ABC School Officials Deny Impropriety in Pre-election Mailing

Times Staff Writer

A group of administrators in the ABC Unified School District are under fire for sending a letter to potential school board candidates on stationery with the address and telephone number of the district's main offices.

The letter, dated March 1, was mailed to nine prospective candidates, including four incumbents who are up for reelection in November. Several people who received the letter--an invitation to meet with the ABC Management Assn. at a Buena Park restaurant on March 19--have said it is "unethical" and in "poor taste." They say it raises a potential conflict of interest, which the association's leadership denied.

Written on the association's stationery, it contains both the phone number and the Norwalk Boulevard address of district headquarters in Cerritos.

"Anybody has the right to organize and get involved in the political process," said Jim Weisenberger, a Cerritos resident who received the letter. "But certainly not on company time, and certainly not at the office. . . . I think that is highly unethical."

Dixie Primosch, another Cerritos resident who was invited to the after-school "mixer" at the Velvet Turtle, said she is concerned that district telephones and mail may have been used for political purposes. "If that's the case," she said, "I think it is in poor taste."

'Easier to Reach Me Here'

Betty McGinnis, president of the 150-member management association, said the group is careful not to conduct any business during school hours. She said the address and phone number of the district offices is on the stationery to "make it easier for people to find me. I work a lot of hours and sometimes it's easier to reach me here," she said. "But we don't mix politics and business."

School board President Elizabeth Hutcheson, one of four incumbents who received the letter, said the association has done nothing improper.

To someone outside the district, she said, it probably seems like a conflict of interest. "But when you realize that all of those association members live elsewhere, it is simpler to have the contact point in the district," she said. ". . . The integrity of the administrators as well as all the district's employees is unquestionable."

Besides Hutcheson, Dianne Xitco, Richard Arthur and Homer Lewis face reelection on Nov. 3. Hutcheson said she is undecided about running again, but Xitco said she will seek another four-year term. Arthur and Lewis could not be reached for a comment on their reelection plans.

Both Weisenberger and Primosch said they have been asked by friends to run for the school board, but are undecided. George Medina, another Cerritos resident who has indicated that he will run for the board, also received a letter from the association. McGinnis would not identify the other two who received invitations.

New Majority Possible

McGinnis said the list of prospective candidates was drawn up after discussions with various members of her group as well as several community leaders. It is an important election because a new majority may be elected to the seven-member board.

In recent years, the management association--whose members include school principals, department heads and support staff--has become politically more active. Two years ago, the group formed a political action committee and contributed several hundred dollars to the reelection bids of incumbents Peggy Lee and Rodney Davis. Lee won, but Davis was defeated.

"For years teachers and classified employees have been involved in school board elections," said McGinnis, the district's supervisor of health services. "We just feel it is important to get to know the candidates and give them a chance to know us."

Pat Howlett, a spokeswoman for the 15,000-member Assn. of California School Administrators, said the statewide group has been encouraging local school administrators to take a stronger interest in school board elections.

"Management's voice must be heard," she said. "The teachers have done a good job of making their needs known to the public. We must do the same. . . ."

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