The Ventura County Community College District board stood firm Tuesday night in its support of the school vouchers initiative, ignoring pressure from college faculty and student organizations to rescind last month's endorsement of the controversial ballot proposition.
The district board split 3 to 2 in favor of not changing its stance on Proposition 174, which would provide parents with vouchers worth about $2,600 toward tuition at private schools. State education officials said they believe the county's community college board is the only one in California to publicly support the proposed state constitutional amendment.
Repeating the split in opinions that occurred in September, college board President Gregory P. Cole and board members Timothy Hirschberg and Karen Boone favored the proposition, maintaining it would not deplete the community colleges' funding. Board members Pete Tafoya and Allan Jacobs vehemently opposed the majority's decision, saying it would further drain the colleges' shrinking budget.
"My own judgment is that the current system of education needs a reinvigoration and Proposition 174 is the best way to do that," said Hirschberg, a swing vote who surprised some educators by siding with Cole and Boone.
The board's action came after more than 150 people mobbed the college board room to square off over the district's official position on the controversial ballot measure.
Many of the speakers roundly chastised board members for supporting a ballot initiative that they said would devastate state education funding.
"You are supposed to be leaders of this educational district and you should hang your heads in shame," said Gary Odgen, a biology professor at Moorpark College.
In his speech before the college board of trustees, Ogden said the ballot initiative is not aimed at improving public schools. "It is nothing but a ploy by the Christian Right to take over education," he said.
Audience members clapped and cheered as speakers denounced the controversial ballot proposition.
"I understand you want to applaud," Cole told the packed room. "But perhaps you could applaud for a shorter period of time because we have so many (speakers) and we want to allow each speaker as much as time as possible for argument."
The board's majority also received substantial support from the audience for its position on Proposition 174. Many of them identified themselves as representatives of the Yes on 174 campaign.
Christopher Maguire said he rose to speak as a Ventura parent frustrated with public education. "Education people in this state are being held accountable by parents," Maguire said. "And, you are not doing your job," Maguire, pounding the podium with his fist.
The Nov. 2 ballot measure would provide each student in the state with a $2,600 educational voucher, redeemable at the private or parochial school of the student's choice.