By Aaron Blevins, 1/09/2014
LAUSD to study representation options in the interim
After four hours and approximately 80 speakers, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education on Jan. 7 voted 4-2 to fill the late Marguerite LaMotte’s 1st District seat via special election.
LaMotte died Dec. 5 in San Diego. The board voted to delay determining how to fill the vacant seat until Tuesday, and the meeting was well attended by a divided audience. While some wanted an appointment to ensure representation now, others wanted an opportunity to select a new board member.
Board member Steve Zimmer, 4th District, attempted to find a middle ground, proposing that the board appoint someone in an interim role until a special election could be held on June 3.
“It is right to call for an election, and it is right to call for adequate representation. …We should attempt to do this,” he said.
Like many speakers noted, Zimmer said the board will make some crucial decisions in the next few months that could have serious implications for District 1. He referenced the Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s new school funding formula, and the Local Control Accountability Plan, which describes how school boards intend to meet annual goals for all students. The school board will debate both in the coming months.
“We have been presented a problem, board members,” Zimmer said. “Let us not be restricted in our attempts to solve it.”
Board member Tamar Galatzan, 3rd District, questioned the legality of Zimmer’s motion. LAUSD attorney David Holmquist said the proposal would not be illegal, but he did not recommend it. He said the caretaker’s votes might not hold up in court.
The proposal was defeated 2-4. Galatzan then moved to have a special election. Zimmer proposed an amendment that scheduled the special election for June 3, and directed Holmquist to report back with options to ensure that the district is represented in the strongest, most lawful way possible in the interim. The motion and amendment were approved.
Throughout the evening, elected officials and members of the audience discussed the upsides and downsides to holding a special election or appointing someone to the board.
A special election would leave the seat vacant for several months, during which a handful of impactful issues could come before the board. However, it would be costly. A city clerk representative said the primary election would cost approximately $973,000, but that would jump to $2.5 million if the primary led to a runoff.
An appointment would fill the vacancy, but some members of the community may not be happy with the board’s choice. It would prevent 3-3 deadlocks on the board in the interim, however.
Several speakers suggested George McKenna, a retired LAUSD educator and administrator whose transformation of George Washington Preparatory High School was the subject of a 1986 TV movie starring Denzel Washington.
“I will not be intimidated by anyone. I will be myself,” McKenna told the school board. He added that District 1 has issues that need to be fixed immediately. “I hope that you will give us a chance as a community.”
McKenna said he would run for the seat if he was not appointed.
“One way or another, I intend to be your colleague,” he said.
Former Los Angeles City Council board member Robert Farrell endorsed McKenna and referenced the board’s upcoming discussions about the budget, the Common Core, special programs and more.
“The seat is empty. Please consider filling it by appointment. Please fill it with George McKenna,” he said.
Another former council member, Rita Walters, mentioned a time in the 1970s that the board appointed a board member to replace an outgoing colleague. She also endorsed McKenna.
“There’s a precedent for this. No one said their rights were denied,” Walters said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, 2nd District, called for a special election, and listed a number of elected officials, such as City Council President Herb Wesson, 10th District, who were also in favor of an election.
“Democracy matters, and it matters all day long,” he said.
Representatives of both U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) called for an appointment, but did not specifically mention a candidate for the post.
During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Eric Garcetti alluded to the issue’s potential divisiveness, and like Zimmer, sought middle ground.
“I would very respectfully say to the board of education, ‘This is your decision but keep in mind what’s best for the children of South Los Angeles who will go unrepresented if we don’t do this swiftly.’ I would hope that they might be able to do something that would result in representation during this interim period but to have an election as soon as possible,” he said.
District 1 is primarily rooted in South Los Angeles, though its northernmost boundary extends to Beverly Boulevard in some areas. It includes several local schools, such as Third Street Elementary School, Wilshire Crest Elementary School, John Burroughs Middle School and Los Angeles High School, among others.