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New Laguna Trustees Plan to Listen, Take Their Seats Quietly

September 24, 1987|MARIANN HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

After a heated recall campaign that divided parents and citizens, the three newly elected trustees of the Laguna Beach Unified School District said Wednesday that they want to make a quiet, cool transition onto the school board.

Kathleen Jones, Thomas R. (Tim) Davis and Harvey Triebwasser will replace board president Charlene Ragatz, Carl E. Schwarz and Janet S. Vickers, whose recall stemmed from the uproar after their decision to allow former Laguna Beach High School football coach Cedrick W. Hardman to continue as a volunteer coach after he was arrested on felony charges of possession of cocaine.

The new board members believe that Tuesday's special election finally puts to rest a yearlong community battle over the Hardman issue and enables the school board to focus its primary attention once again on educational concerns.

No Sudden Changes

Although they have indicated that they are eager to begin their terms, the new trustees said they do not plan to rush in and make changes overnight. First, they said, they want to meet as the new board--which includes current trustees Susan Mas and Harry Bithell--and familiarize themselves with board procedures and the issues they will face.

"It would be presumptuous of me to say that I really know what's ahead, because I don't," said Jones, assistant vice chancellor of communications at UC Irvine. She took Ragatz's seat with 76.4% of the vote. "First, we have to sit down with (Supt.) Dennis Smith and look at the short-term priorities and goals."

Triebwasser, a pediatrician who won Vickers' seat with 61.9% of the vote, agreed: "We first have to see what lies ahead. . . . I think we'll be a harmonious board who will work together with the administration and look at the goals already in place."

Smith has called a special meeting of the board for Monday, when the new members will be sworn in. At that time, the board will also pick a president and clerk and prepare for its first regular meeting on Oct. 13.

'Do a Lot of Listening'

Davis, who owns Laguna Print, said it will be important for the new members at first to "do a lot of listening."

"We're not going to make any radical changes. We just want to let the administrators do their job with a minimum of interference," said Davis, who garnered 85.1% of the votes to replace Schwarz.

The three former trustees expressed shock at Tuesday's election results, saying the electorate will probably regret the choice it made.

During the campaign, the six challenging candidates accused Ragatz, Schwarz and Vickers of second-guessing the district administration.

But the school district will be in trouble if the new board intends to act as "caretaker" rather than take a more active approach by going onto the campuses and observing the school programs in action, said Ragatz, who was recalled by 63% of the vote.

Ragatz also said the new board is bound to fail because throughout the campaign the challengers chose to focus primarily on the Hardman decision, rather than channeling their energies to help the district.

"Any cause that succeeds when the basis (of the cause) is negativity, ultimately will not succeed," Ragatz predicted Tuesday night.

The three ousted trustees said they still stand by their vote to allow Hardman--a former All-Pro defensive end with the San Francisco 49ers--to continue coaching voluntarily after he agreed to enter a drug-rehabilitation program and worked to clear himself of felony charges for possession of cocaine and resisting arrest.

They said their decision reflects an understanding attitude toward helping any employee with a drug problem.

A group of citizens, calling themselves Citizens Unified for Responsible Education, began a recall effort and gathered enough signatures to force votes on three of the four targeted trustees who voted to retain Hardman. The fourth, Susan Mas, had said shortly after her vote that she regretted her decision.

Didn't Slow Recall

Hardman announced in February that he would not seek the head football coach position this season, but that did not slow the recall movement.

Laguna Beach voters will go to the polls once again in six weeks for the regular election. Because Ragatz's four-year term would have expired Nov. 27, Jones faces reelection Nov. 3. Ragatz said she has signed up to run again but wants to discuss it with her family first. There will be another board seat available in the election because Bithell is retiring.

New trustees Davis and Triebwasser will serve until November, 1989, when Schwarz's and Vickers' terms would have expired.

Within the next two months, the new trustees said they will be facing two major issues: deciding whether to build a new elementary school for the Laguna Canyon area and remodeling Laguna Beach High School.

Supt. Smith said within the next two or three regular meetings, the district administration will be seeking the board's approval to hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study for the new school and to hire an architect for rebuilding the high school.

"There are some aspects we need to do very quickly and bring the new board members up to speed," Smith said, adding that it will probably take a while for the new board to get settled. "But this is a very quick group."

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