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At a District 1 forum, candidates sound alike on most issues

Vanessa Romo | May 5, 2014

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Candidates at USC forum district one LAUSD

Candidates at USC forum

When Angela Jauregui arrived Saturday at USC for a debate with five of the seven candidates running for LA Unified’s District 1 board seat, she told her friends she was there to listen.“

Let’s pay attention,” she said in Spanish as she shushed all three, found a seat in the first row of the lecture hall and put on a head set that translated the hour-long event.

What they heard was pretty much the same from each of the five candidates who participated in an event sponsored by Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles Urban League and Students for Education Reform (SFER). The participants: Rachel Johnson, a kindergarten teacher; George McKenna, a former school principal and superintendent; Genethia Hudley-Hayes, a previous board president; Alex Johnson, a deputy to LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas; and Hattie McFrazier, an educator and health and human services director.

Two other candidates, Omarosa Manigault and Sherlett Hendy-Newbill, had been invited but declined to appear. The special election to replace the late Marguerite LaMotte is June 3.

Between the testimonials from a handful of the Parent Revolutionaries who filled the room, the candidates’ answers differed very little in content, if not style. Often, they began by agreeing with whatever the person before them had just said.

Yes, the district’s neediest schools should get more money under the Local Control Funding Formula.

Yes, if elected, I will work with parents to ensure teacher effectiveness.

Even on touchy subjects they agreed. “Should parents be allowed to weigh in on teacher evaluations?” All five took their allotted 30 seconds to say no.

McKenna, went first on that one. “It’s the responsibility of the supervisor, not the parent. Teachers need to be protected.” Hudley-Hayes, responded with a similar answer, adding, “We have not trained our administrators to properly evaluate a teacher.” McFrazier told the audience, “You do not have that right,” then directed them to LA Unified’s website to verify a teacher’s credentials themselves.

The only answer that was a real departure from the others came from McFrazier when she admitted she does not support the Parent Empowerment Act, the so-called Parent Trigger Law and raison d’etre of Parent Revolution. That drew an actual gasp from audience.

“Let me explain why,” she began. “I was at the board when 24th Street presented their case, and I sat there and I observed both sides, and I came out confused.”

Parents who had signed the petition to take over what would become the first Parent Trigger school in LA Unified didn’t fully know the consequences of what they were doing, McFrazier said, adding, “No one clearly explained to them what was going to happen. And it is important that both sides understand what is happening so everyone will know what they are deciding on.”

By the end, Jauregui and her friends, all of whom were outfitted in Parent Revolution t-shirts, had warmed to Rachel Johnson, who became a crowd favorite, telling the audience that she drives to Staples every week and spends her own money to make copies of work book lessons and reading materials for five new students who joined her class in January. Moms in the room nodded approvingly and clapped loudly.

“That’s the kind of commitment that makes her standout,” Jauregui  said afterward.

She and her friends said they would help spreading the word for Johnson, as they signed up to join a door-to-door get out the vote walk on May 31.

“I can’t vote,” she said, “but if I tell them why it’s so important, maybe they will.”

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