The Times Orange County Poll : Most Favor Electing School Superintendent, Poll Says

Times Staff Writer

Measure A, a ballot proposal to make the Orange County superintendent of schools an appointed rather than elected position, appears headed for overwhelming defeat on Nov. 8, according to The Times Orange County Poll.

That poll showed that 64% of those surveyed favor continuing the county superintendent of schools as an elected position. Only 17% said they favor switching to an appointed superintendent, while 19% said they were undecided.

The poll, conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates of Irvine, with field work by Discovery Research Group, surveyed 605 registered voters by telephone Oct. 20-22.

Baldassare said the poll results indicated there was little chance for passage of the referendum. He noted that there was overwhelming opposition to change by those polled in virtually every age group, income bracket and major political party.


The only category in which the race was “close” was respondents making $20,000 a year or less. Less than half--49%--of those polled in that income bracket supported an elected superintendent of schools. However, only 30% in that income bracket supported a change to an appointed superintendent, with the remaining 21% undecided.

In all other categories, those polled favored retaining an elected superintendent by wide margins. Among Democrat voters polled, the sentiment for keeping an elected superintendent was somewhat stronger than among Republicans. The poll showed that 69% of Democrats polled wanted to keep an elected superintendent, while 59% of Republicans who were polled favored the status quo.

Measure A landed on the ballot as the result of a report by the 1985-1986 Orange County Grand Jury, which criticized the $50-million-a-year county Department of Education, headed by Supt. Robert D. Peterson. The report urged that the elected county Board of Education appoint a citizens’ blue ribbon commission to study whether the county would be better served with a superintendent appointed by the elected board members rather than by countywide vote.

After months of debate, the board agreed to appoint such a commission to study the issue. The commission, chaired by Jess F. Perez, mayor of Orange, issued a report in 1987 that said the county should change to an appointive, rather than elective, county superintendent of schools.


If the superintendent were appointed, the panel noted, the board members could seek the best qualified educator to fill the position.

Peterson, who has held the superintendent’s position for 22 years, strongly disagreed with the report’s conclusion. He said an elected superintendent is a check and balance in the county education system. Moreover, Peterson predicted that the county voters would overwhelmingly reject a proposed change “just as they did in 1978.”

In the 1978 election, Orange County voters rejected by an 80% margin a similar ballot measure that would have created an appointed superintendent of schools.

The 1985-86 grand jury argued that the 1978 referendum never had a chance. The report noted that in 1978 “an argument supporting the elected office was enclosed with the sample ballots mailed to all voters (but that) there was no statement supporting an appointive office.”

This year, by contrast, arguments both for and against the measure are contained in the voter’s pamphlet. Peterson authored the argument against changing to an appointive superintendent. Perez and two former grand jurors, Leonard Lahtinen and Valerie E. Ransom, wrote the argument favoring the change.

Brief Flurry of Interest

Pro-Measure A forces reported a brief flurry of interest in the referendum in September. That upsurge of interest, Measure A supporters said, coincided with problems the county Department of Education had in getting bus transportation for handicapped students. Several parents of handicapped children said they were furious with Peterson and his department and were working for the passage of Measure A.

Otherwise, Measure A has drawn little attention in the crowded political races on the 1988 ballot. Peterson has said that little effort is needed to oppose such a referendum as Measure A because “California voters resist giving up their right to elect a person to office.”



“Measure A on the November ballott gives voters the choice of having the position of Orange County Superintendent of Schools either elected of appointed. If the election were held today, how would you vote?”

Likely All Voters Elected 64% 63% Appointed 17 18 Don’t know 19 19

Don’t Elected Appointed Know By Party Democrat 69% 19% 12% Republican 59 18 23 Ind./Other 70 11 19 By Age 18-29 65 15 20 30-44 66 14 20 45-59 64 22 14 60 or older 59 21 20 By Yearly Income Under $20,000 49 30 21 $20,000-39,000 62 20 18 $40,000-59,000 67 14 19 $60,000 or more 68 16 16 By Sex Men 62 18 20 Women 66 17 17

Source: Times Orange County Poll