BY DIANA LAMBErt, The Sacramento Bee
Charter school advocates have spent nearly $300,000 backing candidates for three seats on the board of the Sacramento County Office of Education, positions that once were considered sleepy political outposts.
Besides providing oversight for Sacramento County school districts, the education board reviews the charters of countywide charter school systems and hears appeals from charter schools whose applications have been rejected by local school districts.
In recent years, the California Charter Schools Association has emerged as a major player in supporting candidates for the board. This year, the advocacy group has focused its donations on three candidates: Joanne Ahola, who works for the association; Heather Davis, who is married to Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, an employee of the charter schools group; and Roy Grimes, a former county education board member challenging an incumbent who has voted against reauthorizing charter schools.
Carlos Marquez, senior political director for the Charter Schools Association, said it views the Sacramento County Office of Education as “a really strong safeguard, a strong backstop for (preventing) politically motivated denials (of charter schools) at the local level.”
“We are happy with the board,” he added. “It’s really important right now that we maintain continuity.”
The county Office of Education has so far chartered five schools – all part of a network operated by Margaret Fortune that focuses on closing the achievement gap between African American and other students. Fortune recently finished serving as a California State University trustee and was an adviser for former Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis.
“I think it’s unfortunate that they are throwing so much money into this race,” said Orlando Fuentes, 65, who is running for the Area 6 seat to represent the south county, including Elk Grove. “It’s clear to me that the California Charter Schools Association is eager and willing to put up this kind of money to get charter school advocates on public school boards.”
Unlike the expensive 2012 races for three SCOE board seats, teachers unions haven’t spent heavily so far, though the charter school spending hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I’m not surprised to see the Charter Schools Association spending money on candidates of their choice,” said Claudia Briggs, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association. “They are an organization that has an agenda. They .... support candidates that push their agenda.”
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