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L.A. school board to debate how to fill seat of the late LaMotte

The L.A. Board of Education is taking up the issue of how to replace school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, above, who died this month.
The L.A. Board of Education is taking up the issue of how to replace school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, above, who died this month.
(Los Angeles Time)

The Los Angeles Board of Education is scheduled Tuesday to decide whether to elect or appoint a successor to school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died this month.

With pressure mounting from advocates for each alternative, three of six board members -- Richard Vladovic, Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan -- have talked of favoring a special election. Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff said they’re leaning toward an appointment. Steve Zimmer said he’s undecided.

Opting for an election on a fast timetable -- in March, for example -- could make it difficult for candidates to assemble campaigns. Postponing the election could result in LaMotte’s seat being vacant for much more of the remaining 18 months of her term.

Whatever the case, holding an election would leave LaMotte’s seat unfilled for about three months to a year, depending on the scenario.

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In contrast, an appointment would give LaMotte’s district a voice right away on key issues. Critics of that approach, however, say it would result in other board members choosing an ally rather than letting voters make their own choice.

Whatever option is chosen, the office will go before voters in a regular election in 2015.

A school board has up to 60 days to make a decision about how to fill a vacancy before an election would be scheduled by default, according to the California School Boards Assn. But even this rule could run into complications because Los Angeles is a charter city with its own election laws. And the city charter lacks clarity on this front, according to both district and city officials.

LaMotte’s District 1 stretches across a diverse swath of south and southwest L.A., over which black voters historically have been the most influential. That seat has been held by an African American since the Board of Education first was divided into geographic regions in 1979.

About 45% of LaMotte’s District 1 voters are black, according to analyses based on the census. And the holder of that seat is regarded, especially in the black community, as the particular guardian of black students, many of whom have struggled in the nation’s second-largest school system.

L.A. Unified has more black students than any school system in the state, although they make up just 10% of the population. Even in District 1, with its black enclaves, about 62% of students are Latino, while about 28% are black.

Since LaMotte’s death, most of the visible politicking has been in the black community. A broad coalition of groups and District 1 residents met Sunday at the First AME Church. At a meeting led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), they voiced a strong preference for appointing a replacement. Most also expressed support for choosing recently retired senior district administrator George McKenna.

But there’s also a community faction advocating for an election. This group includes L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Both coalitions are planning Tuesday news conferences at school district headquarters.

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Twitter: @howardblume | howard.blume@latimes.com


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