WEST COVINA — Citing the district's $2.6-million debt as the major issue, three challengers soundly defeated all three incumbents Tuesday in the West Covina school board election.
William J. Brutocao, B. J. (Joe) Mount and Elias Martinez won four-year terms by defeating board President Kathy Jones and incumbents Elba Comeau and Dottie Grinstead.
"The public has expressed its displeasure with the incumbents," said Mount, 60, a division manager with the Southern California Edison Co. He called the debt the overriding issue in the campaign and said the incumbents lost because they "refused to accept accountability."
The district ran up the debt, expected to total $3.3 million by the end of the fiscal year, because of cost overruns in areas such as computer maintenance, building repairs and consulting fees, as well as inaccurate revenue projections.
The incumbents all said they were not kept informed of the district's financial problems. Most of the challengers accused them of not paying attention.
The district considered closing its schools ahead of schedule last year because of the lack of funds. Instead, it borrowed $3.3 million from the state to keep the schools open. Until the loan is repaid, a state-appointed trustee will oversee the operation of the district.
"We want to cut short the trustee's tenure," Brutocao said. "The board doesn't want to be watched over . . . to have someone review its every action."
Brutocao, 37, said he and the other new members need to "restore confidence in the board." He said they won because the voters decided "who were the most capable and competent people."
Jones, a public relations consultant who was elected board president in 1984 after serving one term as a member, agreed that "the people have decided they want a change." She said she will continue to assist the board and is "willing to serve it in any capacity."
Brutocao received the highest number of votes, 1,589, or 17% of those cast, followed by Mount with 1,577 votes, or 16.5%, and Martinez with 1,324 votes, or 14%.
Of the other candidates, Jones received 928 votes, or 9.7%; Peter Sabatino 792, or 8%; H. (John) Sheety 764, or 8%; James M. Carrigan 736, or 8%; Michael H. Spence 562, or 6%; Grinstead 471, or 5%; Comeau 215, or 2%; L. B. Fonseca 188, or 1.9%; Roy D. Amicangioli 180, or 1.8%, and Dorothy Sheldahl 142, or 1.5%.
Thomas Lorincz dropped out of the race, but his name appeared on the ballot and he received 50 votes.
All three winners said they bring experience that will help the board deal with the debt. "I can't work miracles," said Brutocao, a lawyer, "but with the new board I think we will be able to function in a more efficient way."
The winners also said it was a clean race. "There are no hard feelings," Brutocao said. "All the people involved are fine people. All had the interest of the community in mind."
But, he said, the election demonstrated "the lack of confidence the electorate had in the people running the district."
Winners said other important issues are the need to improve relations between the board and the rest of the district, raise morale among teachers and administrators and negotiate with teachers in a fair manner.
They said they are confident that they can work well with each other. "I don't anticipate any problems working with the other winners," said Martinez, 39, an accountant. "If there are any disagreements, I hope we will agree to disagree."