Each of the five total candidates in a pair of Alameda County Board of Educations races on the March primary ballot have small to non-existent campaigns of their own. But voters in Alameda’s Area 2 and in Hayward’s Area 5 know these races are being fought in their mailboxes by way of tens of thousands of dollars worth in mailers paid mostly by out-of-state charter school interests, and less so, by local public teachers unions.
The amount of money being spent by Independent Expenditure committees and teachers union is not extremely large but the disparity between the roughly $100,000 spent by them is notable in relation to how little each candidate in both races for the Board of Education have raised and spent. The flood of outside money, in fact, is again revealing yet another battle in the ongoing proxy war between public school supporters and proponents of charter schools
This March primary season has seen the bulk of the charter school support coming from Jim Walton and Alice Walton, two billionaire heirs to the Walmart fortune. Together, they recently increased funding for the nationwide independent expenditure committee named Charter Public School PAC with $1 million in their own money. If there is a group more reviled among East Bay progressives than charter schools, it is, perhaps, charter school proponents backed by Walmart billionaires.
The Walton’s PAC has spent equally for their two supported candidates, Alameda County Area 2 Board of Education Trustee Amber Childress and Janevette Cole, a challenger for the open seat in Area 5.
For example, a $15,000 expenditure for Childress on Jan. 17 was followed by a $15,000 expenditure days later for Cole. Same for support from the Champion of Education PAC, a separate group that also supports charter schools. They spent $10,000 separately in support of Childress and Cole within days of each other in late January. But Childress and Cole has also benefited from a $20,000 contribution from Stacy Schusterman, a charter school advocate based in Tulsa, Okla. The two contributions amount for roughly two-thirds of both Chidlress and Cole’s total campaign largess, according to recent finance reports filed on Feb. 20.
But the flood of support and mailers by the group for Childress and Cole ostensibly amounts to their entire public campaign. And it may be the determining factor for which candidate wins the two seats on the Board of Education.
In addition, clues contained in the PAC’s mailers strongly suggest some level of coordination with the bare-bones campaigns of Childress and Cole. Independent Expenditures committees and Political Action Committees can spend unlimited amounts of money for and against candidates and ballot measures, but it is illegal to coordinate their efforts with the campaigns.
Charter Public Schools PAC produced a mailer earlier this month in support of Childress that showed the candidate leaping in the air with enjoyment along with elementary school students. Later, a mailer from the same group in favor of Cole featured the candidate posing outside with the same elementary school students shown in Childress’ mailer. The evidence strongly suggests coordination between the PAC and the campaigns.
Mailers sent by Charter Public Schools PAC in support of Amber Childress in Area 2, left, and Janevette Cole in Area 5. Both pieces feature the same set of elementary school children.
Although illegal if proven, such coordination is common and an open secret, at least, in East Bay politics. Conversely, Childress tweeted and commented two weeks ago while attending a City of Alameda Democratic Club that her opponent, Angela Normand, walked into an endorsement meeting last month for the Alameda County Democratic Party with members of the Oakland Education Association, suggesting coordination between her opponent and the teachers union.
The Oakland Education Association and the Alameda Education Association teachers unions, along with the Hayward Education Association, meanwhile, have struggled to keep up with the Walton PAC’s spending.
The Oakland teachers union has spent almost $20,000 in support of Normand, a proponent of public schools, through last Friday, according to finance reports. Normand is a member of the California Teachers Association executive board. Alameda teachers have pitched in $3,052 for a mailer sent to voters two weeks ago, and the San Lorenzo teachers union contributed $3,000 to Normand’s campaign, even though the unincorporated area is not part of Area 2.
Four years ago, both the Oakland and Alameda teachers unions suffered defeat at the hands of Childress, who upset the incumbent Marlon McWilson, a strong public school advocate. The unions were later criticized for failing to react quickly and strong enough to the prospects that McWilson was endangered of losing his seat on the Board of Education. However, McWilson harbors no hard feelings against Childress. He has endorsed her re-election.
The Ward 5 seat in Hayward was left open after long-time Board of Education Trustee Fred Sims announced he would not seek re-election.
The menu of candidates in Area 5 is viewed by some members of the local Democratic Party, teachers unions, elected officials, and some Hayward voters as sub-optimal. A Hobson’s choice between a former Hayward school boardmember supported at arms-length by teachers, a controversial current Hayward school boardmember, and a supporter of charter schools.
Area 5 candidate Lisa Brunner lost re-election to the Hayward school board in 2018. But any connection to the Hayward Unified School District is viewed as problematic for any candidate. Hayward’s underperforming schools have long been a strong point of contention for the city’s electorate, in addition, to its reputation for its raucous board meetings.
Last week, the Hayward Education Association sent a mailer to voters in Ward 5 in support of Brunner. The mailer, however, is highly unusual in that it does not include an image of Brunner on the two-sided piece.
Brunner’s campaign did not file a finance report last month. A late expenditure report was filed on Feb. 11 that details a $12,000 contribution to her campaign from a Sacramento-based media consulting firm. The third candidate in the race, current Hayward school boardmember Luis Reynoso, also did not file a finance report, but that’s not unusual for him. His past campaigns for the Hayward school board and the state assembly were not well-financed.