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Does experience count? LAUSD candidates vie for attention

Vanessa Romo | March 4, 2014

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SpecialElectionforum-3-32014An experience gap is emerging as an election issue — that’s one of the takeaways as south LA residents got an early look yesterday at some of candidates in the highly contested race to fill the vacant LA Unified school board seat.

The forum attracted 5 of the 13 contenders in the special election scheduled for June 3. They mostly agreed with each other on the issues but offered only few specifics about how they’d represent District 1, which is home to nearly 110 schools.

While no particular candidate appeared to break away from the pack, the two most experienced candidates received the most applause from the audience of about 50 — and who offered the most specific plans for steering board toward policies that will benefit District 1 students.

Retired principal and former local superintendent George McKenna, who is well-known for turning around Washington Prep in the early 1980s, got a rousing reaction from the crowd when he told them, “I’m going to run on what I’ve done, not what I promise to do.”

Similarly, Genethia Hudley-Hayes, a veteran of politics and education policy who held the District 1 seat before the late Marguerite LaMotte, reminded voters of her record as school board president a decade ago. She told them the first thing she did as the head of the board was to build a coalition.

“If you get four votes, you can stop anything,” Hudley Hayes said. “And I can do that.”

On the flip side, Omarosa Manigualt, who may be the most famous (though only recently certified) substitute teacher in LA Unified thanks to her stint on the reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” emphasized her status as a newcomer with a fresh take.

She chronicled her ascent “from the projects of Youngstown, Ohio to the White House, to the most famous board room in the country” saying it was all due to her “bold leadership skills.”

Alex Johnson an aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and relative newcomer to Los Angeles, promised to engage parents in their children’s education via a Parent Academy. He spent much of his time advocating for high quality early education programs and said it is “a moral imperative” to ensure all children get a “head start early in life.”

All of the candidates, including Hattie McFrazier, who has been with the district for three decades, discussed ways to reduce the high dropout rate among African American students and suggested reintroducing the wrap-around services — counselors, mental health service, libraries, and after school programs — as the best way to do it. While graduation rates in the district have continued to climb in recent years despite budget cuts, African American students show a higher than average dropout rate.

There was a consensus among the candidates that the students of the south LA district have been shortchanged for several decades by the district officials, with claims that it has received inadequate resources for some of the district’s neediest kids.

“If you want to talk about justice then you can’t talk about equality,” McKenna said. “Because equal is not fair and we need fair.”

The forum was sponsored by Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS), a group of organizations which includes United Way and the Los Angeles Urban League that advocating for equitable education.

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