Longtime school administrator George McKenna has defeated political aide Alex Johnson in a special election for the L.A. Unified School Board. The District 1 seat, which covers most of South Los Angeles and parts of the Westside, was left vacant by the death of Marguerite LaMotte.
The result is yet another blow to “school reform” movement, members of which (including Michelle Rhee and the California Charter Schools Association Advocates) had endorsed Johnson and funded a campaign on his behalf. It's also a blow to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, for whom Johnson used to work. Ridley-Thomas had helped raise money for both Johnson and an independent campaign on his behalf.
Although McKenna is seen as an independent, he was backed by the teachers union, which has been threatening to strike over a salary dispute with the superintendent, John Deasy.
This marks the second election in a row where a teachers union-endorsed candidate defeated a much better-financed school reform-backed candidate.
“The coalition we have built of parents, community and educators will not dissipate now that the electoral process is complete,” said McKenna in a statement. “Now begins the hard work of transforming our district, liberating our children, and emancipating our communities.”
As expected, voter turnout was quite low. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, about 8 percent of registered voters (or roughly 4 percent of District 1 residents) cast ballots. McKenna's margin of victory is less than 2,000 votes, but that was enough for a healthy 6 percentage points.
The seven-member school board sets overall policy for L.A. Unified, the second largest school district in the country. The superintendent runs the district, although the board can fire him at any time.
Unfortunately for the 73-year-old McKenna, he'll have to start running for re-election almost immediately – the primary for the district will be held March 3, 2015. He may even have to face Alex Johnson again.