Underdog George McKenna Claims LAUSD School Board Seat

George McKenna, a veteran school administrator, has won the District 1 seat in the Los Angeles Board of Education. McKenna claimed 53% of the vote over competitor Alex Johnson, reports Howard Blume for the Los Angeles Times.

McKenna attributes the win to his investment in a 50-year long career in local education.

“I have never accepted an easy assignment in my career, yet I have always improved the educational outcomes of children. I will draw on the best of my experience, assemble an able team of advisers, and work in partnership with parents, teachers and the community to pursue excellence in our schools.”

The primary election in June included seven candidates running for the District 1 seat that was left vacant after Marguerite LaMotte’s death in December, reports Annie Gilbertson for KPCC. McKenna pulled twice as many votes as Johnson in the primaries, although not enough to win outright.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters donated her own campaign funds to send out campaign literature for McKenna, reports Jamie Alter Lynton for LA School Report. Mark Ridley-Thomas went door to door for Johnson’s campaign and raised money for his bid through his network.

Despite the fact that McKenna had significantly less money then Johnson he was still able to secure his spot by 7 percentage points.

This amounted to just a few thousand votes since the voter turn out was low. Only 8% of voters went to the polls.

McKenna will cast a pivotal vote on issues including how teacher evaluations will be conducted, the amount of pay raises for teachers and whether Superintendent John Deasy will get the support he needs for his reform vision.

The results of the election come as a blow to reform efforts. Members of the school reform movement including Michelle Rhee and California Charter Schools Association Advocates endorsed Johnson and contributed to funding his campaign, reports Hillel Aron for LA Weekly.

McKenna, despite being seen as an independent, was backed by the teachers union. The union has been threatening to strike over a salary dispute with Deasy.

“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.”

McKenna cannot sit comfortably in his new seat yet, however. He will have to start running for re-election almost immediately with the primary for the district being held on March 3 of next year. It is highly possible Johnson will run again against McKenna.

Filling the considerable shoes of LaMotte will be no small task, either. The 80-year-old who passed away in March was in her fourth term on the LAUSD school board representing District 1. Her career in LAUSD spanned five decades, beginning in 1973.