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L.A. school board races receive unusual donation: $1m from NY mayor

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A $1 million donation from across the country has upped the ante big time in the three Los Angeles Unified school board races.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a policy ally of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, donated the seven figure sum to the Coalition For School Reform, an independent expenditure committee Villaraigosa started years ago to make his mark on the school board.  The committee is supporting the campaigns of incumbent board president Monica Garcia and newcomers Antonio Sanchez and Kate Anderson — candidates opposed by the city's teachers union.

The donation brings the coalition’s war chest to $2.5 million. The group has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads for the candidates.

Villaraigosa and Bloomberg are both strong proponents of opening more publicly-funded charter schools and overhauling teacher evaluations to include student progress on test scores. Both mayors have tussled with their respective teachers unions over these issues.

Bloomberg isn’t the only big donor to the Coalition for School Reform. Philanthropist Eli Broad donated $250,000. Media mogul Jerrold Perenchio donated $250,000. Bloomberg’s former schools chief Joel Klein donated $25,000 to the coalition.

Supporters of the coalition say the involvement of such high profile, wealthy spenders in the board election can only help improve the struggling school district.

United Teachers Los Angeles is expected to be the other big spender in the board race. Gregg Solkovits, who’s in charge of the independent expenditure committee for the teachers union, said he wasn’t surprised by Bloomberg’s donation.

“There’s tons of out of state and out of city money coming to fund the races,” he said.

Independent expenditure spending took off in L.A. Unified’s 2009 school board races after a city law capped individual donations to $1,000 per race but lifted any limits on the amount of money independent committees could spend.

The primary election will be held March 5.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Gregg Solkovits' name.

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