By ERIKA MARTIN | Reporter
While most Americans are wrapped up in this year’s presidential election, Brentwood resident Nick Melvoin is hungrily gearing up for next year’s Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) elections.
In February, Melvoin became the first candidate to enter the race after announcing his bid for the District 4 LAUSD School Board seat, currently held by board president Steve Zimmer. Since then, he has raised $124,334—more than 17 times the $7,304 incumbent Zimmer raised in the same period.
Pacific Palisades is covered by District 4, which stretches across Hollywood, Encino and Playa Vista.
The LAUSD School Board election is not until March 7, 2017, but Melvoin is working to build a grassroots campaign similar to Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” in this year’s presidential race.
When elections were last held in 2015 four seats were up for reelection; two of the incumbents were defeated.
Melvoin’s campaign reports that 70 percent of donors contributed $100 or less, but election funding disclosures show many supporters gave small amounts repeatedly.
“I think school board elections in the last decade or so have been pretty contentious in terms of money spent,” Melvoin told the Post via a phone interview.
He said his fundraising is not out of scale with previous efforts but necessary to “starting off on a strong foot” since he’s running against an incumbent he anticipates will be “backed by special interest groups.”
Melvoin said early fundraising also gives him more visibility and the opportunity to make the first part of his campaign a “listening tour.”
“For parents it’s about being listened to, enfranchised, having control of their children’s education,” he said. “Parents are so disenfranchised with LAUSD that they have to go out and start new schools. Our students also have great ideas about their own education, too.”
Melvoin also hopes to bring new voters into the fold. Last school board election, 75 percent of the votes came from people over 65, he said.
If elected, Melvoin would be the board’s youngest member at 30. He was raised in the district area but attended Harvard-Westlake. He has an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, master’s from Loyola Marymount and law degree from the NYU School of Law.
He worked as a teacher through Teach for America before embarking on a career of educational consulting and legal advocacy.
Eight-year incumbent Zimmer is popular among constituents and was re-elected board president this month.
When he was last challenged on the ballot, in 2013, Zimmer’s opponent Kate Anderson raised nearly $800,000 more than him and was endorsed by the LA Times and prominent education advocates like Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg.
Zimmer still won.
When contacted for comment, Zimmer issued a statement urging voters to focus on this fall’s ballot, with measures such as Proposition 55 and 58 whose outcomes will affect education in the state.
“There will be plenty of time to talk about the looming battle for control of the school board and the obscene amounts of money that will be raised and spent on that struggle,” Zimmer said via email. “For now, as Michelle Obama said this week, ‘we have important work to do.’ ”
At the end of the day, both candidates’ goal is to improve things for the kids in LA. But Melvoin is building a case for swifter change at the district level and hopes to give parents and schools more local control.
“I think that my pitch is that if you’re happy with that status quo, then vote for Steve. I’m putting forward a message of more urgently needed change,” Melvoin said. “It’s not about me versus Steve. It’s about a message that things aren’t okay. Only 30 percent of kids who graduate from LA schools are eligible to attend a four-year university. That’s not good enough.”
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