Valley Center resident Bill Horn, whose appointment to the Escondido Union High School District board of trustees last summer was successfully annulled by a petition drive, was returned to his seat Tuesday, this time by popular vote.
Horn, 48, a property manager and avocado grower, easily topped the seven other candidates vying for an 11-month stint on the school board. Horn campaigned that he alone among the candidates had children enrolled in the district's high schools, and thus could best represent the parental point of view.
Placing second and third, but far back of Horn, were two preachers: the Rev. Billy Falling, 50, founder and president of the Christian Voters League, and the Rev. Larry Coyle, 55, of First Christian Church of Escondido. They, in turn, soundly beat Stephen Thorne, the 35-year-old director of the San Diego chapter of American Atheists, in a race that was enlivened as much for religious reasons as academic ones.
In the second half of the pack were Ray Lawrence, 64, a retired Escondido schools administrator; Harold Polesetsky, 60, an architect and general contractor; Terry Cottrell, 41, a real-estate property manager, and Bill Tomkins, 69, a retired salesman.
The election was prompted by the June resignation of Don McArthur, who had 1 1/2 years remaining on his four-year term when he took a job with the Mormon Church in Utah. Thirteen people applied for appointment to the vacancy; the school board narrowed the selection to Horn and Coyle, before settling on Horn to fill out the five-person school board until next November.
But within days, Falling began a petition drive to annul the appoint ment and put it to a public vote. He said he was angry that the school board had supported an Orange Glen teacher's decision last spring to read aloud in class Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman"--a play Falling decried as vulgar and blasphemous. Falling ended his effort, however, when he realized that Horn sympathized with Falling's own view on the reading aloud of the play in class.
Horn's appointment, however, still wasn't safe. Two Valley Center parents, unhappy with his appointment because of an ongoing debate about where to locate a new high school in Valley Center, and realizing that only 1,015 signatures were needed to overturn the appointment and force an election, picked up where Falling left off. They gathered the necessary number of signatures that forced Tuesday's election, which cost the district about $120,000.
Despite the initial brouhaha over Horn's appointment, the election was an otherwise bland one that was spiced up primarily by the presence of Falling, the political Christian evangelist, and Thorne, the county's most public atheist for his efforts to remove the cross from La Jolla's Mt. Soledad and to remove the Nativity scene from Balboa Park.
Most of the mainstream issues raised during the campaign had been kicking around the district for years.
Among them are whether the high school and elementary school districts based in Escondido should unify under one administration and school board in order to eventually reduce redundant overhead costs and facilitate curriculum planning from kindergarten through high school.
Several of the candidates also harped about perceived poor morale among district employees and complaints about Supt. John Cooper's management style.
A third issue focused on where to build a fourth high school in the district: in northern Escondido, or in Valley Center, which produces about 700 of the district's 5,500 students.
But most of the election's glitz came from the presence of Falling, who argues that creationism and evolution should be taught side-by-side in a non-science course, and Thorne, who says evolution should be taught in a science classroom and creationism should be discussed in a humanities course.
Thorne campaigned that the local schools need to place renewed emphasis on math, science and geography to better prepare students to compete in the world, and complained that Falling "is telling people we don't need to teach, we just need to believe."
Falling's campaign message was to inject "greater morality" into the classroom.
"This is not a place for evangalism," he said. "But Christians should be witnesses to Christ wherever they serve. That doesn't mean they try to impose religious doctrine in their public leadership, but it does mean they don't compromise their moral values and principals in their public leadership."
The other candidates had generally stayed clear of the Falling-Thorne debate, while some credited the two for adding an element of interest that might have helped generate increased voter interest in the election.