Parent challenges candidate statement

A parent in the Ocean View School District has legally challenged the candidate statement of incumbent Trustee John Briscoe, who accused the district of declining test scores, illegal secret meetings and more in his filing with the Orange County Registrar of Voters.

Parent Mary Beth Arnold petitioned for the registrar to change Briscoe's statement for the November ballot. The registrar has until Sept. 2 to make changes to ballot materials.

An Orange County Superior Court judge heard the case Friday, although a court clerk said Tuesday that the order to change Briscoe's statement had not been officially signed yet.

In the proposed order, the court ordered a number of comments removed from Briscoe's candidate statement, including repeated uses of the phrase "We can do better," plus references to the district having "declining test scores," "thievery of teaching minutes" caused by furlough days, "secret spending of public money," "illegal secret meetings" and more.

State election code requires candidates to limit their intention statements to their own background and qualifications and avoid attacks on other candidates.

Arnold's attorney, Bruce Peotter, said he expected the order to go through because "there were no objections from anybody" at Friday's hearing. Arnold could not be reached for comment.

Briscoe said he believed the judge had interpreted the election code loosely and that his remarks did not violate any rules.

"What's clear [under the code] is that I cannot launch scurrilous, libelous attacks on my opponents, and I didn't do that," he said.

He added that he found it odd that the phrase "We can do better" came under scrutiny.

"I guess we can only do the same or worse," Briscoe said.

His attorney, Phillip B. Greer, wrote in a response to the judge that nothing in Briscoe's statement, which does not identify any other candidate by name, constituted an inappropriate attack.

"The ballot statement of John Briscoe simply and singularly provides the candidate's ideas and platform," Greer wrote. "He simply, and eloquently, states that 'We can do better.' … This philosophy is perfectly acceptable in the context of a candidate statement."

Ocean View Supt. Alan Rasmussen disputed some of Briscoe's claims, saying the district's test scores have improved over the last seven years. State records show that the district's Academic Performance Index growth score, which indicates how well students are doing on standardized tests, rose from 790 in 2003 to 847 in 2009.

Briscoe, though, said he was referring to individual schools' test scores. Despite its rising score overall, the district was recently put on the federal Program Improvement list, which identifies districts and schools that are not meeting federal benchmarks.

Rasmussen also said Briscoe's comment about secret meetings was inaccurate.

"I don't know what he's referring to there," he said. "By statute, all our meetings have to be posted 72 hours ahead."

In the approved parts of Briscoe's candidate statement, he cites his experience as a leader in church, Boy Scouts and other groups and lists several goals as a trustee, including behavior contracts for students, weekly parent-teacher contact and improved site security.

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