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ELECTION PERSPECTIVE: LOOKING AHEAD : School Races in L.B. Are a New Ballgame

November 06, 1986|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Proposition T proponents were predicting a new flowering of interest in Long Beach school board elections following their substantial victory at the polls Tuesday.

The measure, which will radically alter the way school board members are elected and could drastically change the makeup of the board, was approved by 60% of the voters despite the fact that opponents outspent supporters by nearly 2 to 1.

The final count: 61,769 in favor and 41,285 against.

"This is the most important, most historical thing that has happened in Long Beach in many, many years," said Sid Solomon, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved and one of the prime supporters of the measure. "It is a very basic, significant change."

Traditionally the Long Beach Unified School District's five board members have been elected by district voters at-large. Under the procedure approved Tuesday, the district will be divided into five regions, each of which will elect its own representative to the school board.

Because four of the current board members live in what will become only one region, at least three of them will have their board seats eliminated in a major reshuffling of power that could affect how the city's schools are run for years.

Supporters of the change say that regional school board elections will be more democratic, while opponents have argued that it will only fragment an already effective board.

In the final weeks of the campaign that difference of opinion erupted into conflict-of-interest charges by the teachers' union--which supported the measure--against Supt. E. Tom Giugni, who opposed it along with most of the school board members. Board members were criticized for hiring an outside law firm to research possible problems in the wording of Proposition T, while Giugni was attacked as a "hired gun" for championing the cause of his employers.

On Tuesday, though, the arguments faded quickly as the votes were counted and advocates of both positions began looking to the future.

"My theory is that people are going to start announcing that they're running right away," said Solomon, adding that he had already heard a number of names bandied about as possible school board candidates. "This will create a lot more interest in the school system."

Added Jenny Oropeza, co-chairwoman of Citizens for a Representative School Board, which championed the measure: "It will broaden the perspectives that the various school board members bring to their decision process."

A similar measure was defeated two years ago by 54% of the voters. The idea succeeded this time, Oropeza said, because proponents did a "better job of communicating all the positive aspects" of the measure, thereby generating more grass-roots support.

"Sometimes people just come to realize that it's time for a change," Solomon said.

April, 1988, Vote

Under the new procedure, the next school board election will take place concurrently with the City Council election in April, 1988, when all seats will be contested. Thus board members whose terms would have expired in March, 1987--namely board President John E. Kashiwabara, Arlene Solomon and Harriet Williams--will have their terms extended for 13 months. And those whose terms were to expire in 1989--James P. Zarifes and Elizabeth Wallace--will have theirs reduced.

Of the five current members, all but Wallace live in the city's affluent Eastside and would therefore have to either move or run against each other to retain their seats.

It was that reality, in fact, that fueled charges by Proposition T opponents that the measure was a tool by which the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach hoped to depose school board members with which it disagreed, a charge the union denied.

"The likelihood of one group dominating the election will be much less now," said Hal Vick, acting executive director of the teachers' organization. Nonetheless, he said, the union plans to play an active role in selecting and supporting candidates. "We've put a lot of time and money into this," he said. "The schools are finally going to be reflective of the community. No longer will teachers be ignored."

Of the slightly more than $8,000 raised by Proposition T proponents, according to city records, about $6,600 was donated or loaned by the teachers' association. Opponents, on the other hand, spent nearly $17,000 in their unsuccessful attempt to defeat the measure, much of it donated by school administrators.

Kashiwabara expressed deep regret regarding Tuesday's outcome, but he was also philosophical: "Our schools have survived other challenges and will undoubtedly survive this one. If the interests of all the students can continue to be placed ahead of political expedience, I think we can continue to have good schools."

Blaming the outcome on "special-interest groups" that did not have quality education at heart, Kashiwabara was nonetheless happy with the way the anti-Proposition-T campaign had been run. "I think we presented our case as hard as we could," he said. "I don't think I would do anything differently."

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