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Polls suggest McKenna, Johnson heading for LAUSD election runoff

LA School Report | May 22, 2014

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George McKenna and Alex Johnson school board candidates district 1 LAUSD special election

From left: George McKenna and Alex Johnson

With less than two weeks before the special election to fill a vacant seat on the Los Angeles Unified school board, two candidates appear to be leading the field of seven, suggesting the probability of an August runoff.

People familiar with two separate but consistent polls of likely voters conducted by professional firms said the two leading candidates are George McKenna, 73, a retired administrator with decades of experience who had a turn at stardom when his story of a school turnaround in the 1980’s was made into a TV movie; and Alex Johnson, 33, a senior aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas who grew up in Los Angeles and returned with a law degree and experience working with the Department of Education in New York City.

One poll was conducted for one of the seven candidates, the other for an organization with no affiliation to any of the campaigns. The results have not been made public.

McKenna leads the pack in terms name recognition among voters by a wide margin, the polls said. Johnson comes in second, with another candidate, Genethia Hudley Hayes, an experienced former school board member who has faced criticism over discrepancies in her resume coming in third, sources said.

The other four candidates have gotten little traction in polling, they said.

But McKenna’s lead isn’t strong enough to give him the 50 percent plus one majority necessary to claim victory outright, according to the sources. That would mean he and Johnson would face each other in a runoff, scheduled for Aug. 12.

The election for the District 1 seat, covering much of south LA, is not expected to attract the attention of voters despite the immense challenges facing the school district this year.

Set for June 3, the statewide primary day, it follows the death of Marguerite LaMotte, who had represented the district for 10 years until she died late last year. The vacancy has left the district, home to some of the lowest performing schools in Los Angeles, without board representation as it grapples with a new school funding formula dictated by the state and a fast-approaching deadline to complete the 2015 budget.

In 2011, the last time there was a school board race in District 1, voter turnout was less than 15 percent, with only 40,000 of the more than 300,000 registered voters casting a ballot.

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