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A tiny, rural school district in northern Los Angeles County is under growing scrutiny over its approval of more than 20 new charter schools in the last few years, the majority of them serving students outside of its own district boundaries. At least three are within the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The small district, called Acton-Agua Dulce Unified (AADUSD), is home to just three traditional schools, 1,100 students and one site-based charter school that opened just this year. The district is teetering on the brink of insolvency: it has seen a sharp drop in enrollment in recent years and not enough revenue to meet its budget needs of $10 million – all of which have contributed to its unusual charter policy.
“I’m not denying there is a financial component,” says Acton-Agua Dulce superintendent Brent Woodard, referring to the charter approvals. “But bottom line is I’m an advocate for kids.” He says the district has little choice because of its dwindling resources. Approving the slew of new charters is good for the charters and good for his district, he says, which has charged up to a 7 percent fee to manage.
“We’ve been called rogue,” he said. “I would disagree.”
Charter schools are independently run but publicly funded schools, typically authorized by local districts that are responsible for overseeing operations and performance. The vast majority of the 1,200 charter schools in California operate within the boundaries of the districts that authorize them.
The large-scale approval approach taken by Acton-Agua Dulce has raised the ire of neighboring school districts, including Los Angeles Unified — where three of those charter schools, Valley Prep Academy 9-12, K-5, and 6-8 opened in the valley at the start of this school year.
Will the fate of John Deasy, the beleaguered LA Unified school chief who evokes passion among both supporters and critics, come down to a school board vote at his performance review scheduled for later this month? We say unlikely. Here are the top 5 reasons why:
FOUR VOTES NEEDED (AND ITS PUBLIC)
When the board meets behind closed-doors on Oct. 21 at least four members must approve of Deasy’s performance to extend his contract beyond its current expiration, in 2016. Ditto for ousting Deasy — a consensus of four is a tall order for a fractured board, long plagued by in-fighting and competing ideologies. According to our math (see below) there are not many signs that four members are seeing eye to eye – especially when they know the vote would have to be made public.
The variables at play for each board member on ‘the Deasy question’ can be reduced to the election next March, when four of the seven members must defend their seats. School board elections can cost millions, pitting the teachers union against a coalition of SEIU and reform groups. Board members and even the teachers union, may want to avoid having Deasy’s departure become a campaign issue.
STUDENTS HAVE MADE PROGRESS
To complicate matters, the district has shown improvement under Deasy, and while the teachers union may condemn him, his policies and stances seem to be popular with the public, including his pivotal support of the Vergara lawsuit last year that challenged teacher tenure laws. He has modernized, streamlined and reorganized at LAUSD, prevailed under dismal economic conditions and formulated a budget this year that was praised publicly by every single board member.
BOARD OWNS iPAD CONTROVERSY TOO
Like it or not, the school board was complicit in every phase of the now controversial initiative to purchase iPads for LAUSD students. While Deasy is taking heat for his push to put iPads in the classroom, the board supported him in the effort, voting unanimously as recently as January to approve Phase II of the rollout. The board may now find it hard to make iPads an excuse for ousting him.
DEASY MAY LEAVE FIRST
Deasy has told close confidants that he is fed up with the hostility on the board, and is concerned about his health. The LA Times reports talks have been underway, and reaching an agreement would enable both sides to announce an amiable parting, leaving the ugliness of recent months behind them. This is the option that would suit his detractors on the board just fine.
WHERE DO BOARD MEMBERS STAND ON JOHN DEASY? Continue reading
The LA Unified school board has scheduled a last-minute closed-door meeting next week to discuss its top employee, superintendent John Deasy. Sources tell LA School Report that the meeting was called to give the seven school board members a chance to discuss what criteria they would like to include in the superintendent’s upcoming annual performance review, scheduled for Oct. 21.
The closed session, as well as a “special” open meeting were added to the board schedule late yesterday — the closed session reportedly at the request of board member Monica Ratliff, one of Deasy’s more vocal critics. Both meetings are set for September 30, starting at 4 pm.
According to people familiar with the closed session agenda, board members will have the opportunity to discuss what they consider fair game for Deasy’s annual performance evaluation. Under no circumstances, said one of the sources, would a vote be held to determine Deasy’s employment. According to that source, Deasy has the right to attend, but because it is not his official performance review, he isn’t required to.
When reached by LA School Report, the superintendent declined to comment. School board members did not return messages seeking comment.
While the board is bound by no legal requirements to cite any reason for dismissing Deasy — he is essentially an at-will employee whose contract with the district allows the board to fire him at any time — his contract has the unusual stipulation made at his behest that requires the board to evaluate his performance annually based on broad goals, such as graduation rates, student proficiency, attendance, parent engagement and school safety.
To renew his tenure, four of the seven board members must find his performance “satisfactory.”
Three sources who discussed the newly schedule meeting with LA School Report said at this juncture there are not enough votes to fire Deasy, who was hired in 2011 to take over from Ramon Cortines under a friendlier school board.
But that, of course, could change.. Despite academic gains and lower dropout rates districtwide under Deasy’s leadership, he has also generated widespread criticism for any number of issues, including fallout for the iPad program, the continuing problems with the student-tracking system known as MiSiS and his strong-willed leadership style.
How much those factors and others, the good and the bad, should count in a review will be determined in the closed session — and likely divide the members between those who would keep him and those who would vote him out.
Previous Posts: What’s next *if* Deasy is out? Speculation abounds; Deasy on his critics: Constant attacks are ‘politically motivated’; Teachers union changes tactics, urges board to ‘evaluate’ Deasy*
California Attorney General Kamala Harris appeared at LA Unfiied’s Malabar Elementary School today to highlight a report on truancy released by her office this week that shows a high correlation between attendance problems and both income and race.
But the argument she’s using to bring attention to the issue is curious: the report notes the high rates of absenteeism “interfere with students’ right to an education under the California Constitution.”
Sound familiar? You may remember that students’ rights argument from the Vergara case, in which a judge struck down California’s teacher tenure and dismissal laws based on findings that the laws interfered with students’ right to a quality education protected under the California constitution.
But Harris apparently didn’t buy it – late last month she joined the teachers union to fight that ruling by filing an appeal on behalf of the state, putting her at odds with recent public polling on the issue.
Meanwhile, back to the report. It found a high correlating between truancy and race: 37 percent of African American elementary students sampled were truant, the highest of any subgroup (including homeless students) and 15 percentage points higher than the rate for all students. African American elementary school students are also chronically truant at nearly four times the rate of all students.
Amid a deep split in the black community in south Los Angeles, retired administrator George Mckenna won a seat on the LA Unified school board, fighting back substantial gains made by Alex Johnson a young education aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, in a special election runoff yesterday.
Marked by voter low-turnout, the unofficial final results were: McKenna, 14,940; Johnson, 13,153. Voter turnout was low, with just eight percent of the voters coming to the polls.
The two candidates, both African American, split support among black leaders and elected officials, some of whom went to the mat to help the candidate of their choice: Congresswoman Maxine Waters took the unusual step of using her own campaign funds to send out campaign literature on behalf of McKenna; Mark Ridley-Thomas campaigned door-to-door for Johnson and used his network to raise money for his bid.
Outside influence was also an issue. Despite making his reputation when he was a principal and school turnaround champion by challenging the teachers union, McKenna won the support of the union in the special runoff, which used its political muscle to help reach out to voters. Johnson meanwhile attracted almost $800,000 in outside superPAC money, much of it from reform-minded education funders, who see him as a strong supporter of LA Unified’s outspoken Superintendent John Deasy. McKenna has refused to publicly share his views on Deasy, while his union backers, UTLA, have frequently demanded Deasy’s resignation.
Despite significantly less money, McKenna won by a safe 7 percent margin, but that amounted to the difference of a few thousand votes. Due to low voter turnout and renewed strength by the Johnson camp, McKenna lost voters since the June 3 primary. In that race he received 20,000 votes – 5000 more than he attracted in yesterday’s election. Johnson gained about 3000 more voters than he had won in the June primary election.
In the end, almost 9 months after long-time board member Marguerite LaMotte died in office, the school board will now once again have a full, seven member panel, and the south Los Angeles district, plagued by poverty and low performing schools, will once again have representation. As the new board member, McKenna could provide the deciding vote in a number of crucial issues facing the district including threats from the teachers union that is preparing to strike. But his role will need to be renewed by voters in just six months, when the regularly scheduled school board race takes place in March of next year.
Even as the runoff election appears to be tightening to fill the vacant LA Unified school board seat in south LA, the question is not only who will win, but just how low can voter turnout go?
Set for August 12, the stand-alone election not only falls in the dog days of summer, but also hits on the first day of school, when parents tend to have their minds on other things.
Some election experts are predicting that turnout could drop below the disappointing primary turnout, which was just 13 percent.
“It will be really low, probably under 10 percent,” says Bill Carrick, a Democratic political strategist, who doesn’t have a horse in the school board race.
The vacancy, left by the death of longtime school board member Marguerite LaMotte, is a runoff contest between the top two vote-getters from a field of seven in the June primary: Alex Johnson an up-and-coming aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and George McKenna, a retired school administrator with a long record of service in LAUSD. McKenna won the primary with nearly 45 percent of the vote — shy of the 50 percent he needed to win outright. Johnson came in second, with 24 percent.
That election coincided with the statewide primary, but still underperformed estimates.
Even more pessimistic is Fernando Guerra, director the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, who told LA School Report that a runoff might attract only 5 percent of the 340,000 voters registered in the district.
A look at the history of orphan elections in the LA area supports those predictions. (See graphic).
The most recent special election in Los Angeles last December, when Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, son of the County Supervisor, Mark Ridley Thomas, won the contest for a vacant state assembly seat in south LA, in a race that garner an 8.6 percent turnout. Two other special elections last year were also marked by low turnout: Holly Mitchell won for state senate in south LA with a turnout of 5.5 percent, and Nury Martinez won for city council, with a turnout of 11 percent.
If low turnout predictions hold, each voter who does go to the polls has outsized clout. A turnout of 5 percent in the school board race would translate into a candidate winning the race with as few as 8,500 votes.
Troubles encountered by the charter school operator, Magnolia Public Schools (MPS), at two of its eight charters in the LA Unified School District highlight a murky governance issue that legislatures in California and elsewhere have been slow to address.
Should a parent company operate its charter school network as a single entity, as MPS does with its 11 California charters? Or should each school be run independently, with separate budgets and governance?
LA Unified last month closed two MPS schools, saying financial problems at the parent company rose to the “level of fiscal mismanagement.” But by scrutinizing the financial health of the overall charter management organization, the district has tread into uncharted territory for an authorizer.
“This is an emerging issue, and my guess is a lot of legislatures will have to address this in the near future,” says Kathy Christie of the Education Commission of the States, which compiles research on charter school practices nationally.
The school closures followed a District audit that not only examined Magnolia Science Academy 6 and Academy 7, both high-performing schools, but also MPS as the parent group. The audit found among other things that MPS met the IRS definition of being “insolvent” as of June 2013, that it owed millions of dollars to the schools it oversees and that it transferred money between schools. It also found that it paid millions of dollars to a third party non-profit, Accord, for educational services with little accountability.
New troubles for the non-profit charter school network, Magnolia Public Schools (MPS), are beginning to raise concerns beyond LA Unified, where the sudden closure of two schools for fiscal mismanagement expanded yesterday into what could be a larger investigation.
In a letter outlining a recent fiscal audit that led to the closure of the two LA Unified schools, Magnolia Science Academy-6 and Magnolia Science Academy-7, district officials detailed a number of irregularities and called the parent organization itself “insolvent.”
At least one other county has noticed.
“We will pay attention to this – we wouldn’t want to find out that our school would have to close because other schools are in trouble,” said Don Bolce, director of special projects at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which renewed a charter petition last year for a Magnolia school located on the outskirts of Cupertino after reviewing concerns about the school’s finances.
“We recognize that with a charter school that is part of a charter management organization, a problem at one school could impact other schools – if there is a problem, it endangers the system,” he told LA School Report.
Messages seeking comment from Mehmet Argin, the MPS chief executive, were not immediately returned.
MPS currently operates 11 schools across California: eight in LAUSD, plus three others, including one in Santa Ana that has been of concern to school and county officials in Orange County despite winning approval for $18 million in facilities bond money.
With seven candidates vying for the vacant LAUSD school board seat in South LA, what would it take to pull ahead of the pack and head off a costly stand-alone runoff?
We asked Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, whose expertise in local politics helped steer Mayor Eric Garcetti, among many others, to victory, for his armchair analysis based on the number of candidates in the field — although not on the specific candidates themselves.
Carrick concedes, “It’s tough to get to ‘fifty-plus-one,’ ” the magic majority for an outright win.
Tough but not impossible. Here’s what he says the potential winner needs:
Great name recognition: “In a large field, with lots of challengers name recognition is especially important. Running up a huge margin in a race without an incumbent is hard. The kind of name ID a candidate would need usually doesn’t come easily with a non-incumbent.”
A robust campaign operation: The idea, he says, is to generate enough community support that the second-place candidate stays below 40 percent. It’s harder in such a larger field, he says, making the campaign operation all the more important.
Hope the lesser-known candidates don’t ‘pop’: “If the lowliers add up to more than 10 percent combined, it gets much harder.”
Fingers-crossed for a high turnout: It helps the frontrunner in a crowded field; low turnout magnifies the power of each vote cast.
What could all this mean for the presumed front-runner, George McKenna?
With three weeks to go before the election, George McKenna, a leading candidate for the LA Unified school board representing south LA, is refusing to clarify whether he supports John Deasy, the district’s current superintendent.
McKenna’s unwillingness to provide a clear answer comes at an important time for the school district, the second-largest in the country, as it faces contract negotiations with teachers and other union members, an approaching deadline on a challenging budget and an ongoing shift in curriculum.
Although Deasy has an impressive record in his three years at the helm, including raising student achievement and graduation rates, recent school board elections have eroded his support.
While The Los Angeles Times endorsed McKenna from among the seven candidates in an editorial that indicates he is a strong supporter of Deasy, there has been concern by some who have discussed issues with him that he could be changing his story behind closed doors.
A source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told LA School Report of attending a meeting in which McKenna said flatly, “the first thing he would do is fire Deasy.”
McKenna denied that in a letter to LA School Report saying, “this is a total fabrication as I never said that or ever conveyed such sentiments.”
Fueling uncertainty were remarks McKenna made during and after a candidate forum earlier this week. The first question, from a charter school parent and former teacher, directly addressed the question of mixed messages:
“We have heard widely different reports on your point of view on Superintendent Deasy and his tenure with the district. Very specifically, do you believe the superintendent is doing a good job with the district and if elected would you support keeping Deasy’s current contract in place through 2016, or would you work to reopen and reconsider?”
McKenna dodged the question, answering, “Your question to me is not misplaced, but it is a question I have no interest in, whether the superintendent’s contract is reopened or not.”
After the forum, when LA School Report sought to clarify McKenna’s response, he again declined to answer directly, saying, “I am not an elected official, I am a private citizen watching a Superintendent in the newspaper.”
Despite numerous follow-up efforts to elaborate, McKenna would not budge: Continue reading
The latest forum for candidates running in a special election to fill the vacant seat in South LA’s District 1 produced unexpected agreement last night on some of the most volatile issues in public education.
The four contenders who participated — Alex Johnson, Rachel Johnson, Genethia Hudley-Hayes and George McKenna — saw eye to eye on nearly every core issue involving charter schools, including those that have been particularly contentious for the Los Angeles Unified school board.
The consensus could be partially attributed to catering to the crowd: the event was sponsored by CCSA Families, an advocacy group affiliated with the California Charter School Association, and more than 200 parents and teachers, many of whom were wearing CCSA Families t-shirts, filled the room at at Mount Moriah Baptist Church.
But the area has long been plagued with low-performing schools in a high-needs population, and charters have proven popular with parents.
Even the sole candidate endorsed by the teacher’s union, Rachel Johnson, was unabashed in her support of charters – despite the union’s fierce criticism.
“We [must] move past that adversarial ‘oh, the charter schools are taking us over’ idea” she said. “No. Charter schools are educating our students.”
Seven candidates are competing in the June 3 special election. The four last night agreed that charter schools are higher performing than traditional public schools and should be used as models; that there should be no cap or limit on charter growth; that ‘co-location’ between public charter schools and traditional public schools should be supported.
Perhaps most surprising was consensus that charter school operators should be allowed to takeover failing traditional school – a privilege that the board stripped from charter operators in its agreement with the teachers union three years ago.
The event was marked by polite restraint and only the slightest sign of criticism.
“We can’t keep doing the same old things that we were doing [30 years ago],” Alex Johnson, an aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said to much applause. “We just can’t. It is ineffective, and it is unacceptable and our children deserve change here and now.” Two of his opponents, McKenna, and Hudley-Hayes are more than twice his age, 33, and have been involved with LAUSD for decades.
If there were buzzwords of the evening, they were “accountability,” mentioned by every candidate numerous times; “choice” and “scale.”
“If they (charter schools) are doing a better job, we need to figure out what they are doing, find out what can be brought up to scale,” said Hudley-Hayes.
In a rare divergence, McKenna, a recently retired administrator, broke rank with the others on the question of his support of current LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. While his three adversaries voiced support for Deasy, McKenna said the issue of whether the superintendent is doing a good job and whether he would support re-opening Deasy’s contract, “is a question I have no interest in, whether the superintendent’s contract is reopened or not.”
McKenna later told LA School Report that as a private citizen, he doesn’t “know enough about the Superintendent’s performance” to evaluate him and refused numerous times when pressed to answer. Continue reading
A committee launched last year by LA Unified’s Office of Labor Relations to provide public information on labor negotiations is meeting today to discuss the district’s collective bargaining contracts. That the committee even exists has not been reported until now.
Called the “Sunshine Committee,” it is intended to bring transparency to the negotiating process. According to a district memo issued last August, the committee’s mission is to provide a forum for parent representatives to review initial bargaining proposals between LAUSD and its labor partners. Among the items on the agenda today are teacher evaluations and an initial bargaining proposal from the principals’ union, AALA.
The formation of the committee signals a policy change for the district, which for years fulfilled its disclosure requirements by giving only minimal public notice at school board meetings, as required by law. Any public access to the secretive negotiation process is a rarity in California, where negotiations with school employee unions is specifically exempted by law from the Brown Act, which requires public access to meetings of local agencies.
In practice, however, the new committee is still a long way from transparent. According to a district staff member, the Sunshine Committee’s meetings are not considered public; no minutes of the meetings are taken; the names of the parent-members appointed to the committee are not publicly available, and information about the contract proposals themselves is not posted on the website.
The staff member said the office is currently updating its website, and some documents relating to past meetings, could not be made available.
Discussions related to collective bargaining issues is one of the few occasions in which school board members may meet or discuss issues outside of public view.
* A previous version of this story stated that a document presented before the committee in August was not available on the LAUSD website. It is, and can be found here.
Despite her inability to substantiate a number of academic credentials and other claims on her resume, Genethia Hudley-Hayes still has the backing of her major supporters in the race for the LA Unified District 1 board seat.
“Outsiders don’t get it,” said one longtime south Los Angeles activist who spoke to LA School Report on the condition of anonymity. “Our community closes rank when it feels attacked.”
Still in her camp is one of her biggest endorsers — U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass, whose district overlaps with the open board seat, left vacant by the death of longtime board member Marguerite LaMotte. Bass told LA School Report, “There has been a lot of carelessness and it’s extremely unfortunate. But I will continue to support her.”
District 1 stretches from Hancock Park south to Long Beach. The population is increasingly Hispanic, but for 40 years, voters have consistently elected a black woman to the school board.
Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who along with Bass announced his endorsement of Hudley Hayes in February, before discrepancies in her resume were confirmed, has apparently not changed his position. Messages left by LA School Report asking if he has withdrawn his endorsement were not returned.
The timing is important: with candidates busy preparing direct mail pieces timed to drop when vote-by-mail ballots arrive early next month, a high-profile face featured on campaign literature can make a big difference in swaying voters. The special election is scheduled for June 3.
Bass said Hudley-Hayes, who served as on the school board as president more than 10 years ago, bring the board together. “She has a long track record of working on educational issues,” she said. ” She was able to build consensus amongst board members on a variety of issues at a contentious period of time.”
In his first State of the City speech, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti laid out a plan to boost job creation, safety and the city’s ability to compete in a global economy.
Noticeably absent, however, was any mention of the vast education challenges facing the city.
The Mayor’s vision of Los Angeles was notable for its optimism and his passion. And the half-hour speech (transcript here) was heavy on specifics — including a focus on neighborhood improvements, DWP rates and carpool lanes. He cited how he “pushed and prodded” the feds to open a lane on the 405 earlier than expected, and he pledged to “pave more streets and fix more sidewalks.”
But wait, is he talking . . . potholes?
I couldn’t help but flash back to my home town, Chicago, where the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, ran the city with an iron fist for more than 20 years in the 60s and 70s. Boss Daley knew how to fill a pothole, but sadly, at the same time he presided over a disastrous decline in the city’s pubic education system.
Mayor Garcetti’s goal, of “building a better city,” while admirable, is ultimately not achievable without addressing the elephant in the room — education — and his hands-off approach is bad for students, parents and ultimately the economy. The recent departure of Thelma Melendez, who carried the title of education deputy but in practice was almost invisible makes matters worse. And, so far, he hasn’t named a replacement.
Granted, the mayor’s office in Los Angeles officially exerts very little control over the vast LA Unified School District, run by an often fractured seven-member elected board. But that didn’t stop Garcetti’s predecessors from using the bully pulpit to try and enhance the educational opportunities for city students. The outgoing Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who considered improving public education his mission, devoted a large portion of his 2013 State of the City address to education and saw it as vitally linked to job-growth and the economy.
The district is slowly improving, but challenges like high dropout rates and low student achievement are so profound that it’s hard to argue that all hands should not be on deck, especially those of the mayor.
And the excuse of not having mayoral control? Well, the last time I looked, the mayor doesn’t have much influence on the 405 federal highway project, either.
Rather than jump to conclusions in the case of allegations first reported here earlier this month, that a LA Unified School Board candidate, Genethia Hudley-Hayes, has numerous inaccuracies in her resume, we at LA School Report embarked on our own due-diligence.
What we found were a series of repeated conflicts and inconsistencies over a number of years, without any apparent attempt to publicly set the record straight, thus posing serious questions about her candidacy for LA Unified school board race on June 3.
The controversy first came to light when campaign staff for Alex Johnson, one of her opponents, approached the Hudley-Hayes campaign before the filing deadline, recommending she drop out quietly for what his campaign calls “a pattern of pattern of academic falsification.” (See story here). Instead, Hudley-Hayes, a longtime civic leader and public servant, responded publicly that she would not be “bullied” out of the race. (See story here).
To get to the bottom, our own reporters have done their best to verify, independently, the accuracy of her current resume and her past biographies. Here are the inconsistencies LA School Report has found:
Emerging as something of a Shakespearean figure, LA Unified School Board trustee Steve Zimmer took central stage earlier this week at a long board meeting complete with its share of sound and fury.
Zimmer, facing one of the most challenging moments in his political career, had been publicly cryptic about his position on the evening’s big decision: whether the vacant seat on the board left by the sudden death of Marguerite LaMotte should be filled by a board appointment or special election.
Ever since an election last spring created a board more sympathetic with positions of the teachers union, Zimmer has played an increasingly pivotal role on the fractured board, leaving him somewhat stuck in the middle. While he was re-elected last year with big support from the union’s super PAC, Zimmer nonetheless recently stepped in to help save Superintendent John Deasy’s job- a move that couldn’t have gone down well with union leadership that has made no secret of wanting Deasy’s head.
This week, as a critical vote on a split board, Zimmer appeared sympathetic and earnest, repeating multiple times that he came to listen to the packed room — filled with members of the South Los Angeles community who made impassioned pleas both in favor of an appointment and an election. Continue reading
If history is any guide, a school board election is in the offing.
As officials at the LA Unified school board scramble to work out options with the city and county on how best to fill the school board seat left vacant last week by the sudden death of longtime member Marguerite LaMotte, they are weighing elements of timing, tradition and of course, politics.
The law relating to vacancies on the school board, written into the LA City Charter, clearly lays out two options for the school board: appoint a replacement or call a special election.
And while appointing someone may seem simpler, cheaper and faster, doing so has big liabilities.
For one, it’s dangerous politically. The seat for school board district 1, which encompasses a wide swath of south LA, extending from Hancock Park to Gardena, has been held continuously by a black woman since 1979. That was the first year board members were no longer elected at-large, a change brought about in part because the black community argued it was under-represented electorally. So having the school board hand-pick an appointee raises red flags in the black community, which is already voicing concerns.
For another, there’s a long tradition of vacancies being filled by election, not appointment. City council seats — which are frequently vacated by members seeking higher office — have uniformly been filled by special election. The last long term appointment was in 1966.
But calling a special election takes consensus, too. The last time a special election was called by the school board was when Jose Huizer vacated his seat after being elected to city council in 2005.
That year, the school board fast-tracked a special election in late November by giving notice and approving a motion (seconded by LaMotte) to hold a stand-alone primary the following March and consolidating with a statewide election for a run-off in June 2006.