Thursday, December 12, 2013


Guest commentary By Bennett Kayser in the LA Daily News |

12/12/13  ::  It is with a very heavy heart that I must assert that the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education should appoint an interim board member to fill the now vacant seat of Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, and do so swiftly.

Ms. LaMotte was a friend and colleague, one who I know would demand that her communities be represented and that the critical business of governing this district be done. As a member of the elected Los Angeles Charter Commission and one who has sworn to uphold the Constitution of the state of California, I believe it is incumbent upon this board to act rapidly and decisively, knowing full well that we will be roundly criticized regardless of our decision whether to appoint an interim member or go to an election.

The constituents of LaMotte's District 1 deserve to have a voice at the table as soon as possible. To leave the seat vacant while awaiting not one but most likely two elections, a general and a runoff, will disenfranchise 641,236 residents, 303,966 voters, and approximately 100,000 students at more than 150 schools.

LaMotte, more than anyone, would ask that her democratically elected colleagues take on the responsibility and challenge of filling that seat until the end of its term in July 2015.

Over the next few months, critical issues such as implementation of the Common Core Curriculum, adaptation of the Local Control Funding Formula, the iPad issue and the district's 2014-15 budget will be decided.

By the time an election process is complete and someone sworn in, the constituents will have been without representation for far too long. Furthermore, the entire board is less likely to accomplish much without the potential tie-breaking odd-numbered vote, in this case, the seventh seat.

As recently noted by Daily News reporter Rick Orlov ("The high cost of special elections"), the cost to taxpayers of so-called special elections to fill vacated seats is no bargain. The governing agency must bear the burden of election costs to the entire universe of registered voters, most of whom will not participate.

Given the predictably low voter turnout, special elections become exorbitantly expensive. As noted, the cost per vote cast in the 54th Assembly District election was $139. LAUSD Board seats are much larger and one could expect both a primary as well as a runoff totaling into the millions of dollars. As the district struggles to recover from the recession, every penny must be wisely spent.

Furthermore, it is folly to think that any truly "independent" candidate can quickly start a campaign from scratch. Forget about volunteers going door-to-door talking with voters.

As we have seen in recent school board elections, it is the largely unrestricted, well-funded independent expenditure campaigns that are most capable of reaching a large number of voters through expensive media buys. In other words, were it to happen, this election will be left to the billionaires.

As we saw in June, a mayor from another city saw fit to drop a million dollars into the last Los Angeles school board race, barely keeping pace with other billionaires such as Eli Broad and Walmart's Walton family - hardly an idealist's truly "democratic" election.

Were this board to promptly name an interim replacement, it would indicate stability, cohesion and decisiveness, often perceived as lacking in the past. LaMotte fought on the side of children to protect public education.

As the LAUSD family continues to mourn our significant loss, I ask only that this board accept its painful responsibility to her legacy, her constituents, her students, and to the entire school district and the many communities within, and promptly name a successor.

  • Bennett Kayser is the Los Angeles Unified School District board member for District 5.

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