Genethia Hudley-Hayes is a contender to return to the Los Angeles Board of Education seat she formerly held and can claim many accomplishments. But an MBA that can't be verified has magnified other resume problems, including an inaccurate description of an honorary doctorate.
These issues have become fodder for an opponent, undermining a long record of public service.
On her resume, Hudley-Hayes lists an MBA with emphasis on nonprofit management from a joint program of San Jose State and the Los Angeles-based Center for Nonprofit Management.
She said she no longer has documentation, but insists that she completed the course work and received a degree in 1976.
"I believed all was in order," Hudley-Hayes said, because "no questions were ever asked regarding the degree."
"I don't claim to be a Rhodes scholar, or have degrees from prestigious university or colleges," she said. "I am simply presenting a resume that reflects my schooling. If indeed that derails a candidate's campaign where there is a mountain of evidence to attest to my ability to serve, it will be a sad day indeed."
The management center says it did not exist until 1979, that it has never offered an MBA and has no record of a relationship with San Jose State. In the late 1980s, the center began offering certificates, which lack the standing of a degree, for completing courses.
The center could not locate records for Hudley-Hayes, although it has no documentation from 1979 to 1985, Chief Executive Regina Birdsell said.
San Jose State has been offering MBAs since at least 1969, but could find no record of one with an emphasis on nonprofit management. Nor could it find a record of Hudley-Hayes as a student. The university checked files and microfilm as well as graduation and diploma books.
"She may have gotten something but it probably wasn't from us," said spokeswoman Pat Lopes Harris, noting that the college has tried to maintain careful records of official degrees.
Last month, the Hudley-Hayes' campaign had characterized inaccurate statements about a doctorate as a typo.
In past resumes, Hudley-Hayes failed to note that the doctorate was honorary rather than earned. And she identified the school as Washington, D.C.-based American University, rather than American World University, which critics have described as a diploma mill.
In recent exchanges, Hudley-Hayes explained that a colleague in academia nominated her for the honorary degree while she was on the Board of Education.
At the time, one potential benefit to American World University was an association with a prominent elected official.
After her board service, Hudley-Hayes, 68, worked frequently as a consultant. For some period, the misidentified doctorate was listed as a credential supporting her qualifications. It surfaced as recently as 2010, when Hudley-Hayes became an appointed trustee over Compton Community College. And also after her appointment as a city fire commissioner.
The doctorate hasn't appeared on recent resumes, said her campaign consultant, Parke Skelton.
Academic credentials can have particular import in a school board race.
"It's much more than [inaccurately] saying you were past president of the homeowners association because it relates to the job," said Bob Stern, past president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.
In a board election, he added, it can be "hard to distinguish between the candidates, so something like this will be amplified."
The issues with the resume were investigated by the campaign of rival Alex Johnson, which first challenged Hudley-Hayes' resume.
Johnson consultant Roy Behr also offered evidence that Hudley-Hayes overstated her status as a professional mediator and a past association with a state commission.
The Hudley-Hayes campaign made the first public disclosure, accusing Behr of trying to force Hudley-Hayes out of the race.
Much of Hudley-Hayes' career has unfolded in public view: She headed a local civil rights organization, became president of the Board of Education, headed the city Fire Commission and served as an appointed trustee for the Compton Community College District. And she holds a master's degree in education from Pepperdine University.
A number of community leaders have risen to her defense, suggesting that the matter could have a negative effect on Johnson's campaign.
"Hudley-Hayes has a long and honorable track record of dedicated public service and is a staunch and experienced education advocate for the LAUSD's undeserved students," community activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson said in a statement with several signatories. "To have her name and reputation sullied for cheap and dirty political one-upmanship does nothing to advance the fight of educational excellence."
In 2006, the discovery of inaccurate education credentials played a key role in a school board race. Candidate Christopher Arellano had yet to complete a master's degree that he had claimed.
Arellano's campaign collapsed because of this and other revelations, including past troubles with law enforcement.