4 of 5 W. Covina Candidates Back Higher Teacher Pay

Times Staff Writer

In the wake of a two-day teacher strike in West Covina Unified School District last June, four of the five candidates for two seats on the Board of Education favor higher wages for teachers.

Providing stability for students despite state cutbacks in school funding is the major concern in other Nov. 5 board races in neighboring Covina Valley and Baldwin Park unified school districts.

Competition is especially keen in West Covina, where attorney Ray Fleck is vacating the board seat he has held for 12 years.

Incumbent Karen R. Welts, an insurance customer service representative, said, "We don't have any issues now that we have a three-year contract with teachers."

Agreement on Pay

The four newcomers seeking election to the board all agreed that teacher pay should be raised.

Sidney Goldblatt, a bank assistant vice president, said, "Teachers' salaries are an issue, because we have to attract quality teachers and quality education."

Timothy R. Irwin, a businessman, said last spring's strike "caused a tremendous rift in the district. We're going to lose one-third of our teachers to retirement in the next five years, and I want to emphasize the need to replace them with high-quality instructors. We can only do that by offering attractive salaries."

Randolph J. McCarty, a retired probation officer, said, he is "sympathetic and responsive to teacher problems."

Larry L. Petty, an electrician, said West Covina school employees "are not on a fair wage scale. Pay and benefits are too low, and these people should be able to make a satisfactory living."

In contrast, five candidates for two seats in Baldwin Park Unified School District said employee pay is not an issue and student problems are their major concern.

Incumbent Robert C. Gair, an estimator for a roofing company who has served on the board for 13 years, said, "There aren't any issues here. It's a stable district and morale is high."

The other incumbent, Robert Viramontes, said that in his 12 years on the board, "we have had no work stoppages, no protests, and apparently employees are happy."

Viramontes, assistant director of data processing, planning and user support for Los Angeles County Office of Education, said he is concerned with improving students' attendance and the district's dropout rate.

"Drugs and dropouts" were cited by Julio C. Solis, a retired jeweler, as major issues among Baldwin Park students. He said he is running for office "because we need new people, new ideas, new concepts."

Jesus Leyson, who works in quality control for a photography manufacturer, said he is running for office in part because, "when people have held positions for a long time, sometimes they take things for granted. I can take a new look at problems."

Awilda (Willie) Sanders, a mail carrier/supervisor who was an unsuccessful board candidate two years ago, wants "to upgrade educational standards and plan for future growth before it hits us. From talking to parents, I think the dropout rate is becoming a problem, too."

Three candidates for two board seats in Covina Valley Unified School District also say the district is not facing major issues. The district has 12,000 students in Covina, Irwindale and part of West Covina.

Willard H. (Bill) Altman, who has been on the board for eight years and is the only elected incumbent, said he wants to continue to "keep the district stable, settled and with good employee relations."

The other incumbent is Gilbert Ramirez, who was appointed two years ago to fill an unexpired term and is now running for a four-year term. He is director of the East Los Angeles Neighborhood Service Center.

"I want to continue to guarantee a good educational curriculum, and to address the issue of getting qualified teachers in the future," Ramirez said.

Bill Japenga said he wants to serve on the Covina Valley board because of his expertise as a computer programmer and trainer.

No "Political Hotbed"

"This is no great political hotbed here," Japenga said. "I just think I can help implement the district's computer program, and this would be a way to pay back the district and the community for what they've given me."

In a separate ballot measure for the Covina Valley board, Michael P. Newman is running unopposed for an unexpired two-year term.

Newman, an attorney who has served for 16 years, said, "We are about to pay off our school building bonds, and districts are beginning to see some financial relief from the state Legislature. I want to be a part of this for the next two years, but no longer.

"We are as well-run as any school district in the valley, and there are no issues."

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