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Teachers Attack Oxnard School Trustee Fowler Over Bankruptcy

December 08, 1988|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

Oxnard School District teachers have singled out trustee Jack Fowler for criticism in the Ramona School controversy, but it isn't the first time they have questioned his abilities.

Since deadlocking with district officials over a contract settlement in October, the teachers have publicly denounced the senior member of the Oxnard school board twice.

Last month they sparked a drive to recall him, saying that Fowler is a "dominating and coercing" trustee who suppresses the ideas of his colleagues and interferes in the day-to-day operations of the district. Fowler's opponents have until March 14 to collect 7,322 signatures.

Then, last week, Oxnard teachers called for Fowler's resignation after making public some documents showing that he had filed for bankruptcy in October to relieve himself of $126,000 in debts.

Fowler has characterized the moves as attempts to replace him with a trustee who would rubber-stamp demands by the teachers' union, the Oxnard Educators Assn. The union is asking for a 2% raise at a time when district officials say they cannot afford to give any raise beyond the step-increases to which they have already agreed.

But that hasn't stopped the teachers. In a press conference last week, they said Fowler's bankruptcy demonstrated a pattern of "fiscal irresponsibility" that should not be tolerated by the district, where he has helped direct the school's finances during his 15 years as a trustee.

The documents showed that Fowler had just $150, spread through four checking accounts, when he filed for bankruptcy. Most of the debts had been incurred in the past 8 years, but one dated to 19 years ago, the papers showed.

"Here we have a man who has been directing the tremendously intricate $40-million budget who is apparently unable to manage his own personal finances," said Ann Hendricks, a Ramona School teacher who also is president of the OEA.

Spending Pattern Question

Mark Prim, a Fremont Intermediate School teacher, also said officials should conduct a thorough investigation of spending patterns in the district.

"We're a wealthy district, yet there is never money for the teachers," he said. "Where is the money going?"

Fowler, who said he had no plans to resign, dismissed the bankruptcy revelation as "a cheap shot."

"My personal problems have nothing to do with my conduct as a trustee," he said. "The union people have unpleasant divorces and financial problems, but we don't hold them up for ridicule."

He said his financial problems were the result of bad investment decisions in the early 1980s that were compounded by his quitting a job at a company--he declined to reveal its name--that moved out of the area.

'I Suffered for It'

"I suffered emotionally for it," he said. "I suffered financially for it. And I don't like it bandied about."

Fowler said the union officials "couldn't point up one single incident in my 15 years on the board when I've done something inappropriate" and cited a recent audit that gave the district a clean bill of health.

"It's very easy to make spurious charges when you've got limited knowledge or a political ax to grind," he said.

District Supt. Norm Brekke, who himself has been the target of union salvos, stood by Fowler.

"I don't see any relationship between a board member's personal financial situation and their ability to make policy and decisions regarding the situation of a school district," said Brekke, who last month lost a vote of confidence among the district's 495 teachers.

Performance Defended

Brekke added that Fowler "has been very responsible and frugal in matters relating to our fiscal condition." He also said the teachers had overestimated the trustee's role on the five-member board.

"He's one-fifth of any decision made on policy or fiscal decisions," he said.

Fowler, 54, is a business and accounting teacher at Watterson College, an Oxnard business school. The holder of a business administration degree from UCLA, he has worked most of his life as an accountant for manufacturing concerns.

Fowler moved to Oxnard 19 years ago from Hacienda Heights and was elected to the board 4 years later after serving as vice president of the PTA at Juanita School, which his son attended, and serving on a committee to oversee integration in the district.

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