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Rhee Candidate Crushed in W. Sacramento School Board Race

Though Michelle Rhee's name was not on the ballot this week in a race for a school board seat in West Sacramento, Calif., voters there indirectly turned down the former District of Columbia schools chancellor.

Francisco Castillo, a spokesman for Rhee's Sacramento-based StudentsFirst organization, was trounced in his bid to fill a vacancy on the board that oversees nine schools, despite a campaign treasury of nearly $60,000. More that half that war chest came from StudentsFirst, according to The Sacramento Bee. The winner, Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, was backed by the local teachers' union, which kicked in most of the $30,000 she raised for her campaign, according to The Bee.

Castillo also had the endorsement of West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, a veteran of the education policy and advocacy scene in California.

The West Sacramento race—on a far smaller scale—mirrored what unfolded this week in Los Angeles, where the race for three seats on the school board drew huge sums of money, most of it from education activists like Rhee who support charter schools and the revamping of practices around how teachers are hired, evaluated, and fired. The Los Angeles teachers' union, as well as the American Federation of Teachers, also kicked in big money in the Los Angeles board races, which ended with a sort of split decision between the two sides.

StudentsFirst gave $250,000 to the Coalition for School Reform, a political action committee aligned with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that raised nearly $4 million to support a slate of three candidates in Los Angeles. Only one of those, Mónica García, who is the school board's current president, won outright. In the most expensive race, incumbent Steve Zimmer defeated challenger Kate Anderson in a close race. The coalition spent roughly $1.5 million to defeat Zimmer and install Anderson. Zimmer, while significantly outspent, did have substantial resources behind him from United Teachers Los Angeles and other local labor groups, as well as $150,000 from the AFT.

In the third race, Antonio Sanchez, who was backed by the coalition (and endorsed by UTLA, but didn't get any money from the union), didn't garner enough votes to avoid a runoff in May against Monica Ratliff, who is a teacher and member of UTLA. That will now be the race to watch.

StudentsFirst also got involved in last month's nonpartisan primary in Burbank, Calif., by producing mailers in support of two candidates for the local board there. Both advanced to an April 9 runoff.

Also, today, Diane Ravitch, an education scholar and outspoken critic of wealthy education activists and their school reform agenda, announced the formation of a new advocacy group to support political candidates. Michele McNeil has the details about Ravitch's Network for Public Education over at Politics K-12.

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