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School Board Members Are Moving On

Times Staff Writer

They were swept into office on the Los Angeles school board four years ago, touted as reformers who would shake up an intractable school district. But after losing their reelection efforts, Genethia Hudley-Hayes and Caprice Young now are packing up their offices and figuring what else to do with their lives.

It is a difficult moment for them. Tuesday, the board will have a new majority of trustees who won election with support from the teachers union, a group that targeted Hudley-Hayes and Young for defeat. The two say they are worried that such a change will focus too much on raising teachers’ salaries at the expense of other important aspects of a child’s education -- a charge other board members deny.

But Hudley-Hayes and Young also say they are proud of their legacy: The two women, who each served two years as board president, helped hire a new superintendent, Roy Romer, who they say has brought energy and professionalism to the district. Aided by a reorganized facilities division, 11 new schools have been built and almost 200 are either under construction or in the planning phase. In a new environment of accountability, elementary school test scores have risen.

Still, both women say their four years on the board were a lesson on how difficult change can be in a school district that educates 746,000 children, with a budget that eclipses the city of Los Angeles’. And they learned how the clout of organized labor in Los Angeles can outweigh the political and financial support they received from an organization backed by former Mayor Richard Riordan and businessman Eli Broad.

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While pleased with the building of new schools, Young worries that overcrowding will continue to plague the district. Hudley-Hayes says she has been unsuccessful in making the district’s complicated budget process more understandable to the average citizen.

“I think often people get elected and their constituents believe, OK, now that I’ve gotten that person elected, they’ve got their magic wand, I don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Young said in a recent interview. “The truth is, it’s just a lot harder than all of that.”

Young, 37, a technology consultant, worked as a deputy mayor of Los Angeles and as an executive for IBM’s e-Business Innovations Design Center before her 1999 election. The mother of three girls, ages 7, 3 and 1, she is the only one of the current seven board members with a child in Los Angeles public schools.

“The thing by far I am most proud of?” she asked, as she sat in her downtown district office. Young pointed at a map of her school board district, District 3, which stretches from the western edge of L.A. County to North Hollywood and Toluca Lake. “See all those red dots?” she asked, indicating the symbols for school sites under construction.

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Young, with her background in technology, also focused on making sure that the district’s 689 schools all had high-speed access to the Internet and that the district’s financial systems had the right technology tools.

“Part of the reason why the bureaucracy felt like this onerous bureaucracy is that it was incompetent,” she said. “And put- ting the resources in the right place made it better.”

Hudley-Hayes, a former school principal who was also the head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was an outspoken advocate for improving the education of poor and minority children. District 1, which she represents, is located mostly in Central and South Los Angeles and most of its children are African American and Latino.

In December, she and board member Jose Huizar co-authored an initiative to close the academic achievement gap separating African American and Latino students from their Asian and white peers. She also fought to give children better access to public bus passes and to get rid of sodas in schools.

State budget cuts led Young and Hudley-Hayes to join a board majority in voting for class-size increases in upper grades in April 2002. That vote, and their position against teacher pay raises in 2001, may have sealed their political fate. The leadership of United Teachers-Los Angeles poured money into their opponents’ campaigns and portrayed Hudley-Hayes and Young as tools of Riordan and Broad.

Almost four months after her failed reelection bid, Hudley-Hayes remains bitter about the union. “Caprice Young and I were the best thing that’s ever happened to this district and the school board for teachers,” she said.

“UTLA’s leadership -- and those people who are hard-core UTLA people -- are some of the most regressive people,” Hudley-Hayes said.

John Perez, president of UTLA, disagreed. A poll of the UTLA membership last year, he said, showed that “our members wanted us to oppose the Riordan-Broad candidates.”

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Hudley-Hayes and Young, he said, were the most “outspoken in opposing things that we considered good for the classroom, for the kids.”

“There is nothing personal about this,” said Perez. “They represented a viewpoint, and it is the viewpoint and the idea and the type of vote that they voted for on the school board that separates us.”

On Tuesday, the two candidates that UTLA supported will be sworn into office: Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, a former principal, will take the seat of Hudley-Hayes, and Jon Lauritzen, a former teacher, will take Young’s.

As that day approached, both Young and Hudley-Hayes were saying goodbye. In meetings, they hugged supporters and colleagues. They spoke of what they would do with the free time away from the notoriously lengthy school board meetings.

Young, a proponent for charter schools, said she plans to work for a company that will help find financing for start-up charter schools. Even with the addition of 115,000 school seats through the aggressive building plan, Young said, the district will be 250,000 seats short.

“We have to depend on the charter school community to make up that difference,” she said.

Hudley-Hayes has spent the last few months juggling board responsibilities with home life after her husband suffered two heart attacks.

Now that he is on the mend, she said, “For the first time in 25 years, I am going to rest.”

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