Retired School Board Members: Appointing McKenna is What’s Best for the Children

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lamotte-speakingFour retired school board members wrote a piece in today’s CityWatch LA that specifies the harmful impact of having no representation for the next 6 to 8 months on the Board of Education to hold a special election. While adults would be busy playing politics, our children would be left to suffer greatly.

How to Replace the LAUSD’s LaMotte: The Answer is Clear, Do What’s Best for the Children

By Dr. Barbara Boudreaux, Rita Walters, Larry Aubry and Saundra Davis
17 Dec 2013

LAUSD POLITICS-The sudden passing of our friend and colleague District 1 LAUSD Board Member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte has understandably rocked many. Marguerite was an adored educator and public servant whose spirit and love of “her babies” was so warmly felt. All who had the pleasure of knowing her personally and working with her professionally to improve the quality of education for our children miss her immensely.

Now, the LAUSD Board of Education has the responsibility of determining how to fill her vacancy. They have two options: appoint a caretaker to complete the remainder of Ms. LaMotte’s term, or call for a “special election” process that would result in an elected representative for the seat likely in June or August of 2014.

Both options have been used in the past. The most recent vacancy was caused when José Huizar became a City Councilmember; it was filled by special election. The appointment process has been used over a dozen times in the past, including when Diane Watson was elected to the State Senate in 1979 before her term on the Board of Education ended. Rev. Lewis Bohler, Jr. was appointed to complete Watson’s unexpired term.

It is both rational and proper to frame the choice of a special election or an appointment by posing the question that Ms. LaMotte spent her 10 years on the Board of Education asking, “What is the impact on the children?” In this regard, the choice by the Board of Education should be clear, as the harm to District 1 students and schools from a special election process is real and significant.

If a special election is called District 1 will be unrepresented for at least 6 to 8 months while the Board of Education divvies up billions of dollars and makes major policy decisions that will impact the quality of education for District 1 students.

In January, the Board will decide how to spend six (6) billion dollars worth of construction bond dollars. Who will stand up for Crenshaw High School, for Washington Prep, for the families that use the over 100 schools in District 1 if Ms. LaMotte’s seat remains empty? With no one on the Board to represent our neediest neighborhoods and schools, District 1 can only lose out.

In March, LAUSD’s implementation of Governor Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula and its new focus on Title 1, English Language Learners, and foster care students will be decided. The Local Control Accountability Plan will also be instituted. During these critical Board debates the voice from District 1 will be silent.

In the spring, the Board will work on implementation of the new Common Core Standards that will change how our students learn for many years to come. Will Standard English Learners have an advocate, a cohort Ms. LaMotte regularly championed, when District 1 has no vote?

July 1 will start the new fiscal year for the school district; the budget for 2014-15 will be debated and finalized by then. District 1 cannot possibly gain if its Board seat is vacant.

Ms. LaMotte voted against Superintendent John Deasy’s iPad project that will cost LAUSD over a billion dollars. Deasy will continue to bring it to the Board over the next few months, this time with the vote from District 1 going unregistered.

There is a benefit to having an elected representative, but not for reasons that relate to the quality of education for our children. Especially not when the cost to District 1 is an empty seat at the Board table until June or August 2014, and the special election process would conclude with a newly elected member just 7 to 9 months before the regularly scheduled election in March 2015. In fact, the special election will literally take money from the classroom. The LAUSD would have to pay for the special election cost – up to two (2) million dollars.

We know that it is not easy to turnover the important decision of choosing an appointee. That is why the District 1 community of education, civil rights and civic groups has rallied behind supporting the appointment of one person, Dr. George McKenna III.

Dr. McKenna is among the country’s most accomplished and honored school principals and school district administrators. In just 4 years as principal of George Washington Preparatory High School located in District 1, he successfully changed an inner-city high school that had been torn by violence, low achievement and lack of community confidence into a school with an attendance waiting list, and nearly 80% of the graduates enrolled in college. It is a feat that is the subject of the 1986 award-winning CBS television movie starring Denzel Washington, “The George McKenna Story.”

As an administrator McKenna has served as Superintendent of the Inglewood Unified School District, Deputy Superintendent in Compton, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools in Pasadena, and most recently as an LAUSD Local District Superintendent. He is active in the community and is a leader of multiple education organizations. He is the community’s choice.

If the Board is not satisfied by the broad community support that Dr. McKenna has engendered, perhaps a selection committee made of Board District 1 residents could be instituted to guide them in selecting a qualified, respected caretaker.

Either way, we implore the Board of Education to not allow politics to trump doing what is right for the children that Ms. LaMotte has left us to look over. It is clear that an appointment to complete her unexpired term is what is best for Marguerite’s “babies.”

(Dr. Barbara Boudreaux and Rita Walters served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, Larry Aubry served on the Inglewood Unified School District Board of Education, and Saundra Davis served on the Culver City Board of Education.)