Effort to Oust Him Aimed at School Board, Trustee Says

Times Staff Writer

An Oxnard School District trustee has called the effort to recall him an attempt to coerce the school board, which is deadlocked in salary negotiations with teachers, into accepting a "fiscally irresponsible contract."

In a statement filed Monday with Ventura County election officials, Jack Fowler, who has served on the board for 15 years, said the recall masked an attempt to replace him with a trustee who would "rubber-stamp" demands by the teachers union.

He also said the recall effort announced last week by Oxnard School District parents and members of the Oxnard Educators Assn., which represents the 486 teachers in the city's elementary and junior high schools, was demeaning to his four colleagues on the board because it implied they "have no will or thoughts of their own."

'Intransigent Group'

"This is a very intransigent group that's saying, 'This is what we want. Give it to us,' " Fowler said Tuesday.

He noted that the district has already reached a settlement with its classified employees, who will receive a one-time bonus of up to 2.5% from lottery funds.

But Mark Prim, chairman of the Oxnard Educator's Assn.'s negotiating team, said the issue is larger than pay.

"The discontent was already there," Prim said. "But it's like this is the straw that broke the camel's back."

Petition papers filed last week characterize Fowler as a "dominating and coercing" trustee who suppresses the ideas of his colleagues and interferes in the day-to-day operations of the district.

It faults him for acting in "a condescending manner toward parents, teachers and other community members" and blamed him for firing a teacher who addressed the board in Spanish through a translator.

Prim said the teacher was merely attempting to make himself understood by a large Spanish-speaking contingent at the meeting.

Fowler said the accusations were "misleading and false." The teacher, a probationary employee, was not fired but merely not rehired as a result of his remarks in Spanish, which trustees interpreted as an attempt to humiliate them, Fowler said.

'Smart Aleck Trick'

"It was an obvious attempt to pull a smart-aleck trick," said Fowler, a 54-year-old accounting teacher at Watterson College, an Oxnard business school.

A state negotiator attempting to work out a settlement between the district and its teachers since early October has declared an impasse.

Teachers object to the district's latest offer, which includes no cost-of-living increase and would force teachers to contribute $80 monthly toward their own health insurance. District officials have said they cannot afford to pay more.

The teachers last year received a 2% cost-of-living increase and health insurance at no extra charge.

The recall-petition papers filed Oct. 24 also claim Fowler has excessively raised administrators' salaries at the expense of those for teachers.

Donald Baer, a California Teachers Assn. adviser to the Oxnard Educators Assn., said teachers may press for the resignation of Superintendent Norm Brekke. The union maintains that Fowler has "usurped" the superintendent's power, leaving him a mere figurehead.

Brekke could not be reached for comment.

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