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ELECTIONS : PASADENA SCHOOL DISTRICT : Board Candidates Offer Solutions to Education Problems

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Faced with budget cuts, campus security worries and declines in enrollment and test scores, many of the candidates in Tuesday’s Pasadena Unified School District election have looked outside the district for solutions.

Increased use of volunteer teachers, hiring of outside contractors for custodial services and sale of school district land are among the ideas suggested by candidates to improve the quality of the district’s education and facilities.

But candidates also emphasized the value of experience in education matters and advocated that the school board show greater accountability

All the candidates are running at-large for four-year terms in the district, which serves Sierra Madre and Altadena as well as Pasadena.

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The race for Office 4 will see Elbie Hickambottom, who has served 12 years, running for a fourth consecutive term. Hickambottom, a retired U.S. Army major, said: “I consider myself the watchdog on the board to keep down spending.”

Among the excesses that Hickambottom cites are expenses of consultants, lawyers and car phones used by administrators. Hickambottom, a former director of relocation and property management for the Pasadena Redevelopment Agency, says money can be saved through competitive bidding for outside services and careful management of district properties.

“I have been known to be controversial on the board because I have made an issue of things discussed in closed session,” he said. “There is a need for us to protect the rights of citizens to participate in the running and decision-making of the board.”

Hickambottom said he would like to see more neighborhood schools.

Attorney and businessman E. Clark Coberly, also running for Office 4, agreed some budget cuts are essential. But he said budget revamping may be a more feasible way to save money.

“Cuts are painful; they’re going to have to be made,” said Coberly, who is chief financial officer of both California Pools in El Monte and Bonneville Steel in Irwindale. “I would like to see a minimum of cutting, a maximum of re-directing going on.”

One way to save money is to use independent contractors for services such as security and custodians, he said.

New approaches are needed for students with academic and discipline problems, Coberly said. Citing districtwide declines in SAT scores, Coberly said students need more attention during their formative years in elementary school.

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“We have to give kids an opportunity to find success at school,” he said. “Reasons kids are having problems is because they’re failing. They have lots of negative things in their life.”

Dan Wimberly, the third candidate for the seat, also emphasized parental and community involvement. A real estate developer who works as a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Wimberly said volunteers would improve the quality of education.

In addition, Wimberly called for improved teacher benefits. These changes, combined with better test-preparation programs, will enhance the education environment and SAT and other achievement test scores, he said.

“Every parent looks for two things in schools: academic performance and an environment conducive to learning,” he said.

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Wimberly also supported funding help from city agencies and corporate sponsorship of schools.

No incumbent is running for Office 2. The three candidates in the race emphasized the need for community involvement and school security, which became an issue after student fights this school year at Pasadena’s Blair High School.

George Van Alstine, minister of the Altadena Baptist Church for 18 years, said schools need to improve instruction of basic learning skills. He said community organizations can improve education by volunteering.

Van Alstine is on the Pasadena Commission on Children and Youth and is author of the book, “The Christian and the Public Schools.”

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“Neither schools nor parents have the ability of solving problems in the schools without help from the Chamber of Commerce and the business community,” he said. “They all have to be part of the mix.”

Van Alstine said school security can be increased by the presence of parents and other volunteers.

Chris Cofer, a Bank of America service representative, also is running for Office 2. A Pasadena native who served with the U.S. Army Reserve and the National Guard, Cofer has said he favors reducing busing and a neighborhood school policy.

“It is going to take awhile” to implement his plan, he said, adding that he would like to see the reopening of closed schools in Northwest Pasadena.

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Cofer said funding for the schools could be enhanced by the lease or sale of school district land such as the Education Center on South Hudson Avenue.

He said instructors need more assistance in dealing with problem students. “Teachers need to be supported so that when one kid disrupting the class is asked to leave the class, that teacher knows that the kid isn’t going to come back 10 minutes later,” he said.

The third candidate for the seat is Glenn E. Taylor, an attorney with the Los Angeles law firm McKiernan, Moriwaki & Brady. Taylor advocates parent groups that would periodically meet with teachers and administrators.

Taylor, who has been a resident of the district since 1977, said: “I believe that the school administrators and teachers have to come up with rules of discipline that have to be enforced districtwide. I believe that there should be penalties ranging from taking away students’ rights all the way to suspension and expulsion.”

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