12 Days of Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis; Day 8 - Davis Loses Two Charter School Proposals, Pulls Rabbit Out of Hat

December 7, 2016 |

In seven days from today, Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis will leave office. In honor of his last 12 days in office, we will take a look back at some of the most memorable aspects of Davis' tenure.  

For outgoing Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, using his office to try advancing something out of the realm of City business, whether it be a personal business venture or to support his employer, were part and parcel. We will explore his attempts to use the office of the Mayor to try advancing personal business ventures in a few days, for today we will look at his efforts to promote the cause of his charter school employers.

For those not familiar with the Mayor's full-time job, Davis is employed by the California Charter School Association as a Director of Board Engagement and Leadership Development. Before working for CCSA, Davis worked at EdVoice, a public education reform group that advocates for, among other things, charter schools and stricter tenure rules for public school teachers.

In his advocacy roles for charter schools, Davis has twice used the resources of his employers and the prestige of his office to try convincing the Elk Grove Unified School District to establish charter schools within the district. In both cases, he failed.

Davis's first attempt came in early 2012 when he was employed by EdVoice, and as a Council Member running to become Elk Grove's first directly elected mayor. Davis' proposal at the time was for a charter school, curiously called The Grove - a slang the Mayor has attempted to foist upon Elk Grove - which would have focused on leadership training and civics.

Not surprisingly, the proposal was vehemently opposed by the Elk Grove Education Association, which represents EGUSD teachers. In the face of broad opposition, Davis withdrew the application and promised to return later that year.

That application for The Grove never did reappear.

Undeterred, Davis's most recent attempt to establish a charter school in the EGUSD came earlier this year when he advocated on behalf of the Golden State Charter School. That proposed charter school would have been operated by Livermore, Calif.-based Tri-Valley Charter Schools.

As with The Grove proposal, the Golden State Charter School application was voluntarily withdrawn. However, that withdrawal came only after the release of a scathing report by EGUSD staff highlighting a laundry list of irregularities with the application as well as dubious management practices of Tri-Valley.  

Interestingly, not long after Davis's second charter school proposal failed, another plan to get his charter schools hatched. This program, which will take a few years to succeed, could nonetheless give the charter school movement and end-around Elk Grove Schools.

This project involves packing the Sacramento County Office of Education Board of Directors, which can reverse district decisions on charter school applications, with board members amenable to their cause. In this case the Mayor's wife, Heather Davis declared her candidacy for the SCOE Board in March of this year. 

Davis, along with one of the Mayor's co-workers, Joanne Ahola, who is CCSA's Manager of Political Infrastructure Development, easily won their respective races. Of course, Heather Davis and Ahola were both recipients of over $170,000 each in campaign contributions from a tentacle of CCSA. 

With at least two board members of seven now in place, CCSA can now go after the three seats that will be open in 2018. Once CCSA gets four board members in place, they can operate worry-free about what school districts recommend as they can appeal for relief to the more favorable SCOE board of directors.

Of course for the Mayor, all of this does not come without a high cost to his political aspirations. Even though Davis is nominally a Democrat, the vast majority of his party does not support the charter school movement.

In a conversation over three years ago with Elk Grove News regarding Davis' charter school advocacy, then Sacramento County Democratic Party Chair Kerri Asbury said in no uncertain terms the party would not support him if he sought a higher office. Furthermore, Asbury, who is a public school teacher, said when West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon ran for the Democratic Primary Assembly race in 2008, given his past employment with EdVoice, he was vigorously opposed and lost even though he had a superior financial advantage.  

Perhaps Davis' failure at securing the two proposed charter schools, the success of getting to CCSA candidate elected to the SCOE, and his dim future political prospects as a Democratic candidate in a solidly blue area were factors in his decision to pull the plug, for the time being at least, on his political career. 

On the bright side for Davis' political future, President-elect Trump's proposed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is an outspoken advocate of charter schools. Maybe Davis can switch parties, and join the Trump administration which appears to be more closely aligned with his beliefs, at least as it relates to education.  

If all else fails, there is an Indian casino coming to town that could use a lobbyist or director for their board.


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