Recalls Won't End District Strife

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A victorious candidate for the Orange school board said Wednesday that the new bloc should start by trying to settle the district's numerous lawsuits, find money in the budget for bigger teacher raises and back off from direct management of campuses to give principals and teachers a greater sense of empowerment.

"I don't want to micro-manage the administration and the support staff," said Melissa Taylor Smith, one of three candidates who swept conservative incumbents from office in a recall election Tuesday. "I want to see this board get out of the lawsuits that they're entangled with now so we stop spending tax dollars on attorneys."

At tonight's board meeting, for example, the outgoing board will discuss seven ongoing lawsuits and a potential new one--a high number for a moderate-sized district.

And Smith said Wednesday that she also wants to rest: "I have not felt this tired since the last time I gave birth," she said.

But there's not a lot of time for resting--the new bloc has only four months in office before two of them face reelection in November. Both sides already are gearing up for that battle.

The recall campaign succeeded by the slightest of margins Tuesday, with one of the recalled trustees, Maureen Aschoff, losing her seat by a mere 250 votes. Still uncounted are about 750 absentee ballots, but a spokesman for the anti-recall campaign said they did not expect the results to change.

"We lost," was the simple response of Mark Bucher, a lawyer who helped run the anti-recall effort. Despite the closeness of the election, Bucher said there are no plans to contest the results.

Also recalled were Linda Davis and Martin Jacobson.

Bucher attributed the recall's win to his own campaign's failure to communicate its message to voters before absentee ballots were sent out. Absentee returns favored the recalls by a stronger margin than the overall results.

Meanwhile, recall supporters attributed their success to a focus on likely voters and a message that centered on teacher morale, a sore spot with many parents who were concerned about the district's exodus of teachers. Recalls are notoriously difficult to pull off. The last successful such campaign against a school board in Orange County occurred in 1987.

Complicating matters Wednesday was uncertainty over whether one of the winners, John Ortega, would accept the office. Ortega, who withdrew his candidate's statement at the last minute, did not return several messages left at his home Wednesday.

If he declines to take the seat, the new board would select a replacement. The term for that seat extends beyond November. Smith and Kathy Moffat must campaign to retain their new seats.

At the same time, the two other trustees who made up the controversial conservative bloc on the school board, Terri Sargeant and Kathy Ward, are also up for reelection in November.

"It's still a mess," said Jeff Adler, a Long Beach political consultant who has watched the campaign. "There still have to be elections. The campaign will likely be fought out on the same issues."

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