are the same.
EDUCATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION 2: Stakeholders who lack voting rights also are unable to hold Board members accountable. New York City has experimented with allowing parents who are not citizens the right to vote for representatives of the School Board that educates their children. Other countries have found that lowering the voting age encourages younger students to become active voters. Giving high school students the right to vote in School Board elections would be a good starting point to see if this would work in our city.
DISTRICT FUNDS SHOULD NOT BE USED FOR CAMPAIGNING: Members of Congress are prohibited from sending out mass mailings to their constituents in the 90 days prior to an election. LAUSD Board Members should be subject to a similar restriction, although one with less loopholes. Similarly, taxpayers should not pay to promote incumbents through the use of bulk e-mails, robocalls or town hall meetings in the days leading up to an election. District funds should also not be used to print brochures whose sole purpose is to promote the officeholder.
LEGAL BRIBERY: While matching funds are available to candidates in City Council races, a similar program does not exist for LAUSD elections. This leaves the city clerk without a tool to coerce candidates into behaving in a way that benefits the voters such as participating in debates or providing videotaped statements to the city’s television station. A system funded by a tax on independent expenditures would also give more control back to the actual candidates and help compensate for the unregulated spending by outside groups.
OWNING SOCIAL MEDIA: Once a Board Member places a Twitter Handle or any other social media address on a taxpayer funded document, that address should become property of the district. Constituents should not be blocked from commenting on these pages as this represents a move by government to limit their speech. If office holders want social media accounts where they control the message, then they should spend their own funds to promote them.
FULL ETHICS DISCLOSURE: Both Filiberto Gonzalez and I filed ethics complaints during the primary election. However, under current procedures, the City’s Ethics Commission does not publicly disclose if they investigated any of these matters. Whenever possible, the voters deserve to know the results of any investigations before they go to the polls. Otherwise, enforcement actions just become a cost of winning elections by any means possible.
I FOUGHT THE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL AND THE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL WON: While some Neighborhood Councils provided access to the electorate for all candidates, others permitted their meetings to be used as a campaign forum for a single candidate. If the city is not willing to enforce the rules, then the LAUSD School Board should prohibit its members from representing the District during the lead up to an election.
The next round of LAUSD elections will take place in two years. If insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” then we would be crazy not to demand some type of electoral reform. Otherwise, the focus will continue to be on outside interests, the 640,000 students will continue to be ignored and the vast majority of the electorate will continue to stay home.