Voters to Get the Final Word : In two school districts and a city where the election debate has been hottest, decisions will come at the polls Tuesday. : Bonita Schools : Rancor of Strike, Boycott, Recall Carries Over Into the Campaign

October 29, 1987|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

After months of acrimony, during which teachers staged a one-day strike, sympathetic parents took their children out of school for a day and a recall campaign was mounted against a school board member, an equally rancorous campaign has developed for the Bonita school board.

The six challengers say the current board caused the discord by ignoring concerns raised by teachers and parents.

But the two incumbents assert that the campaign to unseat them is an attempt by the Bonita Unified Teachers Assn. to gain control of the board.

In addition to the seats held by the incumbents, a third seat, vacant since board member Harry Jacobs left the area in March, will also be at stake in Tuesday's election.

During the past two years, the Bonita Unified School District--which serves more than 9,500 students in La Verne and San Dimas--has been beset regularly with disputes among teachers, some parents and the board.

The discontent surfaced during contract negotiations with teachers last spring. Charging the board and the superintendent with intransigence, teachers staged a one-day strike and parents who supported them kept their children out of school for a day.

In the months since, a committee of parents and teachers has forced a recall election for board member Robert Green to be held early next year. Besides opposing Green, members of the recall committee have campaigned against the incumbents.

For much of each of the past two school years, teachers worked without a contract after negotiations broke down, requiring a state-appointed fact-finder to help settle the disputes.

During one impasse, about half of the district's 385 teachers placed yellow badges on their cars proclaiming "school board victim on board." Letters charging the teachers with taking part in an inappropriate activity were placed in the files of an unspecified number of teachers.

The teachers association filed a complaint with the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing against then-Supt. James T. Johnson after he wrote a memo to management employees seeking campaign contributions for board members seeking reelection in 1985. Last year, the commission ruled that Johnson had acted improperly. Johnson retired June 30, but said it had nothing to do with the complaint.

'Clean Sweep'

Although at least one new member will be elected to the board, members of the recall committee and the teachers association say they want a "clean sweep" of a board they claim has isolated itself from its constituents.

"We think people are generally dissatisfied with the board as a whole," said Steve Godbey, an English teacher at San Dimas High School and a spokesman for the teachers association, which 90% of the teachers have joined.

A major theme in the challengers' campaigns is that the teachers' strike and parents' boycott could have been averted had the board been more receptive to teachers' demands and parents' suggestions.

Incumbent candidate Roger Campbell, who has been on the board since 1981, rejected the claim that the board has isolated itself.

"The school board is responsive to the community," Campbell said. "When there is responsible input, when there is an approach to solve problems with reasonable solutions, the beat goes on and things get done."

Age Issue

The challengers say the incumbents do not relate to the concerns of younger parents because none of the board members have children of elementary-school age. Neither Campbell, who refused to give his age, nor incumbent candidate Sue Moran, 53, has children still attending school in the district.

"All four of (the board members) are parents of yesterday's children, meeting yesterday's needs and carrying some political baggage," said challenger Jeff Schenkel. "Because of the fact that they've been along such a long time, they've become entangled in the political process."

Board President Moran, who has been on the board since 1979, said longevity should not be held against the incumbents. "The issues have been the same for the last 10 to 20 years, and they will remain the same for the next 10 to 20 years," she said.

Challengers Differ

The field of challengers runs the gamut from Sharon Scott, a parent who founded Active Citizens for Children--the group that organized last year's student boycott--to Robert Rush, who has criticized the boycott, saying that a dispute with the district was "not the place to involve kids in the political process."

The group also includes Schenkel, who led a parents' protest against Plato Products Inc., a Glendora metal-plating firm next to Arma J. Schull School in San Dimas, one of the Bonita district's 12 schools.

The other non-incumbents all work in education. P. (Biff) Green is vice president of university affairs at the University of La Verne; Arthur Lopez teaches at Foothill Middle School in Azusa; Robert I. Watanabe is principal of Sunkist Elementary School in La Puente.

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