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Teacher Faces 9 Charges in Orange Recall

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Orange teacher was charged Wednesday with nine criminal counts of participating in the illegal gathering of petition signatures to recall school board trustees this year.

The case represents yet another chapter in the continuing drama of the Orange Unified School District, which this year saw a battle for control of the school board, beginning with the June recall of three board members and culminating with last month’s election, which brought in a new slate of trustees.

According to the charges filed Wednesday by the Orange County district attorney’s office, Raymond Busch, 57, attested that he had gathered signatures for the recall, though others had actually done the signature-gathering, a possible violation of state election laws.

Busch, a vocational teacher and member of the board of directors of the local teachers union, could be sentenced to up to nine years in jail if convicted on all counts. He is not under arrest, prosecutors said, because he is not a flight risk. He is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 7.

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Busch could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Paul Pruss, president of the teachers union, which backed the recall, said there was no concerted attempt by his members to mislead voters. Hundreds of teachers and parents gathered almost 20,000 signatures in the recall effort.

“These were volunteers,” Pruss said. “These were not professional signature-gatherers. If there were mistakes made, they were not intentional--or at least I’d hope they weren’t.”

By law, signatures for recall petitions must be gathered by registered voters who live in the district. The law is meant to prevent outsiders from recalling local officeholders.

Busch is a registered voter and an Orange resident, prosecutors said, but he was not the one who gathered signatures on nine petitions late last year that bear his name as the petition circulator.

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Petition circulators must sign an affidavit under each set of signatures attesting that they gathered the signatures before filing them with the registrar of voters.

The nine petitions with Busch’s name, each with 10 to 20 signatures, were distributed among adult vocational students in the district, said senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Pete Pierce, who is prosecuting the case.

Pierce declined to identify those who circulated the petitions, saying he could not discuss evidence in the case. He said his office began investigating in May after citizen complaints.

Martin Jacobson, one of the recalled trustees who unsuccessfully sought to regain his seat in November, said the charges against Busch support his allegations that recall supporters were using underhanded tactics. “It was evident the other side was doing everything they could possibly do to win,” he said. “It is the idea that the end justifies the means.”

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Jacobson and the other two recalled trustees, Linda Davis and Maureen Aschoff, said Wednesday they had no immediate plans to contest the recall election results, but Davis said the district is now governed by an “illegal board.”

“I’d like to talk to an attorney about it,” Davis said.

The 30,000-student district has been plagued for a decade by teacher unrest over salaries and benefits. Teachers and their supporters accused the former board majority of being indifferent to their concerns and driving talented educators from the district.

Former board members, in turn, said salaries and benefits were the result of economic realities, and they accused the Orange Unified Education Assn., the teachers union, of waging a smear campaign.

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