Vote to Shuffle Newport Principals Sparks Recall Move

Times Staff Writer

Newport Beach opponents of a swap of high school principals announced Wednesday that they will launch a recall effort against all seven members of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

"The recall is on, full bore," said Brian Theriot, a leader in the movement. "We're going to have our first meeting on Tuesday."

The seven board members are president Jim de Boom, Judith A. Franco, Sherry Loofbourrow, Roderick H. MacMillan, Kenneth L. Wayman, Forrest K. Werner and Tom Williams.

The recall attempt was announced after the board voted 7 to 0 late Tuesday night to exchange the principals of Corona del Mar High and Newport Harbor High next fall. The unanimous vote came despite a large public outpouring of sentiment at the board meeting against the swap. No one in the audience of about 350 parents, teachers and students spoke in favor of it.

Board members said the move had been carefully thought out. They said the switch of Corona del Mar High Principal Dennis Evans and Newport Harbor High Principal Tom Jacobson would be a beneficial change for both veteran principals and would help both high schools.

Parents and students stormed out of the meeting after the vote, saying the high schools would suffer turmoil next fall and that the trustees had arrived with their minds made up.

On Wednesday, Theriot said those parents now are focusing on removing the board members through a special recall election.

"I've been inundated with phone calls today from people who say the whole board must go," he said. "I initially thought it would be more feasible to go after (only) three board members, but everyone is so unhappy with the school board after last night that we've decided to go for all seven."

The effort probably will require $20,000 to $25,000 and "lots of volunteers," he said. To succeed in getting a special election, the group must collect 13,090 signatures of registered voters in Newport Beach for each board member.

Theriot had suggested the possibility of a recall before Tuesday night's meeting. Other opponents of the swap, however, had shied away from making any implied threats to the board.

For instance, a committee of Newport Harbor High parents had "wanted to be a positive force and to try to reason with the board members," said committee leader Jim Warmington, president of the Warmington Co. "But the unanimous vote for the transfer frankly shocked me. I've been on many boards of directors, and directors are supposed to listen to their stockholders. These board members aren't listening to their stockholders."

Esther Fine, a member of Warmington's committee, announced Wednesday that she is throwing her support to the recall movement.

"I honestly feel we in the community aren't represented by our school board," she said. "I can't speak for all of the committee, but I'm going to give my time and effort now for a recall. I think there will be a united effort to recall the whole board."

Carolyn Irvine, another member of the committee that had worked unsuccessfully to block the transfer, said Wednesday, "It (a recall) is certainly possible now, and I'm sorry to see if it comes to that. I don't like a recall. It's messy. It's divisive. But there is definitely a feeling against the school board now. Their vote was a shock. They really did not hear what we were saying."

Board member Williams on Tuesday night criticized the possibility of a recall. "One thing that has perhaps clouded this issue from the outset has been the threat of recall," he told the overflow audience.

Williams said "the inference is that you've done something wrong." The board members, he said, voted for the transfer because they sincerely believed it to be the correct move.

But Theriot on Wednesday said the vote has torn Newport Beach apart.

"The community is really polarized on this issue," he said. "It's like it was in Laguna Beach over the Cedrick Hardman issue. I don't think our school board realized how strongly the community feels about this."

Laguna Beach erupted politically when the trustees of the Laguna Beach Unified School District voted in September, 1986, to reinstate football coach Cedrick Hardman, who had been suspended for a drug-related arrest. The school board vote was 4 to 1, but one of the four members later recanted her vote. A recall was launched, and the other three board members were ousted in a special election last fall.

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