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Alex Johnson, aide to Ridley-Thomas, joins L.A. school board race

January 15, 2014|By Howard Blume

A senior aide to an L.A. County supervisor has joined the race for an open seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Alex M. Johnson, 33, is the assistant senior deputy for education and public safety for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“I believe that the children in our community have been left behind by a school system that has failed to address their needs,” Johnson said Wednesday, in confirming his bid.

The supervisor’s aide was widely expected to enter the increasingly crowded field as the preferred candidate of Ridley-Thomas. The supervisor did not discourage this speculation but said, in an interview, that he would withhold his endorsement until he could consider all candidates.

Ridley-Thomas has broad political reach in south and southwest Los Angeles, the region formerly represented by L.A. school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died in December.

Johnson graduated high school from the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, and later became a prosecutor of domestic violence crimes in New York City. He also worked for that city’s Department of Education, handling teacher dismissal cases. In Ridley-Thomas' office, he has focused on programs that serve preschool children, on providing summer classes for low-income students and on efforts to educate juvenile offenders.

“I’ve seen what happens on the back end if we don’t invest in our children,” Johnson said.

Others in the race include former school board member Genethia Hudley-Hayes, retired senior school district administrator George McKenna, Gardena City Council member and elementary teacher Rachel Johnson and Dorsey High school teacher and union activist Sherlett Hendy Newbill.

The election will take place in June. To represent LaMotte’s District 1 until then, the school board agreed this week to have member Steve Zimmer develop a process to appoint a caretaker.

Zimmer had wanted an appointee who would hold the full powers of an elected board member, but district lawyers insisted that statutes don’t allow for that once a special election is called.

Instead, the lawyers laid out several options.

One approach, they said, would be to designate a current board member to take responsibility for LaMotte’s district. This board member would not cast an additional vote. Board member Monica Garcia spoke favorably of this approach at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The attorneys also suggested that several board members could take on that role, handling portions of LaMotte’s district that was next to their own territory. Garcia implied this approach also could work, saying that all board members had a responsibility to look out for all students - -not just those within the boundaries of their districts.

Another approach was to appoint an advisory committee. L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy started down that path last week on his own, sending out invitations for such a committee. He pulled back when it became clear that he would face resistance from some board members and community leaders who questioned his picks.

And another route would be to select a caretaker or advocate. At the board’s discretion, this person could participate in board meetings, sponsor resolutions and handle day-to-day duties of the office.

But, lawyers said, this person could not vote as a board member and could not attend confidential briefings or review confidential documents. Nor could this appointee hire or fire staff in the district office.

Community leaders who had wanted an appointment instead of a special election were divided on the merits of a caretaker.

Like Zimmer, board member Monica Ratliff had favored an appointment instead of a special election. But she said the caretaker position was substantially meaningless and not worth doing.

The idea nonetheless won majority support.

Working with district staff, Zimmer is supposed to return in February with a proposal containing the job duties of a caretaker and the specific process for selecting one, who could be chosen as soon as mid-March.

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

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