Rising enrollments and shrinking funds will be the focus of five school board elections and a bond issue in the Santa Clarita Valley on Tuesday. Among the solutions being debated by 29 candidates are bond measures, year-round schools, leasing of school property to commercial developers and lobbying lawmakers and corporations for funds.
Two seats apiece are up for election Nov. 5 in Newhall School District, Santa Clarita Community College District, Sulphur Springs Union School District, William S. Hart Union High School District and the Castaic Union School District.
In Newhall and Valencia, voters are also being asked to help relieve overcrowded classrooms by approving a $20-million bond measure to build elementary schools. The proposal, known as Measure C, narrowly lost the two-thirds vote necessary for passage in June.
Despite the recession and its effect on residential construction, the number of students enrolled in area schools has been steadily increasing, forcing districts to house youngsters in portable classrooms and the local community college to limit enrollment. Enrollment of elementary and high school students is still growing about 5% annually, more slowly than in the 1980s when some districts experienced and triple-digit growth.
But school officials describe the recession as only a brief reprieve from the building frenzy expected to take place when developers erect about 30,000 housing units that are pending or have been approved.
"Enrollment in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys has risen far, far more quickly than in any other areas of the county and will continue to do so as young families with children seek affordable housing," said James Parker, social research coordinator for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
The number of elementary and high school students enrolled in local schools has risen 53% since 1979, from 17,345 students to 26,535. At College of the Canyons, enrollment grew a whopping 79% in the same period, from 3,468 students to 6,209.
Newhall School District
In the Newhall School District, voters will elect two board members and also decide for a second time whether to approve Measure C, which would provide $20 million for new elementary schools. The proposal lost by only 121 votes in June.
Incumbent Gonzolo Freixes and seven incumbents are vying for the two seats. Incumbent Jay Manwaring did not file for reelection.
Five of the candidates support Measure C, saying it is crucial to relieve overcrowding. With 4,800 students enrolled, the district's six schools are 900 students over capacity.
The measure's supporters include candidates Freixes, an attorney who was appointed by the board in June when Barbara Krug relocated; Candace Fleece, a parent; Dan Ladd, an engineer; Frank J. McKendall, a retired school principal; LeAnn Wills, a businesswoman; and Ronald E. Winkler, an aerospace firm executive.
Two of the candidates, community volunteer Tamsie Irvan and facilities services coordinator Sara Dulmage, oppose Measure C, saying the district should resolve its overcrowding problem by housing students in portable classrooms and better managing its $17.5-million annual budget.
If Measure C wins, a property owner would pay an extra $21.54 a year for a house assessed at $125,000, $44 more on a $250,000 house and $90 more on a $500,000 house.
The candidates have also tussled over the district's bilingual program. About 600 mostly Latino students receive instruction in basic skills in Spanish until they are proficient in English. The state Department of Education is investigating residents' complaints that the district's program segregates non-English speaking youngsters. But the state has investigated similar complaints twice before and cleared the district, Supt. J. Michael McGrath said.
Freixes, the first Latino to serve on the board, defends the program. So does Winkler. But McKendall, Irvan and Dulmage have criticized it, saying the district should use the immersion method in which children are taught in English, not Spanish.
Santa Clarita Community College District
In the Santa Clarita Community College District, seven candidates, including three incumbents, are competing for three seats. The college serves more than 6,000 students on its 153-acre Valencia campus and has a $14.6-million annual budget.
Michele Jenkins, a seven-year incumbent, is running against Andrew Martin, an earthquake insurance agent, for one of the seats. Martin has called for the ouster of college President Dianne Van Hook, saying she has failed to adequately raise funds. Van Hook is supported by all the other candidates in the election.
Jenkins, like the other incumbents, has emphasized her experience, especially in coping with state budget cuts. James Feyler, an electronics designer, has withdrawn from the race.
Bill Broyles is seeking a third term and competing against businessman Bruce Fortine. The two have been friends for 17 years, and Fortine ran at Broyles' urging when Broyles thought he would not run for reelection.
"I thought my job schedule was going to be changed to nights and that I wouldn't be running," Broyles said. "I'm not campaigning against my friend. If I win, then I win. If I don't, the office will be in very good hands."
Richard Peoples, a nine-year incumbent, is running against health administrator Kirk Freeman and Dan Brown, a former football coach at the college. Peoples is emphasizing his experience on the board, Freeman his administrative skills and Brown is calling for the reinstatement of the college's football program, which was cut in 1980 for lack of funds.
Sulphur Springs Union School District
In the Sulphur Springs Union School District, five candidates are vying for two seats. Incumbents Joan Whaling MacGregor and Susan R. Ostrom are not running.
Competing in the race are Ethelyn Glancy, a homemaker; Beth J. Levi, a businesswoman; John B. Smith, a full-time student getting his teaching credential; Marilyn Sparks, a human resources director; and Sheldon Wigdor, a businessman.
The candidates all support the district's effort to lease a former school site to a commercial developer for a shopping center, Supt. Robert Nolet said. The district's plan, which has met with opposition from some homeowners, would bring in about $500,000 annually to build classrooms. The district has a $13-million budget and houses its 3,800 students in seven elementary schools.
William S. Hart Union High School District
In the William S. Hart Union High School District, five candidates, including two incumbents, are running for two seats.
Incumbents Gerald Heidt and Clara Jean Stroup are each running for a fourth term. They are being challenged by John R. Hassel, a retired peace officer; Paula Olivares, a financial analyst and Francis J. Turner, a police officer.
With 10,400 students enrolled, the district's nine junior high and high schools are 2,200 students over capacity, Supt. Hamilton C. Smyth said. The board has been discussing the possibility of asking voters next November to approve a bond measure to build classrooms.
The board also is in the process of selecting a new superintendent to replace Smyth, who is retiring after 15 years with the district.
Castaic Union School District
In the Castaic Union School District, three candidates, including one incumbent, are running for two seats. Incumbent Jane Wakeham-Lopez is not running for reelection.
Incumbent John W. Johnson is running for his fifth term against police officer Bruce Fox and emergency planner Lester M. Freeman.
The district experienced the fastest growth of any in the county from 1984 to 1989, according to the county education office. Student enrollment grew 159%, from 458 students to 1,189. The district now has 1,532 students, a $6.2-million annual budget and is considering a bond measure this spring to raise funds to pay for a new middle school, Supt. Scott Brown said.