Activists Taking Their Case to School Board Voters : Politics: Overall, 192 people intend to seek election Nov. 8 in 30 districts. Many will present special-interest issues to electorate.
Volatile issues that have dominated local headlines for the past year likely will remain at the top of campaign agendas in school board elections this fall, as many activists in those issues have placed their names on the ballot.
In the Ocean View School District, leaders of both sides of a fiery debate over the mainstreaming of disabled students have entered the ring. The leader of a recall movement in the Anaheim Union High School District is now running for the board. And in Saddleback Valley Unified, four of the 10 candidates are veterans of a contentious battle over the Mission Viejo High School mascot.
Overall, 192 people filed papers with the Orange County Registrar of Voters by Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline, making them eligible for the Nov. 8 election in 30 different school districts. Because incumbents chose not to run for reelection in nine of the districts, the deadline has been extended until Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Among the hottest races in the county are sure to be those in Ocean View and Saddleback.
Ocean View, a K-8 district in Huntington Beach with less than 9,000 students, garnered national attention this spring when district officials went to court to oust a disabled 6-year-old from his mainstream kindergarten class, contending he was dangerous and disruptive. A judge eventually sent the boy, Jimmy Peters, back to class, where he was met by a flurry of protest by his classmates’ parents.
Now the roster of eight candidates for the three seats available on the school board include: Jimmy’s father, an outspoken advocate for the full inclusion of special-needs students in regular classrooms; a parent who helped lead the opposition to Jimmy’s return to the class; a woman who has worked closely with Peters on special-education issues; and a special-education teacher from another district.
And more people could join the fray before Wednesday’s extended deadline because only one incumbent is running again.
“Saying that full inclusion is for every special-ed child is just as bad as saying that it’s inappropriate for every child,” said candidate Pam Walker, a mother of two who protested Jimmy’s presence this spring. “I don’t think that there’s a cookie-cutter approach for inclusion. It should be looked at on an individual basis to see where it can benefit the child.”
But on the campaign trail, Walker will face Peters and Karen Koelzer, two of the county’s most active special-education advocates. The pair has worked together often in Ocean View and other local districts, filing dozens of requests for legal actions and hearings on behalf of various children.
Both Koelzer and Peters--who tried in vain to get appointed to the school board when there was a vacancy last fall--said in interviews Friday night that special education is a priority, but not their only concern.
“I’ve got some real strong feelings other than special education,” Peters said. “I feel that there should be more parental community involvement. I feel that the teachers are overworked and underpaid. I feel administrators are underworked and overpaid.
“I think there should be a computer in every classroom rather than a fax machine in every principal’s office,” he said. “Fifty thousand dollars can provide a lot of textbooks and do a lot of things for children as opposed to providing legal services to fight little Jim.”
Another crowded race comes in a growing South Orange County district, where two seats are up for grabs on Saddleback’s fractured board, which has struggled over the past two years with a stubborn 3-2 split on most key votes.
The two minority members, who are not up for reelection until 1996, often have aligned themselves with conservative Christian causes, and at least one of the 10 candidates expressed sympathy for their positions.
Candidate Susan Krumpotich, a Laguna Hills mother of two, said she agrees with the minority members in their opposition to the California Learning Assessment System, but splits with them on the issue of school prayer, which she does not support. Still, Krumpotich said her main concerns are emphasizing basic skills and keeping “New Age religion and Mother Earth-worship” out of public schools.
Also in the Saddleback field are four women who were leaders in the debate over the devil mascot at Mission Viejo High, which dates back seven years and was resolved this year with a student vote that led to the selection of a friendly-faced devil icon.
Arleen Brown, Sandie Gonzales, Kathy Kirlin and Pamela S. Rush all advocated the students’ right to choose their own mascot, and were among those who pushed a lawsuit contending that the removal of the original devil mascot--which Christian activists opposed--violated the students’ civil rights.
“I want to see parental control returned,” said Gonzales, who has two children in Saddleback schools and six more who were graduated from the district. “It has been said to me that the best way to get things done in Saddleback Valley is to work behind the scenes, behind closed doors. That doesn’t work for me. As a parent, I have every right to know what the Board of Trustees know. As a trustee, I would make sure that the people who elected me know what I know. No secrets, no closed doors.”
Another advocate of increased local control is Treva Brown, who led a failed effort to remove the novels “Ordinary People” and “The Great Santini” from the high-school reading list in Anaheim, then spearheaded an unsuccessful recall campaign against the trustees who rejected her first request. Now Brown is among nine people on the ballot--including incumbents she tried to oust--seeking three seats.
“I don’t want the books to be the main issue . . . when I saw the way that I was treated as a parent simply because I wanted to become involved, I thought, ‘This has got to change,’ ” Brown said. “I just think that parents should be better represented. (The trustees) just seem to be acting like tin Gods. No matter what a parent says, they’re just going to do what they’re going to do no matter what.”
Although key issues have yet to be defined in many of the other races, several candidates in various districts said they were prompted to run because of their opposition to CLAS, the state’s new standardized test which has generated massive protest over its approach, content, and implementation.
One candidate even listed himself on the ballot as Herb (No-CLAS) Griffith.
“If what we’re trying to do is find out statistically how the schools are doing, there must be a less expensive way,” Bill Goodwin, a civil engineer and candidate in Saddleback Valley, said of the test that cost the state about $26 million last year.
Kerryn L. Coffman, one of eight people vying for three seats in the Fountain Valley School District, also complained about CLAS.
“Parents were not even informed of these tests, I don’t think that is right,” she said. “I think that you should be able to decided whether you want your child to participate or not, not to find out later.”
More than a dozen candidates gathered at the Registrar of Voters headquarters as the deadline approached Friday, eager to get the first glimpse of the competition.
As the list came cranking off the computer, Coast Community College District Trustee Sherry L. Baum let out a massive sigh as she saw she was among 18 incumbents who face no opposition this fall.
“I consider this such an honor,” said Baum, who was first elected in 1985 after four years on a high school district board. “I feel like it’s a kiss from God. I had always dreamed of the day I would be unopposed, be validated . . . and now it happened.”