SuperPAC Weighs in on Burbank School Board Election

By On February 24, 2013

SuperPAC Weighs in on School Board Election

Two candidates for the upcoming Burbank School Board election have received funding from a national SuperPAC called Parents and Teachers for Putting StudentsFirst.

According to Jessica H. Ng, Regional Press Secretary for StudentsFirst, the PAC sent mailings supporting Charlene Tabet and David Dobson as an independent expenditure activity which was not coordinated with the candidates.  The official position of StudentsFirst, according to Ng is:

“StudentsFirst is committed to both enacting student-focused reforms and electing reform-minded individuals, including at the local level. As members of the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education, Charlene Tabet and David Dobson will be important partners in our ongoing push to ensure that every student attends a great school and is taught by a great teacher, and that’s the reason we’re pleased to support them both.”

So what is StudentsFirst, and why are they interested in Burbank?

Policy-related documents provided by Ng indicate StudentsFirst is in their third year of operation, with 2012 the PAC’s first full election cycle.  In 2012 the PAC provided funding and other support to more than 100 candidates around the United States on a bi-partisan basis,  and several  contested ballot initiatives through direct contributions and independent expenditures.

Sacramento-based StudentsFirst is active today in 17 states, including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

In addition to engaging in school board elections, StudentsFirst also provides funding and support for other elections in the state, including the recent California State Assembly election in 2012.  StudentsFirst contributed more than $280,000 on targeted mail and GOTV (get out the vote) activities assisting Democrat Cheryl Brown’s bid for California’s 47th State Assembly District.

In a 20 February Los Angeles Times article StudentsFirst is also tagged for contributing $250,000 to candidates Garcia, Anderson, and Sanchez in the upcoming LAUSD school board elections.

StudentsFirst is the brainchild of Michelle Rhee, a former teacher in Baltimore, and most recently Chancellor of Washington DC’s public schools.  Following the DC gig, in 2010 Rhee started her national organization StudentsFirst to continue promoting her ideology of education reform.

Rhee and her organization have been both praised, and aggressively criticized for their approach to education reform.  There are also numerous allegations related to Rhee’s personal actions, including a Washington Post article raising the possibility she is using the organization’s website and organization to promote her book, “RADICAL – Fighting to Put Students First.”

Other claims indicate Rhee and StudentsFirst have misrepresented actual school and student performance in their reports, including allegations of student test fraud in Washington DC resulting in inflated student performance on testing, and refusal by Rhee’s office to respond to parent concerns (in Washington DC) as reported by the Daily Beast, an online edition of the weekly magazine Newsweek.

So we go back to the question, “why Burbank?”

Is it because issues such as Measure “S” may bring an addition $110 million under the control of BUSD?  Is it because Burbank’s student performance is unacceptable to the city and watchdogs like StudentsFirst?  Both Burbank and Burroughs High Schools rank about average in California (according to US News California High School Index) in both testing and college readiness.  Is it because StudentsFirst, frequently cited for being anti-union an in favor of transition to a charter schools model, is looking to extend their influence in bringing down California’s teachers unions?

The answer is not fully apparent, and requests to StudentsFirst for additional information have not yet been answered.

Are StudentsFirst and Rhee Necessarily Bad for Burbank?

StudentsFirst has more than 2 million members, and according the Washington Post may be accumulating funding that will hit $1 billion.  Clearly there are a lot of Americans dissatisfied with the state of education in the country, and the apparent free fall of US education levels compared with other countries around the world.

Any visible and powerful leader will have supporters and detractors, and Rhee is no exception.  Whether we agree with her approach to education reform or not, she is stimulating conversation and debate whenever she appears in public, or engages in an election or project, such as the Burbank School Board Election.

In this respect, Burbank can accept Rhee’s participation, or interference, in Burbank’s election process.  Whether or not you vote for Dobson and Tabet, or another candidate, the contributions StudentsFirst is making to a highly visible election process may encourage open debate on the viewpoints, issues, and visions of each candidate.

New residents in Burbank, immigrants exercising their newly acquired right to participate in a democratic process, parents of children enrolled in Burbank public schools – all have an open invitation and opportunity to participate in the election process.  And ultimately the voters will decide which candidate or ideology is right for Burbank.

The campaign contributions have already been made – let’s get beyond any concerns on ethics or external influence, and rake our candidates over the coals to get to the core of their motivations, potential, and suitability to represent our community and students.

Important Dates:

  • 26 February – Primary Nominating Election (city council, city treasurer, city clerk, board of education)
  • 5 March – School Board Elections (including Measure S)

School Board Candidates:

  • Charlene “Char” Tabet
  • David Dobson
  • Armond Aghakhanian
  • Larry Applebaum
  • Steve Ferguson

NOTE:  Mailings by Parents and Teachers for Putting Students First supporting both candidate Dobson and Tabet have the disclaimer: Paid for by Parents and Teachers for Putting Students First.  Not authorized by a candidate or committee controlled by a candidate.