Local Elections : Minorities Hope to Make Gains on School Board

Times Staff Writer

Tuesday’s election for three seats on the Pasadena School Board may produce for the first time in the city’s history a board dominated by minorities.

Nearly 80% of the students in the district are Asian, Latino or black, but currently, the only minority member of the board is Elbie Hickambottom, who is black.

The two incumbents in the Pasadena Unified School District race, Anne W. Pursel and James H. McBath, are both white, but all of the challengers are minorities. Candidates Frank D. Rocha and George A. Padilla are Latinos, and Dennis D. Scott, Alicia Woods, Wilbert Smith and Arlene Moncrief are black.

In the race for Seat 1, Padilla has the endorsement of the Unified Teachers of Pasadena and beat Moncrief in a poll of members of ACT, a local nonpartisan political action group.


Smith has won the endorsement of the teachers union for Seat 3 and had raised $15,613 as of the last campaign reporting period--more than any of his competitors, McBath, Scott and Woods.

The campaign for Seat 5 has been a quiet race between Pursel and Rocha.

Voters can cast a ballot for each of the three open seats on the five-member board.

None of the candidates have raised race as an issue and each has campaigned solely on their experience in business or public life.


But most candidates say the prospect of greater minority representation on the board is a welcome sign of change in the district.

“I think it would be fantastic if the board had more minority representation,” Padilla said. “It’s the way it ought to be.”

“I think it’s great,” Moncrief said. “You want people who are most representative of the entire community.”

The campaign for Seat 1 brings together two old competitors. Padilla and Moncrief faced each other in the 1987 election, although both lost to current board member Roberta Moon.

Moncrief, an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service, has called for a return to basics, with more emphasis on math, language and science skills. She also is a strong supporter of multicultural education, saying that students should know more about other cultures, especially incidents such as the Holocaust, slavery and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

She also supports improving benefits for teachers to remedy low morale that she said has become a districtwide epidemic.

Padilla is a civil engineer who runs his own consulting firm in Pasadena and is vice chairman of the city’s Human Relations Commission.

He said his top priority is increasing teacher and parent participation in board decisions. “I call it shared decision-making,” he said. “There is a feeling that the administration has not been as open and approachable as it should be.”


In the race for Seat 3, McBath, a professor of communications at USC, is running for his second four-year term against a field of three other candidates.

He said he believes the board has done an admirable job in increasing educational standards at all schools and increasing teacher salaries, which were among the lowest in the county four years ago.

McBath said if elected to another term, he would like to see the creation of special middle and high schools that would emphasize specific fields, such as math, literature or the performing arts.

Scott, a personnel administrator for the Veterans Administration, said his main concerns are improving vocational education and increasing school safety. He has advocated placing security guards at every school, including elementary schools, to stop gang and drug activity.

Smith, a director of national accounts for Bank of America, is a reserve deputy sheriff in Altadena, has a master’s degree in special education and was chairman of the steering committee for the district’s kindergarten program for 4 year olds.

Smith said he supports the creation of special schools within schools to enhance the teaching of math, performing arts, science and vocational skills. He also called for the creation of a full-time training facility to keep teachers abreast of new teaching and counseling methods.

Woods is a self-described dark horse in the race and has raised no money for her campaign. She is the credit manager for Broadcast Equipment Rental Co. in Burbank and sees her run for the board as a way of spreading her message about controlling violence in the schools and restoring vocational education.

Woods has proposed making parents responsible for the actions of their children. If their children participate in vandalism or violence, parents would be warned several times and then fined by the district.


In the race for Seat 5, Pursel, a longtime community volunteer, has won the backing of the both the teachers’ union and ACT.

Pursel said the board has done a good job of raising teacher salaries and graduation requirements. She said she supports reducing class sizes, increasing parent involvement and opening a new middle school during the next four years.

Her only competitor, Rocha, is making his first run for elected office and has raised no money.

Rocha, a local real estate broker and frequent critic of city government, said he supports reducing class sizes throughout the district. He said he believes his experience as a local businessman would also help the district.