Over $5.5 million has been poured into races for the Los Angeles school board., according to Thomas Hines of the LA Daily News. A large portion has gone into attack ads and flat-out lies in two races that put charter supporters against supporters of public education.

“Teachers union-supported groups have spent $82,630 opposing Galatzan’s bid for re-election. A recent flier gives the two-term incumbent an “F” for failing to support students and protect tax dollars – apparently blaming her for a recession that cut revenues prompting layoffs.

“Charter school groups that support Galatzan, meanwhile, have spent $141,211 attacking her opponent, Scott Schmerelson.

“According to the mailers, the retired LAUSD principal and teacher is actually a lobbyist, responsible for trying to convince legislators they should “increase the already bloated salaries and benefits for administrators, taking money out of the classroom.”

“Schmerelson is not a lobbyist. He’s also backed by the teachers union. A political newcomer, Schmerelson said he’s shocked by all the money and lies used in a nonpartisan race for the school board.

“I just can’t believe people would say things that are absolutely not true,” Schmerelson said.

“But the most vigorous attack ads were made in efforts to influence voters in areas of Eagle Rock, Echo Park and other neighborhoods inside District 5.

“Charter school advocacy groups have spent $554,604 in an effort to oust board member Bennett Kayser and install Ref Rodriguez.

“The onslaught started before the primary, when a mailer made the unfounded claim that Kayser tried to stop Latinos from attending “schools in white neighborhoods.” While the stir caused by the mailer prompted Rodriguez to disavow the group “Parent Teacher Alliance in Support of Rodriguez, Galatzan, Vladovic, and McKenna for School Board 2015,” the negative campaigning continues.

“Recent attacks portray Kayser as being responsible for the district’s plan to buy $1.3 billion in iPads. Kayser never voted for the contract that sent money to Apple and Pearson – a deal now under federal investigation – because he owned a small amount of stock in Apple. He was also an outspoken critic of the program’s failings.

“Meanwhile, groups funded by the teachers union have spent $167,582 attacking Rodriguez. Recent mailers have largely focused on an audit of a charter campus Rodriguez co-founded, Lakeview Charter Academy.

“The audit concluded Lakeview Charter Academy, which is one of 16 schools operated by Rodriguez’s Partnership to Uplift Communities, operated in the red and had poor fiscal oversight. According to the attack ads, Rodriguez tried to hide the audit from the public.”

One major difference between the ads directed at Kayser and at Rodriguez is that the anti-Kayser ads are manifestly false, while the anti-Rodriguez ads are demonstrably true.

The Los Angeles Times reported on April 29 that one of Rodriguez’s charter schools had been audited and that the audit was being withheld from public release. Reporter Howard Blume wrote:

“Two well-placed district sources said that the release of the audit was delayed at the request of school board member Monica Garcia, a political ally of candidate Ref Rodriguez. Rodriguez works for the charter organization.”

When the media obtained a copy of the audit, it showed that the charter school had multiple financial woes: “The audit focuses on the bookkeeping of one of PUC’s 16 schools from July 2011 to June 2013. It noted numerous fiscal “deficiencies,” including poorly documented expenditures, failure to meet minimum reserves and questionable oversight by the parent organization.” The school was “insolvent for nine years.”

Rodriguez was both a co-founder of the charter chain and its treasurer, so his fiscal stewardship is a legitate issue, not a smear.

Even more embarrassing to Rodriguez was the revelation that his charter chain had awarded a multi-million dollar contract for food services to a high-ranking official at the charter offices.

“A Los Angeles-based charter group awarded food-service contracts worth millions of dollars to a company partially owned by one of the schools’ high-ranking employees, a state investigation has found.

“The probe involved Jacqueline Duvivier Castillo, who is the director of business and development for PUC Schools and a part-owner in Better 4 You Meals, a company that has provided food to the charter group for the last five years. Investigators said the charter failed to demonstrate that the contract was “awarded properly despite the apparent conflict of interest.”

As treasurer of the chain, Ref Rodriguez is accountable for monitoring its finances and compliance with the law. His failure to do so is a legitimate campaign issue. It raises questions about his judgment and competence. Will he be vigilant about oversight of the city’s large charter sector or will he take a hands-off approach? Voters need to know.