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Rural School Board President, 84, Brings District Up to Date

November 27, 1986|TOM GORMAN | Times Staff Writer

Out in Warner Springs, where Indians-turned-cowboys work the cattle, where the neighbor just down the street is actually miles away and glider planes soar overhead, there's just not much use for bureaucracy.

Like the life style and the landscape, things are nice and simple here when it comes to government functions. Consider, for instance, the running of the Warner Union School District and its one school.

The nine elementary grades are taught by just seven teachers, most of whom have split grade-level classes. And there's not even a principal or a superintendent to oversee the business of schoolin'. There's a teacher in charge of the teaching, and a businessman in charge of the rest of the operations.

And there's Hubert H. Horn. You can call him Curly or you can call him Mr. Horn; nobody calls him Hubert.

Horn is 84 years old and for the past 22 years he's been the president of the local school board. It's not that nobody else wants the job; it's just that nobody figures he can care for children as much as Curly Horn, who's never had any children of his own.

Adopts All Children

So, he's adopted all the children in Warner Springs, Ranchita, Lake Henshaw, Sunshine Summit and the Los Coyotes and Santa Ysabel Indian Reservations as his own.

Horn is the patriarch of the district's sole school, situated on California 79. It's the quintessential country school, with its bright white buildings, fresh red trim, white fence, rows of flowering red and yellow canna and, to the west, a view of the glimmering white observatory domes atop Palomar Mountain.

Under more than two decades of Horn's leadership, the little school has flourished: new classrooms have been constructed without state building assistance; there are no more than 27 students per class--and each class has not only the teacher but a professional teacher's aide; achievement tests have shown the students to rank higher than most of their peers in California; a collection of 15--count 'em, 15--computers fill a room for the kids to practice their math and reading, and there's money in the bank.

It's a far cry from when Horn first came on the scene in this wide-open stretch of northern San Diego County.

Spent 30 Years in Navy

Horn, who spent 30 years in the Navy, much of it in underwater salvage work to repair ships, and his wife of 61 years, Gladys, moved from Chula Vista to nearby Ranchita in 1950 to begin their retirement.

Several years later Horn started nosing around in the business operations of the little school district, prompted by the board of education's contention that a tax increase was necessary to meet mounting expenses.

"The cafeteria fund was broke and a milk company was owed $1,900," Horn said. "When they asked to raise taxes, I started asking a lot of stupid questions--like, what were they doing with all the money they did have. I had a feeling the kids were getting a bum deal."

Horn smelled a rat, and met with the county superintendent of schools to air his suspicions. That led to a meeting with the district attorney's office. One thing led to another, and a county grand jury blew the lid off the school district by indicting the superintendent on grand theft of school funds. He was sentenced in 1961 to two years in state prison and, in the wake of the controversy, three of the five school board members resigned--including one who was using the school's tractor for himself.

'Slipshod Operation'

"It was a slipshod operation," Horn said.

He was immediately elected to fill one of the three vacancies and, in 1964, was elected president of the board. He's held the post ever since, and has missed only one school board meeting in his 22 years as president.

The district put its business back in order, dropped the idea of a tax hike and still found enough money to build a new cafeteria. A couple of years ago, two new classrooms were constructed without outside help, and two more classrooms are nearing completion--again, with only district money being used. And a 6,000-square-foot gymnasium, financed jointly by the school district and the county Department of Parks and Recreation, is now being built next to the playground.

The gym will be used by the school children on rainy, windy or snowy days, and will serve as a community hall of sorts for these parts of the countryside.

Horn smiles as he walks the grounds. He waves to the youngsters--and they wave back--and he points to the things he and the community have built with donated labor: that chain-link fence over here, that Quonset hut over there.

"This school is his whole life," said Mary June DiPaolo, who began teaching at the school in 1957, taking time off here and there to get three children into kindergarten and on up.

"We're all one big family, and he's the father--or, the grandfather," she said.

Camaraderie Runs Thick

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