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Protests expected as board takes up LaMotte vacancy

LA School Report | December 17, 2013



Mark Ridley-Thomas

County Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas

UPDATE | 10:50AM
At a press conference, US Representative Maxine Waters softened her position of favoring an appointment and asked the school board to delay today’s vote.

As the LA Unified school board gears up for today’s meeting, only one thing is certain: it will be controversial. The highest profile issue on the agenda is whether to make an appointment or call a special election to fill Marguerite LaMotte’s seat, left vacant by her recent death.

Amid dueling elected officials and expected protests outside of the meeting, the six board members must not only contend with their own internal split between reform-minded and UTLA-backed board members, but they must also weigh the mixed messages broadcast from the black community which holds enormous sway, given that Lamotte’s seat encompasses much of South LA (See District 1 map).

At the crux is Steve Zimmer, the only school board member who has not made public his position and is the swing vote. Zimmer, whose district represents the wealthiest and whitest voters of Los Angeles has to weigh his allegiance to the teachers union (which has signaled it favors an appointment), with those of his own district and the black community at large.

Special Election
On one side are those who argue for a special election, saying it is the only way to guarantee fair representation. These forces include County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who has emerged as a leading advocate for an election, both behind-the-scenes and by organizing protesters expected today. Along with City Council President Herb Wesson, as well as community groups like the Urban League (see letter here), they consider an appointment a disenfranchisement of LaMotte’s constituents and the rights of the black community. (The LA Times editorial board has weighed in twice here and here).

Appointment
On the other side is a collection of South LA community groups and clergy (see list of groups here), spearheaded by US Representative Maxine Waters, who favor an appointment, arguing that an election is too expensive and will take too long to fill the seat. This view is favored by the teachers union, UTLA, which had an ally in LaMotte and believes it would have greater influence on a replacement if the board names one. Waters is leaning on the board not only to make an appointment, but to appoint a specific choice: LAUSD retiree, George McKenna (read story here).

Other Scenarios
If Zimmer decides to vote for appointing a replacement, the board would be deadlocked 3-3. Voting would then presumably continue until someone switches – a situation the board would probably want to avoid. A third option, of making a temporary appointment until a special election can take place has been broached. But the City Charter makes no allowance for that scenario — and there is no precedent. The only other route would be to delay the decision altogether, until a board meeting early next year.

Stayed tuned for updates today as the story unfolds.

At 1PM today we will carry LIVE COVERAGE of the LA Unified school board meeting.

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