PICO RIVERA — Five political novices will be on the ballot Tuesday for the first of five El Rancho Unified School District board seats that are up for grabs this year.
Tuesday's race will fill the unexpired term of George D. Crook, who retired last winter. There will be no runoff, the candidate with the most votes will win the seat.
In November, board incumbents Maria Aguirre, Mary Eva Gomez, Beatrice Proo and Raul P. Salcido will be up for reelection. Pete A. Ramirez is the only El Rancho board member not facing reelection in 1987.
10,300 Students in District
The El Rancho district, which is 95% Latino, has 10,300 students and a $30-million annual budget. The district runs from the 605 Freeway on the east to Passons Boulevard on the west, and from Whittier Boulevard in the north to Loch Lomond Drive.
El Rancho Supt. Thomas Sakalis describes the district as stable, with a very slight growth rate. Although all the candidates said that classes are larger than they would like to see, Sakalis said that El Rancho is not experiencing the classroom shortage that is plaguing some other districts.
The superintendent said that from his viewpoint, the only real problem facing his district is state funding, which he said is a concern shared by all districts in California.
The five candidates on Tuesday's ballot, though, have a variety of opinions about the district and what it needs.
The candidates are:
- Cecilia Chavez, 51, who is employed in the South Ranchito Elementary School as a media aide and worked for 11 years as an aide in district classrooms. She is the president of the PTA at El Rancho High School, which her three sons attended.
Chavez said the most pressing problems the district faces are drug abuse and dropouts, and she advocates early intervention to deal with these problems. "By high school, you can only reach a few," she said. "We lose them by then." She said these problems can best be solved by getting parents involved and "really working with the kids."
She said she opposes health clinics on campus dispensing birth control devices, but supports sex education beginning in grade school. From her vantage point in district classrooms, she said, it appears that El Rancho teachers are "generally doing a good job. Overall, I think we have a pretty good school district."
- Albert Cortez, 26, who is an administrative assistant in the office of state Sen. Joseph Montoya and is a night student at Whittier College. He said his four years experience in Montoya's office would give him an advantage on the board.
"I have inroads in Sacramento," he said, "and I'm used to dealing with legislation and budgets. I understand that sort of thing."
Unlike the other candidates who said they have spent less than a few hundred dollars each on their campaigns, Cortez said he has spent "about $3,000."
Vocational Education a Major Goal
One of his major goals would be to promote more vocational education, he said. "A lot of kids don't have the desire to go to college; there's a lot of emphasis on academics. If I was on the school board, I would definitely want to look into this."
He cited funding cuts as one of the problems facing the district, but said "We have to work with what we have. It's natural to complain, but some priorities have to be rearranged." He did not have any specific proposals for budget cuts.
He said in an interview that he supports sex education in the schools, a change from his position at a candidates' forum a month ago when he said he believed the primary responsibility for sex education belongs in the home. He also said that he is "not totally opposed" to health clinics on high school campuses dispensing birth control information.
- Lydia Juarez, 41, who described herself as "a homebody" and has a daughter enrolled in El Rancho High School. She said she is running because she believes that the board needed "somebody sensitive to the needs of children and who wants to serve the community."
"That's me," she said. However, she added that winning would be "a little scary."
The major problem facing the district is a 49% dropout rate for Latino students, she said, which she attributed to teacher attitudes.
"Kids don't like to be made to feel dumb. You've got to get teachers who halfway like the kids," she said. She said she would like to see the district test teachers and eliminate those who are not up to par. "We should clean house," she said. "I don't like to see good money go to lousy teachers."
Juarez said sex education should be taught in school "as soon as possible," and children should be taught about AIDS. "You can't tell if you have kinky relatives (who would expose the children to infection). Little kids should be taught the dangers."