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Enrollment Heartens Candidates

Times Staff Writer

A modest increase in enrollment in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District after 12 years of declining enrollment has created optimism among candidates in the Nov. 5 school board election. Four candidates, including three incumbents, are competing for three seats.

Enrollment in the district is up by 42 students over last year, and candidates hope that the rise may signal an upward trend, which one incumbent attributes partly to an influx of younger families into the district.

But the district still faces funding problems caused by the loss of about 8,000 students from the district since 1973, and the candidates have also voiced concern about a lack of vocational training, a high dropout rate and the need to replace retiring teachers.

- Incumbent Jo Arneson, 54, an administrator at a beauty college, has served on the board for 12 years. She said that when she joined the board in 1973, when her two children were in school, there were more than 30,400 students, compared to the 22,645 students reported by district officials this year.

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‘Seem to Be Stabilizing’

“This year we seem to be stabilizing. When we were declining we had to do away with a lot of services,” she said. Field trips were curtailed and music and art programs were cut because of the consequent drop in state funding, officials said.

Arneson said she would like to see the district gain more local control over district matters. “Most everything that comes down to us comes from Sacramento. They hold the purse strings. But we know our own needs.” she said.

- Sandy R. Johnson, 49, a community volunteer and activist, favors turning one of the five high schools in the district into a vocational high school where students could get both an academic education and specialized vocational training that would make them “job-ready” at graduation.

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Such a vocational high school would provide counseling which would make it easier for the students to get back into the academic track, where they can get basic educational skills, she said. They would also get “the feeling of success and of staying with their peers, rather than feeling they had dropped out of something.”

Wants Higher Salaries

Johnson, whose three children attended district schools, also thinks that teacher salaries have to be increased so that the district can attract new teachers to replace the large number of teachers nearing retirement age.

The money for higher teacher salaries and vocational programs should come from the state, she said. “We have been limping along for so many years begging for dollars, and it is time that we got the support of the community to pressure the legislators to make quality education a priority.”

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- Incumbent Kenneth C. Kim, 57, executive director of the Montebello Teachers Assn., who has served eight years on the board, said, “This year for the first time we think we are going to hold even. We have had some hard times dealing with cuts for the last eight years. Enrollment is growing slowly. We won’t be adding by leaps and bounds,” Kim said.

Kim said the modest enrollment gain has occurred because “people will go wherever the lower cost housing is available, but they have to wait until the older people in those homes move. That is what is happening in the north part of the district.”

Program for Dropouts

Kim, whose five children graduated from district schools, said he was also concerned with the district’s outreach program for dropouts. The district does not have exact figures on the number of students who leave school, but district officials estimate that it is about 25%. About 600 students attend the outreach classes which are held for four hours a day in neighborhood classrooms housed in churches or other buildings.

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- Incumbent Judy A. Richman, 47, a community volunteer, who has served four years on the board, said the district had been criticized for ignoring the dropout rate. But she said that many of the dropouts are pregnant teen-agers and that the district had an award-winning program for this and other programs like the outreach program.

“I’ve felt progressively happier about some of the changes we have implemented in the district over the last four years,” Richman said. “We are a declining enrollment district with less money from the state but in spite of that we have maintained our instructional programs at the highest level and our graduation requirements in academics have been strengthened.”

Richman also said she was concerned with the need to raise teacher salaries to attract new teachers to the district. Her four children attended district schools, where she says the average age for teachers is now above 50 because few new teachers were hired during the years of declining enrollment and funding cuts.


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