By Christina Nairn
LAUSD School Board President Steve Zimmer said at the Paul Revere BD4 candidate forum Thursday night that he opposes “turning people against each other.” I appreciate that sentiment and agree that in this time of national political division, unity is what we need.
I’d really like to take Zimmer at his word when it comes to the kind of campaign he plans to run.
However, a false and divisive mailer arrived in our mailbox last week on his behalf, which tried to link candidates Nick Melvoin and Allison Holdorff Polhill to President Donald Trump and his nominee for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, with photos and text saying they would “implement the Trump/DeVos” agenda.
It’s an absurd notion, not only because both candidates have publicly stated their ardent opposition to DeVos and Trump, but in the case of Nick, because he also worked for President Obama, worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was endorsed last week by the Los Angeles County Young Democrats.
The evidence the mailer cites is the candidates’ support for high-quality, nonprofit charter schools – the very type supported by former Presidents Obama and Clinton.
My child attends an LAUSD neighborhood school, Kentwood elementary in Westchester. But district parents like me are offended by this attempt to conflate our high-quality local charter schools, which many of my friends’ kids attend and which I may apply to for middle school, with Trump.
There is no comparison between the type of equitable and accountable non-profit charter schools we have in LA, and the Trump/DeVos version of school choice -- which includes for-profit schools, vouchers that funnel public money to private schools and a lack of accountability when it comes to outcomes for kids.
Even worse, the mailer singles out by name an organization that runs one of LA’s highest-performing middle schools, City Charter Schools, where Nick served on the board for a time until he declared his candidacy. It said City “seeks to divert money to charter school operators and away from neighborhood public schools.”
This is precisely the type of divisive and scapegoating attack that must stop. It vilifies parents and families for choosing to send their children to what is objectively one of the best public middle schools in Zimmer’s own district.
And it scapegoats public school parents and children for the disastrous fiscal decisions under Zimmer’s watch that have led LAUSD to the brink of bankruptcy. This is a poster child for the kind of divisive rhetoric that pits public school parent against public school parent for the narrow benefit of a politician.
Zimmer is constantly dividing parents -- and not just charter parents versus district parents. He also drove a huge wedge between parents in Westchester and Playa Vista with his handling of the new Loyola Marymount STEM middle school’s enrollment priorities.
Parents like me are not naïve. We understand that negative campaigning has existed forever. But we will not stand for pitting parents against each other and scapegoating kids.
We trust that Zimmer will live up to his words at Thursday’s forum and will make sure these tactics stop immediately. If his campaign backers continue to propagate divisive rhetoric in his name, pitting parents in his own district against each other, we assume he will forcefully and repeatedly denounce such tactics until they stop.
The parents of board district 4 stand united – regardless of the type of school our kids attend -- in demanding a leader who is a role model for all our kids. If Zimmer wins this race, we may move our kids out of LAUSD for good.
--Christina Nairn is a Westchester mom and Speak UP member whose child attends Kentwood Elementary school