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County School Board: the Race for Anonymity

Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Board of Education race can be the Bermuda Triangle of elections, where candidates file to run for office and are rarely heard from again.

Take the 1972 race, for example. The two men who ran for one open seat spent no money, mailed no campaign literature and barely spoke a word on their own behalf. When invited to address a candidate forum for one minute each, one contender spoke for 52 seconds. The other didn’t show.

This year’s race is not much different. Three seats are up for election. There are three candidates for the District 1 seat and three, including the incumbent, for the District 2 seat. In District 5, incumbent Elizabeth Dorn Parker, 26, a Costa Mesa businesswoman, won’t even be on the ballot Tuesday. She automatically keeps her seat because she is running unopposed.

“It’s about as low a profile (race) as you can get,” said school board President Frances B. Murphy, who is running for her third term as trustee for District 2. “People are not too excited about the Orange County school board, unfortunately.”

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One reason for the lack of interest in the race is the fact that few county residents know that the five-member panel exists or what it does.

“They think we’re a ‘super-board’ over all of the school districts,” Murphy said. “It’s not true.”

The county school board oversees the county Department of Education, a $47.9-million-per-year agency that administers special education programs for the handicapped, Juvenile Court and child-care education projects. Francis X. Hoffman represents District 3, and Dean McCormick represents District 4. Both men won’t be up for reelection until 1988.

Three candidates, including a former board member, are vying to complete the term of Sheila Meyers, who resigned from the District 1 seat two years into her four-year term, when she moved out of state:

- Judy Ackley, 40, of Santa Ana is president of the Coast Federation of Employees, the American Federation of Teachers local that represents the faculty and staff for the Coast Community College District.

“I’ve spent a lot of years in education in one way or another,” Ackley said. “I’ve been president of the teachers’ union, so I’ve been involved in making change from that standpoint. I thought that this office would be good to run for because it has the potential of making change from a different perspective.”

Ackley is on leave from her job as reference librarian at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, where she has also served as an instructor and media center director. She plans to spend $2,500 on a last-minute mailing, she said. She has addressed no public gatherings about her candidacy.

“I don’t think there really are any controversial issues,” Ackley said. “It’s just a matter of providing quality service to the schools in Orange County. . . . Services can always be improved and expanded, especially services to employees and the media library.”

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- David L. Brandt, 46, of Santa Ana is a recreational vehicle salesman who has served on the Santa Ana City Council, the Orange County Transportation Commission and the Orange County Board of Education. During his previous eight years on the school board, Brandt said, the panel worked hard to upgrade opportunities for handicapped students and juvenile offenders.

Brandt, a former member of the John Birch Society, staunchly opposes bilingual education and the growth of the county Department of Education. “It has grown like Topsy in the six years since I’ve left,” Brandt said. “I don’t have an aversion toward government, but I have an aversion to it getting so doggone big we can’t pay for it.” Brandt said he has not campaigned for the board seat, has no campaign literature and has spent no money on the race.

- J. Michael Hughes, 36, of Santa Ana is an attorney specializing in juvenile law. He has served on the board of directors of two community organizations for troubled youths--one which he helped to found--and lectures at local police departments about the special needs of young offenders.

“I think there is one issue: that the (county Board of Education) meetings should be held at a time when the public can attend,” Hughes said. “Otherwise, there’s no point in having a public meeting if the public cannot show up. The board (which meets twice monthly on Thursday mornings) is losing importance in the community because it doesn’t let the public participate and it doesn’t take a leadership role.”

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Hughes has made no public appearances and has no campaign literature. He said he has spent about $400 on signs and bumper stickers.

Three candidates, including incumbent Murphy, are vying for the District 2 trusteeship:

- Murphy has spent eight years on the county Board of Education. With her husband, she runs the American Host Foundation, an educational program that arranges for classroom teachers from Western European countries to come to America for their summer holidays. The 65-year-old Garden Grove resident served as a naval officer during World War II.

“I think over the eight years I’ve seen the department increase . . . services to school districts with in-service training, workshops, providing leadership and help with curriculum and with the arts as districts’ funds were cut for the ‘special’ things,” Murphy said.

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Murphy has spent about $100 on her campaign and has addressed one public forum.

- Ralph G. Marcarelli, 60, of Huntington Beach is a pharmacist and attorney, who said he has spent 22 cents on his campaign and “done absolutely nothing that would generate any votes.” However, he said he feels strongly about the need to increase the responsibilities of the county board.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people don’t even know what the board does,” Marcarelli said. “I think the direction it has should be magnified and be pursued to its fullest extent. I think that the county Board of Education has the ability of creating an impact on society that isn’t immediately visible but is sure as heck going to show up in years down the road.”

- Nancy J. Zeleznikar, 52, of Huntington Beach is a trustee for the Huntington Beach Public Library and has served on the Orange County Grand Jury and the grand jury’s education committee. Zeleznikar has teaching credentials for secondary education and reading, although she does not teach.

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“I’ve toured all of the schools that the Orange County Board of Education has, and I know the workings of the schools,” she said.

Zeleznikar contends that the Board of Education should increase its day-care program for needy families and should better care for habitual truants. “I think the Board of Education, with a little diligent tracking or record-keeping, needs to follow these students more carefully,” she said.

Zeleznikar has spent about $760 on her campaign. She has stumped at “potlucks and ladies’ card parties, informal affairs” and has 200 volunteers passing out her campaign leaflets.


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