Steve Zimmer Defends Bennet Kayser Against Charter Industry AttacksLos Angeles school board member Steve Zimmer supports fellow board member Bennett Kayser, who has been the target of vicious attacks by the charter industry. Kayser has also been endorsed by Board chairman Dr. Richard Vladovic.
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By Steve Zimmer
Exactly two years ago, The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) sent out a series of campaign hit pieces blaming me for the budget cuts that hit LAUSD during the great recession. They attacked me on every front they could with over three million dollars raised from the likes of Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee and Eli Broad. It was the ugliest, most expensive school board campaign in the history of the nation. We thought it couldn't get any worse.
Then, last summer CCSA came after Dr. George McKenna with a vengeance. With lies, filth and distortion they tried to mar the career of one of the most beloved educators ever to teach and lead schools in South Los Angeles. The effort failed and McKenna won handily. We thought we had seen the worst.
We were wrong.
In the current School Board election campaign the Charter Schools Association has turned their sights on my colleague Bennett Kayser. In an onslaught of mail, radio and TV commercials, CCSA has gone completely off the rails in their effort to vilify Bennett Kayser. The first mailer attacks Kayser as a racist (http://bit.ly/racistattack) despite the fact that he has a 100% voting record on every major district transformation supported by civil rights groups. They claim he protected child molesters (http://bit.ly/distortingrecordsondismissals) when the entire Board has voted to dismiss every single teacher accused of crimes against children . The most disgusting TV advertisement (http://bit.ly/MockingDisability) directly mocks and mimics his public fight against Parkinson's.
We have never, ever seen attacks like these in political campaigns.
Bennett Kayser is a good man. His entire adult life has been devoted to public service. And he is an outstanding policy maker. He has been a leading advocate on the Board in support of Early Childhood Education, Adult Education, Arts Education and Immigrant Rights. His courage in his fight against Parkinson's has been a ray of hope to families fighting neurological diseases.
So why is the Charter Schools Association so hell bent on destroying this man?
One reason and one reason only: he votes against charter schools. Not all charter schools. But most. He has many explanations for this including that charter schools do not serve an equitable number of special education students.
It is fair to disagree with Kayser. In a tough campaign it is fair to attack him for voting against charters. But this is not what the Charter Schools Association is doing.
CCSA seeks to take over the Board of Education by any means necessary. The Association believes in a private sector, corporate model for privatizing our public schools. If CCSA's candidate, Ref Rodriguez, wins on March 3rd, CCSA will gain control of the LAUSD Board. This will mean an even greater expansion of charter schools and a much greater number of colocations on district campuses, without concern for the financial stability of our district or its impact on district students.
But that's not the most important reason we should stand against what CCSA is doing.
We should stand against this because it is morally and ethically wrong. By equating voting against a charter school to racism, CCSA cheapens the deep struggles that still face our city and our nation. The crimes against children in school districts are both heinous acts and moral outrages. But to use the suffering of children and families as a campaign issue is the lowest form of political exploitation I have ever seen.
The most shocking attack is the attack on Mr. Kayser's disability. I have seen very closely how difficult Bennett's struggle against Parkinson's is. It is a disease that affects his mobility, physical stability and his speech. But Parkinson's does not affect Bennett Kayser cognitively nor does it impair his conscience. Bennett Kayser is absolutely fit to serve a second term on the school board. Bennett talks openly about Parkinson's and uses his profile to raise awareness and allay fears about his disease. His courage to face down illness and to battle publicly should be celebrated not derided.
Do not let the Charter School Association get away with this. They are not only destroying a man; they are degrading our entire electoral process. This is one of those moments when if you do not directly stand against this, you are complicit.
This is especially true for every charter school that is a member of CCSA. If you think it is wrong to dehumanize a person, call upon the leadership of the organization that represents your schools to take these ads down.
Do not let Ref Rodriguez get away with this.
The candidate will tell you he has nothing to do with this. But when a candidate directly or indirectly accepts the dehumanization of his or her opponent it raises serious questions about their character. The willingness to view those who disagree with you as less than human is what actually raises questions about one's fitness to serve. I have grave concerns that the ethical recklessness that has driven this campaign will become the operational norm of the Board of Education if CCSA is successful in taking control.
Finally, it is a time to lead. We cannot let Bennett Kayser stand alone.
I call on all of our elected leadership and community leadership to stand against the moral low bar of this campaign. If we allow the public tar and feathering of those who follow their conscience to become an acceptable norm, we are endangering the very republic itself; we are rupturing the fibers of our social contract. Stand up and call on CCSA to take down its commercials and apologize for its mailers (firstname.lastname@example.org). Stand next to the courageous charters to withdraw their membership from CCSA.
And most importantly, let us all commit to re-focusing our attention on children, their families and their school communities. While we argue and hurt one another their dreams languish. It is these dreams, after all, to which we are all accountable.