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Bonita Schools : Recall Drive Takes Aim at Trustee

October 04, 1987|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

Upset by district financial woes and a one-day teacher strike last March, a committee of parents and teachers has collected 7,000 signatures on petitions seeking to recall Bonita Unified School District Trustee Robert Green.

The group, which began its campaign June 1, submitted the petitions last month to the county registrar-recorder. If at least 5,644 of the signatures (representing 20% of the district's registered voters) are valid, the matter will be put before the voters in a special election early next year, said Marcia Ventura of the registrar's office.

Proponents of the recall say that Green, along with other school board members, is responsible for the district's financial problems and for a contract dispute with teachers that led to the strike at the district's 12 schools in San Dimas and La Verne.

'Total Change' Urged

"A large number of community members are upset with the way the board is running the district," said Mel Hawkins, a math teacher at Bonita High School and co-chairman of the recall committee. "We had over 100 people help collect the signatures. The teachers and the parents would like to see a total change in the district."

The recall committee is also campaigning against two incumbents running for reelection in November.

Hawkins said the recall committee also wanted to mount a drive to oust trustee Frank Bingham, whose term--like Green's--expires in 1989, but decided to focus its efforts on Green.

"It's very difficult to recall two people at the same time," Hawkins said. "We targeted Green because we felt we could work with Bing-ham."

However, Green said he was singled out for recall "because I am recognized as one of the strongest people for fiscal accountability in public education."

Green, who has been on the board since 1977, dismissed the recall effort as "an act of retaliation" by the teachers' association in response to the hard line he took during contract negotiations last spring.

"They're backing it 100% with people and money," Green said. "A few people who didn't get their way are rattling their swords."

Hawkins responded: "Any recall is retaliation. It's a reaction against (an official's) behavior in office. It's a reaction against (Green's) poor leadership."

Union Support

Dan Harden, president of the Bonita Unified Teachers Assn., said the union supports the recall effort and has encouraged teachers to circulate petitions and contribute financially. However, he rejected Green's assertion that the association, which represents the district's 385 teachers, was the prime mover behind the recall drive.

"Maybe we had 10 teachers who were actively involved month after month in getting signatures," Harden said. "To say that it's just the teachers would be naive. Mr. Green is not looking at the community."

Recall proponent Laurie Weiss, whose daughter attends Allen Avenue School in San Dimas, said the movement to recall Green grew out of town meetings last spring that were attended by hundreds of parents.

"As far as the recall effort, the suggestion originally came from a parent," Weiss said. "We had a lot of parents who went out two or three times and collected 60 or 70 signatures and felt they had done their part. . . . In the end, the teachers were more involved (than parents), but teachers also have the summer off."

Budget Cuts

Among the sources of contention between Green and recall supporters are reductions in services necessitated by the district's budget problems. Unless the Board of Trustees makes cuts, expenditures this year are expected to exceed income by $143,000, said John Miller, assistant superintendent for fiscal services.

In the past, Green has proposed cutting the budget by doubling the fees charged to parents for school bus service. At a recent school board meeting, Green suggested that the district seek to augment its revenue by placing a referendum on the ballot to increase property taxes within the district.

Advocates of the recall claim that Green often paints an unduly pessimistic financial picture and is unresponsive to suggestions from parents that he consider different budgetary priorities and explore new sources of revenue.

Parents in La Verne have blamed Green for a five-year delay in the construction of a new school to serve that city's burgeoning population. Green said he is working with the City of La Verne to have the city borrow money and use developers' fees to build the school rather than have the district incur the expense.

Green said those who disagree with his fiscal conservatism are unaware of the severity of the budget crisis plaguing all school districts.

"I believe teachers in California are underpaid, but I also happen to believe in accountability," Green said. "I am responsible to the taxpayers and to the students first. . . . I am not legally allowed to let this district go bankrupt."

Experience Cited

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