Voters in the ABC and Norwalk-La Mirada school districts expelled both incumbents on their respective ballots in favor of challengers who have promised changes in district policies.
Downey Unified School District voters also ousted one incumbent, but trustees held onto their posts in 13 other school and community college board elections Tuesday in Southeast Los Angeles County. With the ouster of incumbents and replacements for those who decided not to seek reelection, the boards will have 14 new members.
The ABC Unified School District board will have a new majority, with four challengers elected Tuesday to the seven-member board. The new members are Jim Weisenberger, Bob Hughlett, Dixie Primosch, and A. Cecy R. Groom. Primosch and Weisenberger have been especially harsh critics of board policies and were among a group that called last year for a grand jury investigation of the district. The grand jury turned up no evidence of wrongdoing but suggested the appropriate forum was the ballot box.
Weisenberger, who was the top voter-getter, said his victory signals a turn in a "positive direction" for the district. "We were able to influence enough people that it was time for a change," Weisenberger said.
The first order of business is to establish better fiscal management for the district, Weisenberger said. Groom agreed, saying she would pay especially close attention to how the district spends what she estimated to be $8.6 million in deferred maintenance funds.
Groom, who was born in the Philippines, said she will be the first person of Asian descent to serve on the board. She attributed her victory to numerous supporters, including many in the Asian community as well as student volunteers from Artesia, Cerritos and Whitney high schools.
Homer Lewis, who was seeking his third four-year term, ran eighth in the 12-candidate race. The other incumbent, Richard Arthur--who was seeking his second term--came in seventh. The two other seats were vacant because Elizabeth Hutcheson and Dianne Xitco did not seek reelection.
Arthur, who was considered by some to be a rebel who criticized the board's mainstream members and some of the administrators, said "in a way I'm sort of happy" about losing. "I wasn't really involved in the race," he said, adding that he believes the new majority will make it "a little more difficult for the administration. The board will be in control of running the district. The administration will have to respond to the new members."
Expensive, Heated Campaign
Challengers with sharp criticism for board policies also pulled out victories in an unusually expensive and heated campaign in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. Two veteran incumbents were defeated; a third member had not sought reelection.
Campaign spending by the top vote getter, Sal Ambriz of Norwalk, reached unprecedented levels. "It's almost ridiculous to think we're doing this for a school board race," said Nancy Jenkins, who lost her seat after three terms on the board. Ambriz raised about $12,000, including his own loan of $3,500, and spent about $9,000.
All three winners, Ambriz, and former district administrators William Campbell and Bruce Butler, benefited from the support of the local teachers' union, which is engaged in an increasingly bitter salary fight with the district.
Ambriz was also aided by the strong backing of the Latino community, which now has two representatives on the seven-member board.
"It was a vendetta against the district leadership," asserted defeated board president Lucille Colln, referring to the campaigns of Campbell and Butler.
All three newcomers say the programs and policies of Supt. Bruce Newlin will encounter much tougher scrutiny. While Campbell said he didn't anticipate an effort to buy out the remaining three years of Newlin's contract, he suggested that Newlin "will be looking for someplace else" to work.
In a strongly contested race in the Downey Unified School District, challenger Mary Tesoriero defeated incumbent D. Clayton Mayes for his Area 3 seat.
Throughout her campaign, Tesoriero accused Mayes of arriving late for board meetings, leaving early or not attending them at all. Tesoriero, a former substitute teacher, was backed by the Downey Education Assn., the district's teachers association.
Mayes, a Los Angeles Police Department captain, defended his record, saying he had attended 97 of the last 100 meetings. If he arrived late or left early, it usually was to represent the board at a function, Mayes said. Mayes had been on the school board since 1974.
"I just want to continue the fine programs that have been initiated," Tesoriero said. "I want to see that we keep the same high quality that people of Downey have been used to."