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Super PAC puts down money in Burbank school board race

Group has sent out materials in support of two school board candidates.

February 22, 2013|By Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

The super PAC for a controversial Sacramento-based education reform group has spent more than $13,000 in the Burbank school board race, baffling the two candidates who are benefiting from the expenditures and raising the eyebrows of other local stakeholders.

StudentsFirst — led by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee — spent $6,675 each on campaign mailers and other promotional materials for Burbank school board candidates David Dobson and Charlene Tabet, according to reports filed with the city clerk. The expenditures were made through the group's super PAC, Parents and Teachers for Putting StudentsFirst.

Rhee is a controversial figure in education-reform circles. Her group — while getting involved in campaigns across the nation — has focused primarily on state policy, and recently spent $250,000 on behalf of Los Angeles Unified school board candidates who are opposed by the powerful teachers union.

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StudentsFirst has drawn the ire of unions far and wide for its support of basing teacher job evaluations on student test scores and pushing for charter schools to reform public education.

StudentsFirst spokeswoman Jessica Hsiang Ng said in an email that the group seeks to enact “student-focused reforms” and “reform-minded individuals,” and that Dobson and Tabet “will be important partners in our ongoing push to ensure that every student attains a great school and is taught by a great teacher.”

The expenditure marks a huge funding boost for the two candidates, with Dobson and Tabet spending $4,500 and $3,700, respectively, according to their most recent campaign filings. Neither candidate was endorsed by the Burbank Teachers Assn.

Only candidate Armond Aghakhanian — who is endorsed by the Burbank Teachers Assn. — has spent more, filing expenditure reports for roughly $8,700.

Steve Ferguson, also endorsed by the union, has spent about $3,000. Incumbent Larry Applebaum didn't report any expenditures by the mid-February filing date.

That a well-known super PAC would get involved in Burbank, where public schools perform above state benchmarks, perplexed even Tabet and Dobson, who said they were unaware the support was coming.

“They sent me an email. But everybody sends you emails,” Tabet said, referring to inquires from a number of local groups, such as the Burbank chapter of the Sierra Club.

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