One of the more interesting political developments to watch in Elk Grove over the next few years will be to see if Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis attempts to exert influence over the Elk Grove Unified School District.
This is not an abstract thing to watch either given Davis has already petitioned the EGUSD to establish his so-called Grove Charter School. While the district denied Davis' petition, the first term mayor promised to come back with another petition.
Since that denial last year, there has been a drastic change in the composition of the EGUSD with the election of three of Davis' political protégés to the board - Carmine Forcina, Steve Ly and Tony Perez.
While the three newest school trustees may feel they owe a debt of gratitude to Davis for his assistance in their successful elections, it will be interesting if they support Davis should he resurrect his bid for a charter school in Elk Grove. For Davis the matter is more than just a passing interest, in his day job Davis is the Political Director of EdVoice, a leading charter school advocate.
While Edvoice bills itself as a grassroots movement to improve California schools, much of its funding in fact comes from deep-pocketed benefactors. One such benefactor is Carrie Walton-Penner, daughter of S. Robson Walton and granddaughter of Wal Mart founder Sam Walton.
As a scion of the Wal Mart fortune, Walton-Penner has actively engaged in various educational issues surrounding school reform, most notably charter schools. Walton-Penner currently serves as director and Vice Chair of of the California Charter School Association with EdVoice's multi-millionaire founder, benefactor Reed Hastings.
According to financial disclosures reported to the California Secretary of State, since July, 2007 Penner-Walton was donated $770,300 to EdVoice. Via his last two economic disclosure statements filed with the Elk Grove City Clerk, Davis reports drawing a salary in excess of $100,000 from EdVoice,
Interestingly, Davis who is a member of the Democratic Party, has through his employment with EdVoice aligned himself with several individuals and other groups not only hostile to unions, but public schools in general and his party in particular. (One source makes the link between EdVoice and the ultra-conservative anti-Democratic Party Koch brothers.)
So if Davis comes back to the EGUSD with another charter school proposal, it will be noteworthy to see how amenable Forcina, Ly and Perez will be to their political Godfather. Ly will be the most notable trustee to watch given his promise (listen to the audio recording here) to the Elk Grove Education Association that he does not generally favor charter schools and said mayors should not be interfering in school board matters saying "it is not within their scope."
Will the three new EGUSD trustees, especially Ly, stand by their campaign promises or will the long-arm, influence and fat wallets of people like Hastings and Walton-Penner persuade them to change their positions through the Davis-EdVoice conduit?
Time will tell.
Picture caption: EGUSD trustees (l-r) Steve Ly, Tony Perez, Davis campaign manager Pete Fenolio, EGUSD Trustee Carmine Forcina and Mayor Gary Davis confer earlier this year.