The South Bay Union High School District has had its share of the troubles that have beset area school systems with declining enrollments, but the eight candidates for three seats on the school board in the Nov. 5 elections see brighter days ahead.
They say their optimism is based on a substantial infusion of operating cash from the sale of Aviation High School and on a general determination to put aside the bitter wrangling of recent years and get on with the district's educational mission.
The board's decision in 1981 to close Aviation and consolidate the district's shrinking enrollment at two remaining high schools, Redondo Union and Mira Costa, kicked off battles that divided community opinions and culminated earlier this year in the ouster of Hugh Cameron as superintendent.
Cameron is now personnel director for the district, which serves 4,500 students in Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. The two trustees who instigated Cameron's removal, Amando Acosta and Lyn Flory, subsequently came under criticism themselves when the Daily Breeze reported apparent discrepancies in statements they had made about their academic credentials.
Flory, one of three incumbents seeking reelection, now refuses to discuss questions raised by the newspaper, contending that the issue should be among those consigned to the past. Acosta is in the second year of his four-year term.
(In an interview Wednesday, Acosta acknowledged that he does not hold a bachelor's degree, as indicated in some of his campaign material in 1983. But he attributed the misstatements to "errors" made in the rush of campaigning and said he did not intend to mislead the public.)
In talking about their hopes and plans for the district, the eight candidates express generally similar themes about using the windfall from the Aviation sale--$1.8 million annually in interest, 10% of the district's operating budget--to improve curriculum and facilities.
Thus, voters may tend to focus on the candidates' personalities, backgrounds and experience in selecting three trustees. Their choices also will determine the new board's majority.
The working majority on the present board is made up of President Josh M. Fredricks and Trustee Noel Palm, who are up for reelection, and holdover member William Beverly.
If Flory is reelected and one or both of the other incumbents fails to win another term, she and Acosta could seek a new alliance. However, as one candidate said, "You can't really tell how a board will shape up until the members have worked together for awhile."
Here, in alphabetical order, are the eight candidates:
- Tom Downs, 59, of Redondo Beach, is an ornamental iron construction worker and part-time chiropractor who has run several times for the school board and the Redondo Beach City Council. A 20-year resident of the South Bay, he attends board meetings regularly and has been active in youth sports and volunteer Red Cross work.
Better teamwork, setting clearer district goals and policy guidelines for administrators and establishing closer ties with elementary schools that send students to the district are among Downs' priorities. He also would like to expand the Junior ROTC program at the high schools.
- Flory, of Manhattan Beach, is an aerospace business manager who was elected to an unexpired term on the school board last November. When asked her age, she said, "over 40."
With the resolution of past conflicts, Flory said, trustees and administrators are beginning to work together in harmony. She said the selection of Walter Hale to replace Cameron as superintendent and the appointment of new principals at the two high schools have been "like a shot in the arm."
- Fredricks, a 36-year-old attorney from Manhattan Beach, is the senior member of the current board in terms of service. He said his two terms on the board have been "productive but difficult years" in which the district managed to maintain its basic academic program and avoid teacher layoffs in the face of shrinking resources.
"Now we're in a financial position to really move ahead," Fredricks said. He envisions the district taking a leading role in developing new state curriculum standards that fit the needs of college-bound and vocational students alike.
- Patricia D. Jersin, 56, of Redondo Beach, has been a professor of education at California State University, Long Beach, for 21 years. She made one other bid for elective office in 1977, when she ran unsuccessfully for the Redondo Beach City Council.
As a school trustee, Jersin said, she would bring a "much-needed touch of professionalism and balance" to the board during a "critical period of educational reform." She said a better system of "accountability" should be set up to ensure that the district's goals are met.
Jersin's four children attended Redondo Union, where she began her teaching career in 1957.