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Challengers Win, See Mandate for Change

November 05, 1987|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

Two incumbents on the Bonita school board were swept from office Tuesday as voters in La Verne and San Dimas filled the three open seats with challengers who had vigorously opposed the board.

School board President Sue Moran and board member Roger Campbell, whom challengers had accused of being unresponsive to constituents during a recent contract dispute with teachers, fell hundreds of votes short of retaining their seats.

The board's new majority includes the two candidates endorsed by the Bonita Unified Teachers Assn.--which staged a one-day strike in March after reaching an impasse with the school board--and a parent who organized a student boycott to demonstrate displeasure with the board.

P. (Biff) Green, vice president of university affairs at the University of La Verne, was the top vote-getter with 2,500 votes, or 22.2% of those cast.

Robert I. Watanabe, principal of Sunkist School in La Puente, finished second with 2,235 votes, or 19.8%.

Sharon Scott, who founded Active Citizens for Children, the group that organized the student boycott, won the third seat with 1,883 votes, or 16.7%.

The three will fill the seats on the Bonita Unified School District Board of Trustees occupied by Moran and Campbell, as well as the seat vacated by Harry Jacobs when he left the area in March.

Moran, a member of the board since 1979, placed a distant fourth with 1,193 votes, or 10.6%. Campbell, a board member for six years, tied for sixth in the field of eight candidates with 888 votes, or 7.9%.

Unsuccessful challengers were Arthur Lopez with 938 votes, or 8.3%; Jeff Schenkel with 888 votes, or 7.9%, and Robert Rush with 746 votes, or 6.6%.

After months of attacking what they said was an unresponsive and inflexible school board, the three new board members said Tuesday's vote was a turning point for the district.

"Let's put it this way: All three of (the people I voted for) got elected," said Scott, 34, a mother of two. "I feel very good because to me the results of the election support the theory that people wanted a change in the district."

Watanabe, 39, said the winners' margin of victory means that the new board has a popular mandate to chart a different course for the district.

"You can see the public overwhelmingly voted to take the incumbents out," Watanabe said. "It was definitely a landslide. Even both (incumbents) put together didn't have (the votes) I did."

Green, 41, no relation to current board member Robert Green, said he was optimistic about the cohesiveness of the new board majority.

"I think with Bob and Sharon on the board, it'll be a positive working relationship," Green said. "I think we're all working to improve the quality of education in the district."

Moran and Campbell did not return phone calls.

The winners said the most important task facing the board is to restore parents' trust and teachers' morale. They said they plan to make the board more responsive to the public by allowing parents, teachers and students to address the board at the beginning of its meetings rather than at the end, as is presently the case.

Another high priority is the selection of a permanent superintendent to replace Mitchell Gilbert, who has been acting superintendent since James T. Johnson retired June 30. They said they hope to hire a superintendent with a different style than Johnson, who repeatedly locked horns with the teachers association.

Campbell and Moran charged that the campaign to oust them was a ploy by the teachers' association to gain control of the board. They specifically cited the union's endorsement of Green and Watanabe, who also received financial support from the association.

Green and Watanabe said they made no promises to the union in return for its assistance. Scott, who declined to be considered for endorsement by the teachers' association, doubts that a pro-union voting bloc will emerge on the board.

"I see it as a balance," Scott said. "I am very pro-teacher. . . . However, I believe there is a dichotomy at times between the power of the union and the best interests of the children."

After they are sworn in later this month, the new board members will join incumbents Robert Green, who has been on the board 10 years, and Frank Bingham, who was first elected to the board six years ago.

However, Watanabe said he expects the board's composition to change in February, when voters will decide whether Robert Green should be recalled. The opposition to incumbents shown by voters Tuesday indicates that the electorate favors Green's recall, he said.

"(Green) even said that his top priority was not the recall, but was making sure those two (incumbents) were reelected," Watanabe said. "My feeling is he will not be on the board after February."

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