A Big Field in Capistrano Trustee Race : 18 Candidates Seek 5 Seats; Teachers Seek ‘New Faces’

Times Staff Writer

In the most crowded school or college race in Orange County, 18 candidates are vying for five seats in the Capistrano Unified School District.

The teachers’ union is urging voters to oust all the incumbents seeking reelection. “We have been frustrated with the present board for a long time,” said Ric Stephenson, a teacher at Newhart Junior High and president of Capistrano Unified Education Assn. “We need new faces--people who want to work with teachers as partners in the education process.”

The political action committee of the teachers’ association has endorsed five candidates, four of whom are challenging incumbents.

A wide array of issues, ranging from criticism about “lack of communication” to worries about adequate funding, is being discussed in the campaign. Capistrano Unified, a rapidly growing district with about 22,500 students this year, serves a large area of south Orange County, extending from Laguna Niguel to San Clemente.


4 Full-Term Posts

In the Nov. 8 election, voters will elect four people to full, 4-year terms on the seven-member board and elect a fifth person to fill the remaining 2 years of the seat held by Jan Overton, who died in January.

Candidates must live in the trustee area he or she seeks to represent, but election is by districtwide vote.

In Trustee Area 1, incumbent E. G. (Ted) Kopp is challenged by Gil Morales, John Hunt and Rick Heil.


Kopp, 54, of Capistrano Beach has been the incumbent since 1975. He said he sees enrollment growth and the need for the state to equalize its funding for students as major issues facing the district. Kopp, who is a licensed general contractor, said: “I believe that my background, prior civic activities, business experience and 13 years as school trustee permit me to make a valuable contribution to the board. . . . My educational philosophy is: back to basics.”

Morales, 61, of San Clemente, a businessman and former teacher, said he sees the need for equalized state funding of students as the district’s major problem. He said he would “pressure Sacramento through lobbying to provide long-range funding for schools” and “would become heavily involved in gaining political support.” He was endorsed by the teachers’ association.

Cites Communication

Hunt, 59, of Capistrano Beach is an educational consultant and former assistant superintendent of the San Diego County Department of Education. He said the district’s biggest problem is “lack of communication between the board and the community and an insensitivity to those who question the board’s judgment.” He said he “would insist on more open communication during board meetings and would provide any information about any topic of deliberation upon request, except for matters discussed in closed session.”

Heil, 36, of San Clemente, is a former teacher who is now a financial securities representative. He said state test scores in the school district “are fair, but could be so much better.” Heil also criticized the incumbent board’s method of allowing parents to address the board during a meeting for three minutes, a system called “open communication.”

Heil said: “Board policy is that they do not respond during this ‘open communication,’ so I ask you, is it truly open communication?”

In Trustee Area 2, incumbent Charles H. Ward has two challengers, Marlene Draper and Robert M. Hows. Ward, 65, of San Juan Capistrano, has been on the board of trustees since 1979. He said the district’s major problem is “getting adequate school facilities for future growth of student population” and in getting state action to equalize funding for students. He said he would continue to work for those goals. Ward also praised the current administrative staff in the district. “Our administration is well-qualified and balanced to assure better education process and good use of our facilities to give our students the opportunity to achieve the best that they aspire,” he said.

Draper, 36, of San Juan Capistrano, a businesswoman and parent, said the biggest problems in the school district are “lack of effective leadership and responsive communication on the board level.” She added: “Schools belong to the entire community. We need trustees who are committed to listening and working with parents, teachers and other elected officials. . . . Our current board of trustees lacks effective leadership and acts as a rubber stamp to the administration.” She is the choice of the teachers’ association.


Hows, 25, of San Juan Capistrano, who works in irrigation and landscape sales, said the district’s major problem is “the communication void between the public and the board, which is caused by the superintendent filtering information to the board.” Hows added: “The voters elected the trustees, not the superintendent. The superintendent should be relieved of his duties for failure to execute his duties.”

In Trustee Area 3, incumbent Dr. A. Edward Westberg is challenged by Edward R. Kweskin.

Westberg, 46, a dentist who lives in San Clemente, has been the incumbent for the past 16 years. He said that growth is the district’s major problem. “We have a tremendous influx of students, and housing (them) will become critical,” he said. “Funding for new schools is a critical need. State bond issues must be supported, and local Mello-Roos districts, especially in new areas, must be encouraged.” Westberg said he is working “to get legislative support for equalizing the educational dollar within the state.”

Kweskin, 41, is a construction manager who lives in San Clemente. He, too, said growth is the major issue. “The current board appears to lack the initiative or planning experience to accommodate the massive growth which is occurring and will continue to occur in the district,” Kweskin said. “The board and administration lack the will or expertise to engage in the solution.” He added: “Cooperation with all the existing municipalities, their staffs, and the new cities and their staffs is vital to the solution. . . . I have the experience, the contacts, the energy, the management tools to address the issue successfully.” Kweskin is endorsed by the teachers’ association.

In Trustee Area 4, which has no incumbent, seven candidates are running. John A. Smith, 54, of Laguna Niguel, a training-bargaining specialist, said he has several goals, including “to seek the best possible means to provide classroom learning environment conducive to educational quality” and “to maintain fiscal soundness of the district without sacrificing the quality of pupils’ education.” Smith said he also wants “to provide and improve anti-drug programs.” Smith has the endorsement of the teachers’ association.

StacyAnn Strauss, 45, of Dana Point, is a designer-manufacturer. She said “the issue of greatest concern within Capistrano Unified School District is the lack of room to adequately house the ever-increasing student population.” She added: “We are growing by nearly 1,600 students per year. School construction funds have been slow in coming from the state. I will be actively working to gain adequate, additional funding from any and all available sources. . . .”

Irene G. Fascher, 43, of Laguna Niguel, a teacher in Fallbrook Elementary School District, said she thinks that the biggest problem in Capistrano Unified is “meeting increasing enrollment with adequate facilities and quality teachers offering quality education for students.” To attain this goal, she said she would “help pass legislation to fund schools adequately.”

Bob Moore, 64, of Laguna Niguel, a businessman, said the major problem is “overcrowded classrooms in the majority of schools.” He said overcrowding interferes with “children’s ability to reach higher educational goals.” He said he would seek “earlier funding for construction of new schools. . . . I propose that both federal and state governments participate in the construction costs of new schools when a need is evident by housing development.”


On Mello-Roos Panel

Crystal Kochendorfer, 45, of Laguna Niguel, a businesswoman, said the school district’s biggest problem is “providing facilities for a rapidly growing student population.” She added: “My concern for this problem led me to sit on the district’s Mello-Roos Committee, which researched funding alternatives for new schools. Solutions to the problem include flexible use of present facilities, accurate predictions of student population growth, and intelligent pursuit of state construction funds.”

Richard K. Overton, 60, of Dana Point, an industrial adviser and part-time professor at USC, is the husband of the late incumbent. He said he sees three major needs in Capistrano Unified: “Quality in education . . . , constructive, responsible attitudes in our children, (and the) need to economize while raising the quality of education and coping with a growing school-age population.” He said he believes that administrative changes are needed in the school district, adding that “steps should be taken to rebuild cooperation between the board, the school administration and the community.”

David M. Colville, 55, of Dana Point, is a teacher at Villa Park High in Orange Unified School District. He said Capistrano Unified’s biggest problems are overcrowded schools and the need for “expanded vocational education programs for the non-college-bound students.” He said he would also like to see the California Assessment Program (CAP) scores improved in the district and to see class sizes reduced.

In Trustee Area 5, incumbent Brian R. Demsey is challenged by Dennis Haehn.

Demsey, 46, of San Juan Capistrano, has been on the Capistrano Unified school board since 1983. He said the district’s biggest problem is “to provide quality education, employment conditions and facilities throughout our growth cycle. At the same time, we must prepare for that time when the growth stops.” Demsey added: “We must demand the maximum performance from all CUSD employees” and "...we must be more clever than other governmental agencies in the ways that we spend money.”

Haehn, 43, of San Juan Capistrano, a business owner, is endorsed by the teachers’ association. He said there are several problems in the school district, including “overcrowded schools and classrooms; lack of communication between the district, parents, teachers and students; lack of educational incentives for teachers; insufficient amount of the budget that is ‘classroom-oriented.’ ” He said he would work to give “parents and teachers more of a voice in district decisions” and to “channel more of our budget dollars into the classroom.”


A total of 18 candidates, are vying for five seats on the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees in the Nov. 8 election.

Candidates must live in the trustee area they seek to represent, but election is by a districtwide vote.

Photographs of incumbent Charles H. Ward and candidate Robert M. Hows in Area 2 and candidate David M. Colville in Area 4 were not available. Area 1 Rick Heil

John Hunt

E.G. (Ted) Kopp

Gil Morales

Area 2 Marlene Draper

Area 3 Edward R. Kweskin

Dr. A. Edward Westberg

Area 4 Irene G. Fascher

Crystal Kochendorfer

Bob Moore

Richard K. Overton

John A. Smith

StacyAnn Strauss

Area 5 Brian R. Demsey

Dennis Haehn