Charter school advocates poured $483,000 into Sacramento County Office of Education board races, helping to elect two on its slate of three candidates two weeks ago.
Despite the largesse, the candidate the California Charter Schools Association spent the most on – Roy Grimes – couldn’t defeat incumbent Harold Fong, who won with 58 percent of the vote. Grimes received $220,000 from the charter school association’s political action committee.
The two other candidates on the charter slate soundly defeated their opponents. Joanne Ahola, 34, who works for the charter school association, won the Area 4 seat with 57 percent of the vote, defeating Michael Alcalay to represent east Sacramento County. Heather Davis defeated three candidates with 53 percent of the vote to land the Area 6 seat representing south Sacramento County.
Their election makes the SCOE board even more favorable to charters, Fong said. Davis, 38, replaces John Scribner who “wasn’t a rubber stamp for charter schools,” he said.
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The charter school association PAC spent $3.3 million to promote candidates across the state in the June 7 election. Thirteen of the 15 candidates supported by the association either won outright or advanced to a November runoff, said Carlos Marquez, senior political director for CCSA.
Most of that money was spent on candidates running for the state Legislature, with about a half-million dollars supporting candidates for county offices of education – primarily the slate of three running for the Sacramento County Office of Education.
“We engaged vigorously because we recognize that county boards of education play a critical role in our sector to get a fair shake at being evaluated and ultimately approved,” Marquez said, adding that the California Charter Schools Association believes it faces politically motivated denials of charter schools at the district level.
County offices of education provide oversight for school districts, but they also review the charters of countywide charter school systems and hear appeals from charter schools whose applications have been rejected by local school districts.
The Sacramento 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 Americans and other students.
Fong, 67, was the only member of the county board to vote in December against reauthorizing the Fortune schools for another five years. He said he voted against the schools because he believes the focus on African American students promotes segregation.
“This is the second time they have done this to me,” Fong said of the charter school campaign against him. “I think the people have expressed their opinion about this and we should move forward and elect people who will actually do the work of the county board instead of picking on one vote and trying to use that one vote to get rid of someone.”
Marquez said the charter school association probably didn’t make a strong enough case to voters about why they should fire Fong. “I think we could have articulated more clearly that he is a decision-maker that has largely premised his votes on an ideological point of view and doesn’t often premise his case on what is best for kids,” he said.
Grimes, 66, said the election may have gone his opponent’s way because it was on the ballot with the mayoral race, which drew voters who favor labor and may not generally cast a ballot. The Sacramento Central Labor Council included Fong on its mailers.
“There are no tears shed,” said Grimes, who said he will continue to be an advocate for children and the community. “I’ve been doing it and I’m going to be still doing it.”
Grimes, who has served on the boards of both the county Office of Education and Sacramento City Unified, says there need to be changes at the county Office of Education. “The county Office of Education needs to be linked to neighborhoods,” Grimes said. “We don’t know who these folks are. They need to make a bigger effort to connect to underserved neighborhoods.”
Fong, who has served on the SCOE board for 14 years, is entering his fifth term. He said he isn’t opposed to all charter schools and has voted for them in the past. Each trustee looks at every charter application and considers the staff recommendations before making a decision, he said.
Ahola said she will focus on working with small businesses to build apprentice and internship programs for students in SCOE’s community schools. She also wants to challenge local school districts to provide more teacher development and to “authentically” engage families.
Davis is the wife of Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, who works for the California Charter Schools Association.