Request Comes From Group Seeking Recall of School Trustees : Boosters Club Inquiry Asked of Laguna Board

Times Staff Writer

An organization trying to recall four of the five school board members in the Laguna Beach Unified School District issued a statement Wednesday asking the board to appoint an independent citizens committee to investigate actions of the football boosters club.

Nancy Kreder, spokeswoman of the recall group, Citizens United for Responsible Education, said the booster club issue "has left a lot of unanswered questions" in the community.

She referred to payments made by the club to former high school football coach Cedrick Hardman and other coaches for summer training. A California Interscholastics Federation official has said that such payments directly to coaches by a booster club violate CIF rules.

'Perception of Wrongdoing'

"To date, the school board has not initiated an investigation into the apparent CIF violations and their own conflict of interests," Kreder said. "This inaction lends credence to the public perception of wrongdoing."

Charlene Ragatz, president of the school board and one of the four targeted for recall, defended the school board Wednesday. "The alleged violation of CIF rules by the booster club does not involve the school board. The booster club is an independent, nonprofit agency. However, our school board will be having a meeting with the CIF and the board of directors of the booster club on April 22."

Kreder, however, said the recall group doubts that session will be sufficient for the board to lay to rest "unanswered questions" about the football boosters club.

Stan Thomas, athletics commissioner for the Southern Section of the CIF, said last week that it was a violation of CIF rules for the Laguna Beach football boosters club to pay directly to coaches. Booster clubs may raise money for coaches' summer training, said Thomas, but the money must go through the school board or student government organization.

Thomas is scheduled to meet with the five Laguna Beach Unified School District trustees in open session at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district headquarters, 550 Blumont St.

Trustee Carl Schwarz said he thinks the school board's meeting with the CIF on Wednesday will obviate any investigative committee. Schwarz said that booster clubs "in many sports" have for years "given bonus money to underpaid coaches."

"I think some of the people in CURE (the recall group) are going to be embarrassed," Schwarz said. "They've given money to their boosters clubs, and that money has gone to coaches. It's been done for years because everybody thought it was OK."

Schwarz said he thinks that the recall group is trying to use the football boosters club's payment to Hardman "as something to try to get at Charlene (Ragatz), and that's unfortunate."

"In a way this is like a little Peyton Place, and the rumors are flying," he said. "I wish we could have face-to-face debate with CURE, which is something I called for but they rejected early on."

Controversy Over Arrest

"I wouldn't want to comment on their (CURE's) statement because we haven't had our meeting yet with the CIF," trustee Harry Bithell said Wednesday. Bithell is the only trustee not facing recall. The other two trustees--Susan Mas and Janet Vickers--could not be reached for comment on CURE's call for an investigative panel.

The recall action stems from a community controversy over Hardman's arrest last September on charges of cocaine possession and resisting arrest. The school board suspended Hardman but later voted 4 to 1, Bithell dissenting, to allow him to act as volunteer coach while undergoing court-ordered drug rehabilitation.

CURE was formed by persons angry at Hardman's reinstatement, but CURE has said the recall is based on many other issues. Most recently, CURE has been critical of the football booster club's payment of $3,000 to Hardman last summer for summer training given the football players. Other coaches conducting summer training were also paid by the club and received a total of $3,000, school officials said.

Ragatz was parent representative on the football boosters club. She has said she disagreed with CIF commissioner Thomas' criticism of her "wearing two hats" as both a school board member and booster club official.

Unaware of Violation

Ragatz also said the booster club paid the coaches directly because no one in the club knew that it violated CIF rules to do so.

Kreder said the school board should appoint an investigative panel at the board's next meeting April 28. "This panel must be chaired by a person from this community whose reputation is above reproach," Kreder said. "All meetings of the panel must be open to the public. . . . If there has been wrongdoing, (there should be) the immediate resignation of anyone who is guilty of illegal actions."

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