Two members of a conservative Christian group that tried unsuccessfully to ban a series of textbooks in Redondo Beach have launched campaigns for open seats on the city’s elementary school board.
Pat Safani and Melinda Stone, two homemakers making their first bid for public office, will join local chiropractor Donna Carrico and incumbent Trustees Sylvia Zellers, Valerie Dombrowski and Bart Swanson in a six-way race for the three contested seats in the March 5 election.
“I think we need at least a mixture of thought on the board,” said Stone, a 36-year-old mother of two who tried earlier this year to persuade the board to shelve the Impressions series of grade school readers. “I felt the school board would not listen to us.”
School board members said this week that they are not surprised at the challenge, but said the job, especially now, during merger talks among the beach city schools, requires trustees with a broad perspective on school and community issues.
At the time of the protest early this year, Stone, Safani and other members of the Coalition of Concerned Parents--a group of about 100 mostly conservative Christian residents--had pointed to stories and poems about monsters and witches to buttress their arguments that the Impressions readers were frightening and anti-Christian and should be shelved.
The school board rejected their demands in February, noting that any parent who wanted to could choose an alternative text as a matter of district policy. Moreover, the trustees added, the readers had been chosen after an exhaustive review process and had been the board’s unanimous choice because of their emphasis on cultural diversity, imagination and literature.
Angry members of the group vowed at the time to unseat the board incumbents, but as late as a week before the filing deadline, no challengers had emerged.
Safani, 37, a parent and volunteer classroom aide, said she jumped into the race at the last minute at the behest of Stan Groman, another coalition member.
“I personally was interested in seeing somebody run,” Groman said, adding that he called Safani after he learned that the board incumbents might run unopposed. Although he did not know Safani personally, he said, he remembered her as one of several parents who had talked about mounting a political challenge to the board in the wake of the Impressions defeat.
Safani said that after Groman’s call, “I asked myself, ‘Why not?’ ”
Two-term incumbent Zellers said she was not surprised that the Impressions incident prompted a political challenge.
“But I have a problem with any person running on a single issue for school board, no matter what the issue is,” she said. “There are so many areas you have to be concerned with as a school board member.”
Zellers and other board members said trustees need to be familiar with, among other things, state funding mechanisms and bureaucracy, and labor relations, as well as with what goes on in the classroom.
Safani and Stone said, however, that their concerns go beyond textbooks.
“I’m concerned, for instance, about the way they teach AIDS,” Stone said. “I’m of the opinion there should be a strong push toward abstinence, and (classroom discussions on the epidemic) should start at the middle school level, not in elementary school.”
Safani added that, as an aide, she is concerned about class sizes.
“The teachers seem very frustrated and burned out,” she said.
Carrico, 40, a chiropractor who moved to the district from Manhattan Beach in April, said she decided to run for school board as a means of “getting more involved in the community.”
Although she has two school-age children, neither of them has ever attended public school in Redondo Beach, she said. Her elder daughter attended private schools and was taught at home by Carrico until she was ready to attend Redondo Union High School, and her first-grader is enrolled at Riviera Hall, a private Lutheran School in Redondo Beach, she said.
But, Carrico added, she has long been interested in education, and once considered a teaching career.
“I see what’s going on in the education system, and I see a lot of problems,” she said. “This is just something I’ve always had on my agenda.”
None of the challengers felt ready to comment on the unification issue, a complex debate over whether the beach city schools should consolidate, to save money and improve efficiency.
All of the incumbents, however, said unification is a primary reason why they chose to run again.
“I’d really like to see this unification thing through,” said Swanson, the president of the elementary board. “We’re right in the middle of it now, and it’s going to take some time to get all the districts together.”
Dombrowski, a board member since 1979, said: “I’ve been through three of these (unification debates) now.”