LOCAL ELECTIONS : 3 Challengers, Incumbent Seek 2 Seats on Arcadia School Board

Times Staff Writer

While an incumbent is emphasizing academics in Tuesday’s school board race, three other candidates are focusing on issues ranging from drug-abuse education to staff morale.

The incumbent, Mary Dougherty, is seeking her second four-year term. She, Joann Steinmeier, Larry Lewis and Timothy Westlin are vying for two seats.

The other position on the five-member board will become vacant June 30 when William Spuck’s term expires. Spuck, a manager of information systems at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will not seek reelection.


Dougherty, a 53-year-old civic volunteer, said her experience on the board gives her an edge over the other candidates.

“It’s important for the board to have some continuity of leadership,” she said.

Dougherty said she wants to continue strengthening the curriculum by focusing on core subjects such as English, history and math. She also wants to make foreign language, and music and art appreciation courses required subjects.

Foreign Languages

“Through music, art and foreign languages, we can help our students understand people from other cultures,” Dougherty said, adding that the Arcadia Unified School District should consider offering foreign languages in the elementary schools. The district has 7,650 students kindergarten through 12th grades.

“The world is shrinking, we need to prepare our students as citizens of the world,” she said.

The three other candidates all underscored a need for drug-abuse education programs.


Lewis, 39, said that a desire to address chemical dependency and other social problems faced by teen-agers prompted him to run.

A Pasadena psychotherapist who specializes in addictive disorders, Lewis said that since 1982, he has treated more than 200 Arcadia students for alcohol or drug problems.

Lewis says he believes that parents and educators have been denying the extent of the drug problem.

“I’m the only one running for the school board who understands adolescent developmental issues,” Lewis said. If elected, Lewis said he will encourage the establishment of a strong volunteer program with emphasis on peer counseling.

Westlin and Steinmeier, who also voiced concerns about drug use among Arcadia youth, said they support development of drug-abuse education programs in the schools.

“The public recognizes there is a problem in Arcadia like there is in all the other districts,” Steinmeier said. “The time is right.”

Steinmeier, 43, is president of the Arcadia Council PTA and has worked as a teacher’s aide. She said she is the only candidate with classroom experience.

Westlin, 31, a life insurance agent, is active in Little League and the Arcadia Youth Basketball Assn.

He said he is running because he has a 10-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son and is unhappy with the direction the board is taking.

“My biggest concern is the school board is not accessible to the parents,” Westlin said. He said the board does not consult parents and teachers about curriculum and other changes. The lack of communication has lowered morale among staff members, he said.

Steinmeier and Westlin said they plan to review the district’s contract negotiation procedures, which they contend has hurt teacher morale. Steinmeier said she wants to make the process shorter and less confrontational.

Violence in Schools

Westlin, who said he too is concerned about violence in the schools, cited recent reports of a switch-blade knife found on a student at Foothills Junior High and an unloaded gun found in the locker of an Arcadia High School student.

“The last thing I want is for the Arcadia Unified School District to end up like a war zone,” Westlin said.

Westlin criticized the board for its recent decision not to pass a resolution supporting legislative efforts to ban assault weapons.

Westlin and Lewis said they would have backed the resolution.

But Dougherty and Steinmeier said existing laws prohibit weapons in schools and pointed out that the weapons found on campus were not assault guns.

Dougherty, one of three board members who voted to reject a resolution, said it is inappropriate for a school board to take a position on the issue. “I have a great deal of concern when the school board takes up non-educational issues,” Dougherty said.

Westlin said those who voted against the resolution were “closing their eyes to what’s going on in today’s society.”