VOICES IN THE CROWD: An overflow crowd of more than 153 education advocates attended the heated Los Angeles Unified School Board Meeting on Tuesday Jan. 7 voicing their support for an appointment or election to fill the vacant District 1 Seat. (Kenneth Miller Photo)
Amid an overflow crowd of passionate and divided advocates for the Los Angeles Unified School Board District 1 seat left vacant after the untimely death of long time educator Marguerite P. LaMotte, The Board declared a June 3 election that will cost the district $973,000.
LaMotte died while attending a conference on behalf of The Board on Dec. 5, leaving more than 300,000 students unrepresented in a district that serves 20 percent of African American pupils.
Constituents and community leaders challenged the remaining six board members to make the appointment of accomplished retired educator Dr. George McKenna to fill out her remaining term until 2015.
Board members listened to passionate pleas in support of McKenna for more than four hours on Tuesday Jan. 7 at an emergency board meeting, but in the end voted 4-2 in favor of a special election.
Among the 75 speakers addressing the Board were retired Board member Rita Walters, former Los Angeles City Councilmen Davie Cunningham Sr., Robert Farrell, and Inglewood School Board member Arnold Butler each of whom favored a McKenna appointment.
McKenna also attended the meeting and spoke about heeding the call from the community to come out of retirement to fill the seat vacated by his cherished friend.
“I think that I am qualified to be in the seat,” McKenna told the Sentinel. “Marguerite was my dear friend. Her death shocked so many people and I have been overwhelmed with the amount of community support, not just a few people, but hundreds if not thousands of people seemed to be enthused about the possibility of me getting into the seat. There are only two ways to get into the seat either by appointment or an election. We were seeking an appointment because if there is an election there is a delay, which means the seat has no representation until the election is held.”
“I think an appointment would be most appropriate at this time,” Walters told the Board. There has been some concern that somehow the civil liberties of the constituents would be abrogated or denied and I want to say to you that neither would occur. To the contrary, if this seat is left vacant until the next election will be held then such abrogation or denial will occur.”
Board member Monica Ratliff agreed with Walters in her support of an appointment, but was over ruled by colleagues Richard Vladovic, Tamar Galatzan, Monica Garcia and Steve Zimmer. Board member Bennett Kayser also voted to appoint.
The decision for a special election was met with jeers from members of the African American Cultural Center that told the Board, “This is not a question of democracy. The real issue is the right of representation.”
McKenna supporters wore bright yellow T-shirts with his named blazoned across the front. Other McKenna advocates included the Community Coalition, which was represented by students who attend schools in District 1.
Timothy Walker, a junior at Crenshaw High said that he was once homeless and raised by a single mother. He explained to the Board that he had a 3.4 grade point average, but could not maintain it because Crenshaw only had two counselors.
“Dr. McKenna will be a champion and give kids a voice,” he pleaded.
Another District 1 student, Sina Diego of Hamilton High added, “This is urgent to appoint Dr. George McKenna so that we are not left voiceless.”
Although Zimmer voted for a special election he also introduced a motion to appoint an interim “caretaker” for District 1, but the motion was voted down because it would have violated the LAUSD Charter and was also discouraged by the Board’s general counsel.
Tim Watkins, chairman of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, said his organization has contracts with the LAUSD for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but was in support of McKenna because, “he is champion for the kids in Watts. There is an opportunity here to take a qualified candidate who is also nationally acclaimed.”
Twenty-five of the speakers spoke out in favor of a special election. Included among them was Los Angeles County Supervisor Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas.
“Democracy matters and it matters all day long,” said Ridley-Thomas. “It means that there is an opportunity for an inclusive broad based decision that is a contested and honored way in which the selection of individuals can and should be made.”
Other groups in favor of an election included the National Action Network, Special Needs Youth Justice Coalition among others.
Other possible candidates for the District 1 seat include former school board member Genethia Hudley-Hayes and political activist Jimmie Woods Gray.
LaMotte’s District 1 stretches across a diverse swath of South and southwest L.A., over which Black voters historically have been the most influential. An African American has held the seat since the Board of Education first was divided into geographic regions in 1979.