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2 on Orange School Board Keep Positions : Election: Union-backed candidates fail to unseat conservative incumbents, who regard vote as an affirmation of their principles.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Voters in the Orange Unified School District on Tuesday rejected warnings from union leaders and community activists that the Christian right has a toehold in their schools, and returned both challenged incumbents to the school board.

Challengers Gloria Wildman, David Gernak and Sue McCann failed to unseat either school board President Maureen Aschoff or Trustee Bill Lewis after a bitter campaign.

The races pitted conservatives who advocate less government influence over schools against union-backed candidates who fear that the incumbents represent the Christian right. The two wings have fought over policies involving salaries for teachers, the expansion of the charter school concept and privatization of services.

Aschoff said the vote made her more confident in her goal to put Republican principles to work in the district.

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“I think they like what we’re doing,” she said of the voters. “They’re supporting privatization, more money in the classroom and educational reform. . . . We’ve just opened the door and we have further to go.”

Lewis said he was both happy and angry Tuesday night as he learned he had beat both challengers with 48% of the vote.

“I’m very disappointed and very angry with them,” he said of the union leaders. But ultimately, he added, the voters told the board “they are not happy with public education as it is. They believe that union control of education has failed, and they want to see an end to the social programs and the liberal union agenda and get back to basic education.”

Slightly more than 12,000 of the 90,000 voters in the sprawling district, which includes Orange, Villa Park and parts of Garden Grove, Anaheim and Santa Ana, cast a ballot Tuesday. But they were all besieged in the last few days by mailers and calls from people on both sides of the race.

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The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition joined Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), state Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange) and Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) in supporting Aschoff the week before the race.

Aschoff’s mailer, which illustrates some of the broader forces in the district, accused her opponents of supporting “the homosexual indoctrination program, school-based clinics, condom distribution in the schools and abortion on demand.”

While activists and challengers said such messages buttressed their view that the board is sending the district too far right too fast, Aschoff and Lewis said they merely want to implement a back-to-basics curriculum and continue to put the district back on a stable footing.

The unions, the incumbents said, were “just as sleazy as ever” in the race. They had started a personal whispering campaign against Lewis and impugned Aschoff’s integrity on several fronts, they charged.

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The reelection of Lewis and Aschoff likely will be seen as a major blow by union leaders, who in the past few years have worked through increasingly bitter contract negotiations. Teachers just this year won back a restoration of a 2.59% salary cut made in 1992.

Lewis said he will have a hard time forgiving rhetoric from the race.

“The union ran a very dishonest campaign against us,” he said Monday. “They spent $30,000 to defeat us, come hell or high water. There are a lot of sore feelings and I think it’s up to them to come to us with their tail between their legs.”

Heated charges and countercharges are nothing new to the school district, which serves 27,000 students in 36 schools. It has been plagued by scandals since the 1980s, suffering recall bids, corruption charges, employee strikes and more recently, expensive sexual harassment suits and a new request for an investigation of bid rigging in the maintenance department.

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Fiscally, the trustees faced a state takeover until last year, when the board stabilized the $107-million annual budget after making massive cuts over the previous years.

In the next few years, the district will consider wholesale redrawing of school boundaries, the creation of a multi-campus charter to elude state education regulations, and the privatization of bus and cafeteria services.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Orange Unified School District Election Returns

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Trustee Area No. 2 *--*

100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Maureen Aschoff* 7,010 56.5 Gloria Wildman 5.408 43.5

*--*

Trustee Area No. 3 *--*

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100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Bill Lewis* 6,036 48.5 Sue McCann 2,228 18.0 David Gernak 4,169 33.5

*--*

An asterisk (*) denotes an incumbent candidate.

Elected candidates are in bold type.

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