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Hudley-Hayes’ edge: no other candidate served on school board

Yana Gracile | May 29, 2014

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Genethia Hudley-Hayes LAUSD School Board candidate

Genethia Hudley-Hayes

This is the final profile of candidates running for LA Unified’s vacant District 1 board seat. The election is scheduled for June 3, with a possible runoff in August. Genethia Hudley-Hayes is the only candidate who declined to be interviewed for the series. Numerous attempts to reach her and her campaign failed to get a response. 

Genethia Hudley-Hayes has one thing none of the other seven candidates running in the special election for LA Unified District 1 seat can claim: she has actually served on the school board, representing the same south LA district.

She won a narrow victory in 1999 against an incumbent, sweeping into office with a reform slate that was backed by then-Mayor Richard Riordan. Her tenure lasted four years, until she was defeated in 2003 by Marguerite LaMotte. But by many accounts, her term in office, including the first two years as board president, Hudley-Hayes won a reputation as a leader with record of success.

“She demonstrated good judgement, independence and leadership during her time on the board. I saw her in action,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who took office after her tenure. “She didn’t just do a public service, she did it well. She was a change agent focused on accountability and results.”

Caprice Young, who came into office as a school board member the same year as Hudley-Hayes, says she made every decision based on what she knew was right for children, especially students who were under-served. Young had high praise despite launching a successful campaign to replace her as board president after just two years.

“She fought for the rights of foster children, English language learners, gifted kids, special needs students and, especially, African-American students,” Young told LA School Report.

Hudley-Hayes took leadership of the school board at a time it appeared paralyzed in the face of enormous district-wide problems.

Overcrowding was chronic, more than 300,000 students rode polluting diesel buses to far away schools to help alleviate it; test scores were falling; and LAUSD was facing a movement to break up into smaller districts.

One of the biggest crises facing the school board had been a $200 million Belmont high school construction project located on an oil field near downtown which was under investigation for not securing a proper environmental review. A symbol of dysfunction at the school board level, the project had been in perpetual limbo.

Young said Hudley-Hayes led the board in a vote to abandon the Belmont project, at the risk of alienating Latino groups.

Later, in an effort to unite the board majority to start solving problems, Hudley-Hayes helped bring in Colorado’s out-going Governor Roy Romer as superintendent, impressed by his ability to raise money and lead large organizations.

When the state legislature failed to allocate LA Unified’s fair share of construction dollars, Hudley-Hayes leveraged her relationships with the social justice community to sue the state and worked with then Assemblyman Tony Cardenas to get nearly $980 million in state bond money set aside for construction projects.

Over the next decade, the funds helped build 150 new schools and renovate 350 more in the most high-needs neighborhoods, easing overcrowding and extending the school year by more than two weeks.

Despite heavy criticism of back-room politics, Hudley-Hayes not only helped the district restore arts, expand after-school programs and purchase clean-fuel buses, she also helped make sure early childhood and dropout programs were protected and new, more effective reading and math programs were adopted. She helped pass a Healthy Beverage Resolution, the first school board policy in the country to ban sugary drinks from school vending machines.

“She was effective because she didn’t get caught up in district politics,” Young said. “She didn’t just bring people to the table, she made them sit down and do the right thing together.”

Marlene Canter, another former board member who served with Hudley-Hayes, said that her wisdom and experience put her in a position to get things done because she helped bring cohesion to the board.

“She had an ability to work cooperatively with the Superintendent and senior staff to make sure goals were in alignment,” Cantor said.

A decade later, Hudley-Hayes, who is a product of the LA Unified school system, finds herself in a familiar hot seat. One of her opponents, Alex Johnson, has accused her of falsifying her resume and has invited her to drop out of the race.

“I will not be bullied,” she said in response. “My record stands for itself, with 30 years of service in this town.”

LA School Report confirmed the inaccuracies on her resume (see story here), which included claims of several academic degrees, but she has declined interview requests from LA School Report ever since.

Nonetheless, she has maintained a number of high profile endorsements including Villaraigosa, U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass, California State Senator Holly Mitchell and other civil rights activists and groups.

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