Crowding Among Issues in Lynwood School Race

Times Staff Writer

Overcrowding, stalled teacher negotiations, low academic achievement and the lack of Latino representation may be the key issues in the Lynwood Unified School District Board of Education elections in November, in which two incumbents face four challengers.

Incumbent board members Joe T. Battle and Helen Andersen are being challenged by Irma Bass, Margaret Araujo, Rachel Chavez and Cynthia Green-Geter.

All four challengers have raised questions about overcrowded classrooms. The state recently withheld $360,000 from the 13,800-student district because it placed students in overcrowded classrooms rather than hiring additional teachers or substitutes.

Both Green-Geter and Araujo say they are concerned about the failure of teachers and the administration to agree on a labor contract. Teachers have worked without one since June, 1988.

The district's academic standards have been called into question by Chavez and Green-Geter. Students have shown some improvement in state reading and mathematics scores, but they rank well below statewide averages on the California Assessment Program tests.

Chavez raised the issue of Latino representation on the board. More than 70% of the students are Latino, but there are no Latinos on the five-member board, which has two blacks and three whites.

While the six candidates agree that the district is severely overcrowded, the two incumbents dispute the state's $360,000 penalty.

"We were honest, while other districts do not report that students are placed in overcrowded classrooms when teachers are absent and subs can't be found," Battle said.

Battle, 47, is seeking his third four-year term on the board. A retired Army sergeant, Battle is a field service representative for the U.S. Treasury Department.

He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Andersen said the penalty "was one of those unfortunate things," but the district will take steps to correct the situation, including hiring more teachers before the start of school and offering substitutes more money.

Green-Geter said overcrowded conditions would be relieved if the district built a high school. The district received $34 million for a new high school in 1983.

"Instead of building the new high school with the $34 million in state funds, the board has engaged in long and laborious litigation," said Green-Geter, a unsuccessful candidate for a board seat in 1985.

The district has been involved in a court fight over the price of the land it condemned for a high school site.

Battle said he believes that a settlement will be reached early next year that would allow construction of the school and relieve overcrowding at the district's only high school. It was built to house 1,000, but it now has more than 3,000 students.

Overcrowding Issue

Bass said she also considers the No. 1 issue to be student overcrowding.

"I'm concerned that the school board was able to (vote to construct) a new administration building and was not able to build the new high school," Bass said.

The board recently voted to construct the administration building for an estimated cost of $4 million.

"As a parent, I believe I should be on the board to see what's going on," said Bass, who has two daughters attending Lynwood High School.

A key issue for challenger Chavez is the lack of Latino representation.

"It's time for Latinos to be represented because of the numbers and need. It is time for us to take command of our future," Chavez said.

In the past 10 years in a district where the Latino student population has doubled, Chavez said, there is a need for a Latino board member. Robert Cisneros, a Latino, served on the board from 1975 to 1983.

The Latino student population jumped from nearly 5,000 during 1979-80 to almost 10,000 in 1988-89.

A Latino would be sensitive to the educational needs of Latino students, many of whom speak limited English, said Chavez, a unsuccessful board candidate in 1987.

Chavez finished fourth among eight candidates competing for three seats. Chavez lost by only five votes to the third-place winner, Thelma Williams.

Battle said he considers himself sensitive to the needs of the Latino students.

"I will leave it up to the electorate to decide who should be on the board," he said.

Andersen said she also is sensitive and responsive to the Latino students educational needs.

"I attend the advisory meetings of the Latino parents. I listen to their concerns and act on them," Andersen said.

"I never had a problem with the Latino parents," added Andersen, who operates an income tax business in the city.

Chavez said she withdrew her 10-year-old from the district last year and sent her to a private school in nearby South Gate to protest what she sees as low quality of education in Lynwood.

"I'm protesting the poor writing assignments and the (lack of) exposure to good literature," said Chavez, a graduate of Whittier College with a degree in sociology. A homemaker, Chavez, 51, has been employed in the past as a social worker for the county of Los Angeles.

Battle said while the academic scores are low, the district has laid the ground work for improvement in academics. He said a pilot project based on a successful program in the schools in St. Louis will be included in the Lynwood curriculum when school starts next month.

Another possible key issue, said Green-Geter, is low teacher morale caused by the unsettled labor negotiations.

"Morale is unbelieveably low. Teachers do not want to come back to school in September because the district refuses to settle with them" Green-Geter said.

Battle said he believed that the two sides were close to settling but the teachers decided to hold out for more money when the Los Angeles school district recently gave its teachers a new contract that will raise wages 24% by 1990.

The Lynwood teachers in July rejected a district offer of a three-year contract with a 4% increase the first year. The two sides are in arbitration.

Because of the labor dispute and the overcrowded conditions, Araujo charged that "teachers are leaving the district."

"Morale is very low because of the pay." Araujo said.

Araujo, 42, ran for the board in 1987. She is employed at Lynwood High School as a community aide in the district's dropout prevention program.

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