McKenna, leading in school board race, won’t commit on Deasy
Jamie Alter Lynton | May 16, 2014
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:
LA School Report: “What other information would you need about John Deasy’s performance in order to decide on?”
McKenna: “You give me a particular issue.”
LA School Report: “No, no I’m asking what you would need as a board member? (he addresses another person)
LA School Report: “But the voter needs to assess these candidates based on what we think their positions are going to be…”
McKenna: “I know what you are trying to do…”
LA School Report: “No, no it’s not uncommon to find out what a candidate’s position is…”
McKenna: “For you. For you as a journalist…”
LA School Report: “As a voter…”
McKenna: “I cannot tell the voter what my position is on John Deasy. I’ve never supervised him, I never have.”
LA School Report: “But we’re asking you to [supervise him] if we vote for you…”
McKenna: “If I get there, I will.”
LA School Report: “Then you’ll tell us your position?”
McKenna: “Not my position, each issue one at a time.”
He added moments later: “Who gives a damn about John Deasy? Whoever is the superintendent that’s the one I’m about. John Deasy might take himself out before I come. He might run if he sees me coming. He might look for some place else to work. So this would be a moot discussion.”
The District 1 seat has been vacant since late last year when long-time school board member Marguerite LaMotte, a vocal Deasy opponent, died in office. Covering much of south LA, the district has been plagued with low-performing schools, and community members are eager to have a representative on the board in place.
The election will be held on June 3, with a runoff scheduled for August if no candidate exceeds 50 percent of the vote.
*Updated to reflect McKenna’s response.