In the hotly contested Garvey school board race, divisions among candidates have been characterized as much by personal enmity as by policy disagreements.
"It's all personal," said Supt. Andrew J. Viscovich.
The seven candidates on Tuesday's ballot include two incumbents, a former board president, and four challengers who have accused the board of being inaccessible to parents and capitulating to pressure from special interest groups.
Personal integrity is perhaps the central issue in the race for two seats on the five-member board, which governs elementary and intermediate schools in parts of Monterey Park, Rosemead and San Gabriel
Supporters of incumbent Jim Smith and challenger Diane Martinez have distributed a flyer reminding voters that incumbent Bob Miranda violated state codes governing the use of district funds after he charged $90 in food and alcoholic beverages to his district-issued credit card in 1985. Miranda said he paid for a dinner attended by other board members and Viscovich after a conference, and has maintained that it was a legitimate expense.
The county Office of Education ordered Miranda to reimburse the district.
Miranda has asked that the past actions of other candidates be re-examined as well. He has pointed out that former board President John Nunez, who is trying to win back a seat, also charged meals to his district-issued credit card and should be held accountable. A board subcommittee found that Nunez's expenditures were legitimate.
Miranda has also criticized Smith, who has been accused of a conflict of interest for voting to approve a summer program in which his wife was employed as a teacher's aide. The accusation was made last month by Anne Cusick, who has dropped out of the race.
When Smith was elected to the board in 1983, the county counsel's office told the district that since his wife had been employed for more than a year before her husband joined the board, he could vote on regular salary matters involving her position.
Smith said the item was part of a consent agenda that was unanimously approved, so his vote made no difference. But Miranda said the program was funded by a grant the district had to apply for and, therefore, was not a "regular" salary matter. Miranda has asked that the county counsel look into the matter.
The candidates are also split on policy questions. One of the central issues involves what some perceive to be a poor showing by the district in last year's California Assessment Program (CAP) scores.
The CAP tests, which measure achievement in fields such as reading, math and science, are given to students in the third, sixth and eighth grades. For purposes of comparison, schools are divided into categories based on socioeconomic factors including the number of families receiving public assistance, the parents' education level and the students' fluency in English.
District officials say about 80% of the district's students have limited proficiency in English and a similar number come from low-income families. Compared to students from similar backgrounds, Garvey students have consistently ranked above the median in recent years, school officials say. However, the district's rankings statewide have been low.
Miranda, who is vice president of the board, said that if reelected, he would put top priority on improving CAP scores.
"We're definitely going to have to look at our instruction and curriculum," Miranda said. "The majority of our schools are doing very poorly in comparison with the rest of the state."
Frederica Frost, supervisor of research and planning for the district, said more than 80% of the district's 7,500 students are Latino or Asian, in many cases recent immigrants. It is not surprising, she said, that these students do not do as well as those from more affluent backgrounds whose first language is English.
She noted that Garvey's scores have been improving gradually over the last six years. "As long as we're improving, we think we're going in the right direction."
Nunez agreed. "The scores have been improving," he said. "You can't expect great leaps from one year to another."
But Miranda and several first-time candidates expressed concern that Garvey students may have trouble competing with students from other districts when they enter high school.
"The materials the kids are using in our district should be comparable to those used in Arcadia or San Gabriel," said candidate Mike Bender. "The kids coming out of Garvey are at a disadvantage."
Candidates also disagree about the district's budget priorities, given the drastic cuts in state education funds this year.
"My priorities are not to take funding away from the classroom," Smith said.