As Orange County's most crowded school board race winds to a finish, tempers flashed Friday and organizations geared up for what many observers predict will be a cliffhanger.
"I think as we get close to the finish, tempers are getting a little frayed," said Sandy G. Englander, president of the Orange Unified School District Board. Englander spent Friday fighting off charges that she misrepresented herself in a mailing to Orange Republicans.
Meanwhile, representatives of the union representing district classified workers, which has clashed with the district over salary negotiations, won a court order barring school district officials from tearing down campaign signs at the district offices.
District officials had told the California School Employees Assn., Orange Chapter 67, that they were prohibited from putting up campaign material at and around their offices, which are rented from the school district.
When the union put up signs anyway, district officials tore them down, and lawyers explained that they did so because state law mandates that district property not be used in campaigns.
But a federal judge granted the union's request for an injunction, giving them the right to display the signs.
Chapter President Betty Mayers said the signs would go back up immediately and union members would redouble their efforts on behalf of their three candidates, none of whom are incumbents.
Even as the union was stepping up its campaigns for challengers to the incumbent board members, Englander was forced to defend a mailing picturing her with First Lady Barbara Bush at Fletcher Elementary School.
"First Lady Barbara Bush came to the Orange Unified School District, met with School Board Trustee Sandy Englander and participated in an innovative reading program which the district had implemented," the two-page flyer said.
But Pat Roberts, president of the PTA at Fletcher and organizer of the session, complained that the mailer misrepresented the meeting. Roberts, who said she was present when the picture was taken, described the encounter as a handshake in a receiving line, not a formal meeting. Moreover, Roberts said the district did not sponsor the event, as the mailer indicates; it was actually a school-organized function, she said.
John Hurley, Englander's opponent, also criticized the mailing. "It's not illegal, but it's unethical," he said. "It doesn't violate the letter of the law, but it certainly violates the spirit of it."
Englander defended the mailing, apologizing for any misunderstandings caused by it, and adding that they were caused merely by semantic differences, not substantive ones.
"I in no way intended to misrepresent this meeting," she said.
Voters go to the polls to elect five Orange trustees on Tuesday. Eighteen active candidates are in the race, which includes a contest for an unexpired term.