June 3, 1999
Completing the Revolution
When last we en-countered the Los Angeles Unified School District, it was in the midst of a revolution. The April 9 primary election swept out two incumbents and replaced them with reformers, Caprice Young and Mike Lansing. With the re-election of board member David Tokofsky, it was a stunning victory for Mayor Richard Riordan, who raised $2 million to replace the law of the jungle with the law of the marketplace: the state's largest school system, with 700,000 students, will itself be graded by such indices as drop-out rates and standardized test scores. The question left pending until this Tuesday's run-off between incumbent Barbara Boudreaux and challenger Genethia Hayes is, will Tokofsky get to command a new majority?
Hayes, former executive director of the L.A. branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference won the 1st District race with a 424-vote lead last month. The Jewish vote figures prominently in the district, which extends almost to La Brea and Pico on the east and to Palms on the West. The race is a close call.
Boudreaux, an ethnocentrist best known to this readership for her call to make ebonics an accepted dialect, has the endorsement of virtually every black incumbent leader, though on her watch school scores have reportedly declined. A potential last minute infusion of as much as $20,000 from Rep. Maxine Waters could help Boudreaux strengthen her ties to the middle-aged black female voters who are slowly giving Hayes a hearing.
More surprising is the endorsement for Boudreaux by City Attorney James Hahn, the leading announced candidate for mayor. Hayes' backers, including those who would back either Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky or Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa against Hahn, urged me to make Hahn's endorsement of Boudreaux better known. What would his father, the late beloved supervisor Kenny Hahn, make of this support? Hahn fils is shoring up his black community through Boudreaux, but will it cost him white liberals?
A final unknown is the impact of the run-off next week between veteran incumbent City Councilmember Nate Holden and challenger Rev. Madison Shockley in the 10th District, which overlaps sections of the above school board seat. Holden was only a few votes shy of 50 percent in April, and Shockley's 21 percent is no cause for optimism. I'll remind you that Holden accused Mike Feuer and Laura Chick of behaving like a "Westside Ku Klux Klan" when they called for council member Mike Hernandez to step down after drug charges. And I can tell you that years ago, Shockley and I engaged in a cogent conversation on the issues raised for his community by "Schindler's List." He'd be a great councilmember, if it could come to that. Those who favor the status quo with Holden might be disinclined towards Hayes' school board challenge.
Even without the future mayoral election as a subtext, there is considerable interest in this race among Jewish activists. Genethia Hayes is an impressive candidate: strong, outspoken and a former teacher to boot. As might be expected, she is committed to the kind of ethnic bridge-building that is crucial to peace on campus, especially in a post-Columbine environment. She has support from both City Councilmembers Mike Feuer and Jackie Goldberg, who rarely agree on anything. At a recent Westside fund-raiser, Feuer and Goldberg rushed to praise Hayes as a real hero and a friend.
As an example of Hayes' moderate style of political engagement without rabble-rousing, I asked her about the recent ruckus at Hamilton High School, where some black parents had made charges of racism against several school teachers. Hayes immediately understood that the larger problem was not racism but resources, the have-nots fed up with special handling for the haves.
Why, she asked, were there so few magnet schools in the inner city, and so many on the Westside? And why, she asked, did magnet schools attract so much more money and resources than other schools? It's no wonder that parents get jealous at the inferior opportunities offered their children, especially when the elite magnet schools are right next door, as at Hamilton.
"Every school should be a magnet school," she told me, at least in terms of dollars spent. Every child should have a way of developing his or her skills without having to be bussed across town, she argued.
The problem of magnets vs. regular schools indicates the kind of competitive pressure on the board. Even now, when money is coming back to public education for the first time in decades, rivalry between schools and districts threatens civil discourse.
The LAUSD is committed to building 100 new schools, with $2.4 billion from Prop. BB, but every school is a potential landmine. Last week, I attended part of a high-level two-day meeting of planners and architects at the Getty Museum. The symposium, "New Schools, Better Neighborhoods," led by Steven Soberoff (another mayoral hopeful) and David Abel, leaders of the BB oversight committee, allowed its participants to dream of low-density tree-lined campuses in the center of thriving communities. But without civility, and leaders who know how to compromise, such campuses will remain only dreams.
The point needs to be repeated, that although the percentage of Anglo students in the district is down to 11 percent, concern for the fate of LAUSD among the Jewish community remains strong.
We can't let our students fail. We can't give up on the city, even if we have the resources to walk away. If we have been embarrassed by our leaders, and regard the last 15 years of neglect of our schools with shame, the time to show interest is now.
Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, will appear on "The Spiritual Seeker" on KRLA 1110 AM Sunday at 8 p.m.
Marlene Adler Marks is author of "A Woman's Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life" (On The Way Press).
Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.