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School Race Targets Tried-and-True Voters

Times Staff Writer

With only 10% to 15% of the registered voters expected to go to the polls on Tuesday, West Valley school board candidates David Armor and Elizabeth Ginsburg have adopted similar strategies: They are preaching only to the converted.

Instead of spending the final days trying to woo the undecided voters, Armor and Ginsburg are reinforcing their message to constituents with whom they feel they share a natural affinity.

For Armor, this has meant getting absentee ballots to Republicans, drawing on the anger over the closing of West Valley schools and reminding West Valley parents that a court case could resurrect the specter of mandatory busing.

Ginsburg, on the other hand, has set her sights on Democrats and educators and parents who are frustrated with large classes and the lack of counseling in elementary schools. She also has made overtures to voters who may not have children in public schools, but who are concerned about the philosophical makeup of the board.

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And both candidates have focused on another group: people who voted in the April primary.

“When the turnout is expected to be that low, anything can happen. That’s why you want to make sure every person you can motivate goes to the poll,” said Arnold Steinberg, who has been an informal adviser to the Armor campaign.

“Obviously, we are concerned with every potential voter, but this time we are concentrating on our own,” said Inola Henry, political action chairman of United Teachers of Los Angeles, the district’s largest teachers union, which has endorsed Ginsburg.

Ginsburg, a member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, has placed special emphasis on the estimated 7,500 teachers who live in the West Valley.

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Campaign mailers were sent to residents whose political affiliations are similar to those of the two candidates. Those likely to be sympathetic to the candidates’ causes were identified through party registration lists.

For three weeks campaign volunteers on both sides have been telephoning those who voted in the primary, answering questions about the candidates and encouraging voters to go to the polls on Tuesday.

On weekends, the candidates have been visiting homes in key precincts and asking for voter support.

And, of course, there are the endorsements, one of the easiest ways candidates have to let the public know about their political philosophy.

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Ginsburg’s endorsements include those of Mayor Tom Bradley, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Studio City), Assemblyman Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles), State Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) and the San Fernando Valley chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Armor has received backing from City Councilman Hal Bernson, Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge), the San Fernando Young Republicans and the Police Officer Assn. of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Armor, 46, has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a doctorate in sociology from Harvard University. He has taught at Harvard and UCLA. He served as a senior social scientist at Rand, the Santa Monica-based think tank, before he established his own Santa Monica consulting firm, National Policy Analysts.

He has testified in court-ordered desegregation cases from Boston to Los Angeles, speaking against any type of mandatory reassignment of students in most cases. In 1983, President Reagan appointed Armor to the National Council on Educational Research.

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In 1982, Armor made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives against incumbent Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Los Angeles).

Ginsburg, 60, is a government and history teacher at Chatsworth High School. She has been a teacher in the Los Angeles district for 20 years and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree from Teacher’s College at Columbia University and a special-education credential from California State University, Northridge.

She was a member of the Southern California Social Science Assn. and a member of the National Council for Social Studies. She has received fellowships to teach in India and Israel, and a National Science Foundation grant to do research on interdisciplinary education.

Emerging as one of the more important issues in the campaign is classroom space in the West Valley, where 19 of the 22 schools closed by the district because of low enrollments are situated.

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Low enrollments during the 1970s, especially in elementary schools, created abundant classroom space in the West Valley. That is one reason that the district sent students in the voluntary integration program and from inner-city schools to the West Valley.

But an increasing Valley birthrate, coupled with school closures and the return from private schools of students who left during the three years the district operated under a court-ordered reassignment plan, has reduced the the number of spaces for non-Valley students.

The classroom crunch has caused the district to consider reopening at least one of the closed schools.

‘Quality Education’ Issue

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Armor has advocated that the district take a look at reopening some of the closed West Valley schools because of the growth in the school-age population. Ginsburg has strongly advocated using closed West Valley schools for other purposes, ranging from day care to adult education centers, until the sites can be reopened as neighborhood schools.

Another issue raised by parents in the campaign is “quality education.” Depending on the parent, the phrase can mean anything from the number of National Merit Scholarship finalists at a school to making sure that all students have an opportunity to learn basic computer skills.

Ginsburg would like to place more counselors at elementary schools so students with learning and behavioral problems could be spotted earlier and helped. She has advocated adding classes on test-taking skills to the curriculum. Classroom discipline is important, and can be achieved with greater ease if class sizes are reduced, she said.

Armor has stated that he would support expansion of the Magnet School program. He said he believes better academic performance can be achieved by improved classroom discipline, better teacher recruitment and increased emphasis on basic academic subjects.

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Restoring Confidence

Restoring confidence in the school district and the policies of the Board of Education is another concern voiced by both candidates and parents. At candidate forums before the primary, many members of the audience said they felt used by the school district because of the school closings and court-and government-mandated programs that benefit only inner-city schools.

To restore confidence in the school system, Armor said, the representative on the school board should be someone who has a track record of fighting mandatory reassignment for desegregating schools.

Ginsburg said she would restore confidence in the school district by keeping the interests of West Valley residents in mind whenever she voted. She added that her opposition to mandatory reassignment and her desire to make sure that West Valley schools are treated equally by the district are in line with the district’s thinking.

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The two candidates clashed recently when Ginsburg, in a TV taping, said that Armor “has not lived in the West Valley very long.”

“He has transfered his residence a few times to run for political office,” she charged. “His children did not go to Valley schools. He is not familiar with . . . conditions in the West Valley.”

Owns Home in Malibu

Armor has made no secret that he owns a home in Malibu and a condominium in Tarzana, which he purchased before his unsuccessful run against Rep. Beilenson.

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“I owned two homes and had to rent the condominium,” he said, explaining that he did so because of the financial burden of maintaining both residences.

“I have been involved with Valley parents since 1977 when we were asked to do a study on school busing . . . I have never lost touch with parents in the West Valley,” he said during the taping.

During the campaign, Armor has made an issue of mandatory busing, even though there has been no forced busing in the district since 1981.

‘Can’t Take a Chance’

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“The West Valley can’t take a chance with a representative that does not have a proven record in opposition to mandatory busing,” Armor said. “The West Valley simply cannot afford another experiment with mandatory busing.”

Ginsburg countered that she also opposes mandatory busing, and said that Armor has tried to create the illusion that they are on opposite sides of the issue.

“I have often been accused of not having enough fervor against busing,” she said. “I don’t know, maybe I should go out and burn a school bus.”


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