Many of the candidates vying for two seats on the Saugus school board are not campaigning against each other.
Instead, they are challenging the district's embattled superintendent.
Nine of the 11 candidates have been critical of Supt. Chris Wilson, whose management style has sparked the ire of district employees, board members and parents.
The campaign rhetoric has included urging that Wilson take courses in human relations and that he be placed on probation. Only one candidate, incumbent Peggy A. Marrone, has unequivocally supported Wilson, although two others are either neutral or give Wilson mixed reviews.
The race has attracted the largest pool of candidates and is among the most heated of the six school board elections on the Tuesday ballot in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Regardless of the outcome, the election is likely to shift the balance of power on the five-member panel. The board now supports Wilson by a 3-2 margin, but only one of two incumbents--Marrone--is running for reelection. Board member Jeff White, who is generally supportive of Wilson's policies, is not running for reelection.
Wilson, 45, is bracing himself for the change.
"It'll be a whole new ballgame with all new players," Wilson said in an interview. "I'll ask the board to hire a facilitator to make sure I have as good relations with board members as possible."
But achieving that goal may be difficult.
Among the candidates is Al Nocciolo, a former district administrator who retired earlier this year after learning that Wilson and the board were considering demoting him and two popular school principals. The district sent warning letters to the three employees, sparking a furor among parents, who rushed to the support of the three men. In the end, the other two were allowed to keep their jobs, but Nocciolo, 65, retired.
Like the rest of the candidates, Nocciolo says he will not seek Wilson's ouster because it would cost the district about $350,000 in severance pay to break the superintendent's contract before it expires in 1994. But Nocciolo is highly critical of Wilson.
Also running are Fred Berson, a high school principal in another district; Jim Chaffee, a security director; Michael Erwin, an administrative hearing officer; Ken Johnson, a police sergeant; Rose Koscielny, a registered nurse; Peter J. Krug, a medical sales manager; Deme Clare Larson, a community volunteer; Marrone, a day-care center director and an incumbent; Antonio (Tony) Martino, an automotive engineer, and Michael E. Rayfield, a detention services officer.
Wilson has been under fire since the board hired him in the summer of 1989 to take over the 10-campus elementary school district, so it is not surprising that he has become the focus of the race.
According to Wilson and his supporters, the district, which is recognized statewide for its academic excellence, needed to be reorganized. The previous superintendent had died after a long struggle with cancer and the district was being run by an interim manager when Wilson took over.
Under Wilson's tutelage for the past 2 1/2 years, the district has built three schools, banned cigarette smoking at campuses and district offices, and expanded site-based decision-making by councils of parents, teachers and administrators at each campus. It has also completed a disaster-preparedness plan and is training all its employees in first-aid techniques.
"He is a genius in curriculum and has many new ideas and ways of doing things--some of which haven't been accepted," said Marrone, who is running for her third term on the board.
"His management style was to come in and clean house," said Larson, president of the Santa Clarita Valley PTA Council and a candidate for a seat on the board.
Wilson's critics cite as evidence of his heavy-handed management style an attempt he made in April, 1990, to nip rumors in the bud. Wilson had printed 1,000 bright pink "Rumor Checker" flyers featuring Sherlock Holmes on the cover and asking employees to report the names of rumormongers. Even Wilson admitted the flyers were a mistake.
"Chris Wilson should take a Dale Carnegie course in management," said candidate Erwin, 37, who also proposes that the board begin searching for a new superintendent to take over in 1994.
Less than a year after the "Rumor Checker" incident, Wilson and the board warned the two principals that they might be demoted unless their work improved. Nocciolo stood to lose his half-time job as an administrator because the district was trying to save money at the time, Wilson has said.
Wilson's critics say the superintendent tried to demote the three men because they frequently disagreed with him.
A group of Wilson's detractors, including many district employees, spent $2,500 this past spring on full-page newspaper ads professing their lack of confidence in the superintendent.
Chaffee, a security director for a movie studio, is the only candidate who has claimed to be neutral about Wilson. Berson, a high school principal at a county detention camp, has suggested that Wilson be placed on probation for two years, but says the superintendent has "some good ideas."
"We don't differ a tremendous amount in our ideas," said candidate Johnson, a police sergeant who promises to restore an atmosphere of trust that he says has been absent since Wilson took over.
FRED BERSON, 45, high school principal from outside the district. He favors putting the superintendent on probation for two years. He would decline a $6,000 health benefits package offered by the district and urges fellow board members to follow suit.
JIM CHAFFEE, 39, security director of a movie studio. He would meet monthly with district employees and parents and would arrange an administration and board retreat with facilitator to describe goals and develop future plans.
MICHAEL ERWIN, 37, administrative hearing representative. He would review superintendent's performance quarterly and begin a search for a new superintendent. He would also reduce multi-grade classes.
KEN JOHNSON, 44, police sergeant. He favors an increase in discipline in the schools, including raising the standard for promoting students to the next grade. He also supports what he calls a return to freedom of speech for district employees.
ROSE KOSCIELNY, 39, registered nurse. She favors a strong board to direct the superintendent and would limit board members to two four-year terms.
PETER J. KRUG, 34, medical sales manager. He would meet with parents and district employees to find out the nature of problems and use management skills to resolve disputes.
DEME C. LARSON, 42, community volunteer. She would meet with parents and employees to find out their concerns. She favors revising board policies to put power back in the hands of the board, and wants to quickly negotiate a new teachers contract.
PEGGY MARRONE, 45, incumbent, child-care center director. She supports expansion of site-based decision-making and job-sharing for teachers.
ANTONIO MARTINO, 42, automotive engineer. He would meet regularly with all the district employees and parents. He favors donating a $240 monthly stipend paid to board members to the schools.
AL NOCCIOLO, 65, retired school administrator. He would meet with parents twice a month, and also meet with all district employees. He would allow parents and employees to address board members in an executive session, without the superintendent.
MICHAEL E. RAYFIELD, 43, detention services officer. He would evaluate superintendent's performance and see that problems are mediated. He would also meet with parents and employees.