IN the upcoming elections for Los Angeles school board seats, voters will face a tough choice: Which special interest do they want controlling our kids’ schools? In the big-bucks world of Los Angeles Unified School District politics, no candidate can get elected without the help of a powerful political machine. Big money is both the lifeblood of the old guard and our best hope for reform. On one side of the ballot in March’s election are the candidates controlled by United Teachers Los Angeles and other education unions – the coalition that has, for the most part, been running the LAUSD with such “great success” for the past three or four decades. And on the other side, there are the candidates backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Community Partnership for Better Schools. This is an earnest bunch, but ultimately these reformers know they’re dependent on the mayor who raises their campaign cash and the deep-pocketed contributors who donate it. Political idealists may be rightly troubled by the influence of special-interest cash. But realists, even idealistic ones, know that the only way to change the system is to gain some control over it.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Which is to say, there are no truly independent candidates in this race. Sadly, it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to get elected to this part-time post. That’s because for contractors and unions, the LAUSD is a cash cow, and electing the right people can be highly lucrative. As Mayor Richard Riordan briefly demonstrated nearly a decade ago, the only way to wrest power from the failed education establishment is to match it dollar for dollar in school board campaigns. By pouring in vast sums of cash, Riordan was able to elect the only reform-minded L.A. school board in decades. Now Villaraigosa, frustrated that the current board has used the courts to tie up his reform plan, is trying the same strategy by bankrolling a slate of reformers.