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Fowler Recall Backers Say Busing Stance Boosted Effort

March 09, 1989|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

When Oxnard School District Trustee Jack Fowler successfully championed the unpopular plan to dismantle court-ordered integration measures in the district, he also gave more ammunition to the recall drive against him, the drive's organizers said this week.

They predicted that support from Latino parents, who had been reluctant to throw themselves into the fray until becoming angered by the March 2 decision, would win them enough signatures to force a recall election. Organizers have until Tuesday to collect signatures from 7,322 registered voters.

The board's decision would reduce busing in the district and return most students to their neighborhood schools.

"This school district is basically segregating the community, and the community won't put up with this," said Ann Hendricks, president of the Oxnard Educators Assn., the union representing the district's 490 teachers.

Meanwhile, some parents and teachers said they would fight the decision to reduce busing and relax ethnic quotas, which passed by a 3-2 vote on a motion made by Fowler.

To Consider Boycott

Objecting that such steps would lead to segregated schools, a group representing about 250 Latino parents said Tuesday that it plans to consider a boycott of the district's schools. The action will be considered next Thursday at a meeting scheduled for a Catholic church in the Colonia, the Oxnard barrio that is expected to be most affected by the change.

The parents group, called Padres Para La Integracion , plans to support the recall because it believes that the school board dismissed the objections of Latinos, said Dorina Zamudio, a group leader and the mother of two girls who attend district schools. They had protested the plan during the heated six-hour meeting and in a march beforehand from the Colonia to the Oxnard Civic Auditorium, where the school board met.

"We were 2,000 people and they ignored us," Zamudio said.

The Assn. of Mexican American Educators, a countywide group of teachers and aides that actively opposed the plan, wants to make sure that board members listen. Its membership is researching ways of obtaining a court injunction against the plan, which is set to take effect in July, said Carmen Cortez, an Oxnard teacher and the group's president.

Cortez said group officials plans to support the recall on local Spanish-language radio talk shows. The Ventura County chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People will conduct its own research into obtaining an injunction, said the chapter's director, John R. Hatcher III.

Fowler, 54, this week expressed no regret for supporting a move away from busing, which trustees have portrayed as a drain on the district's budget and a force behind "white flight" in the district over the past 20 years.

"I voted the way that I thought was in the best interest of the district, and if that gives them fodder, then so be it," he said. "I was not elected to make decisions to protect my fanny."

The effort to recall Fowler, a 15-year veteran of the board who usually gives voice to its conservative majority, was launched during bitter contract negotiations with teachers in November.

Although the district passed a one-time bonus of 3%, negotiations remain at impasse because the union claims that the bonus was given without its consent. It also has filed an unfair labor practices complaint for the same reason.

The prospect of segregation in the Oxnard School District, which two years ago won a release from its court-ordered busing plan, is not the recall effort's first rallying cry.

Filed for Bankruptcy

In December, teachers revealed that Fowler, who teaches at a local business school, had filed for bankruptcy earlier last year to relieve himself of debts totaling $126,000. They hoped that it would cast doubt on the fiscal abilities of Fowler, who has supervised the district's budgeting process.

Fowler has characterized the efforts as attempts to replace him with a trustee who would rubber-stamp teachers' demands.

Oxnard Education Assn. officials have declined to reveal how many signatures have been collected. The union's bargaining chairman, Mark Prim, said his group had gathered "over 4,000 signatures weeks ago. But we've surpassed that greatly, so it's close."

While 7,322 signatures are required to force an election as soon as Nov. 7, county election officials recommend collecting an additional 20%, or more than 8,700 signatures, to allow for duplications and other errors.

If the recall drive is successful, a newly formed group called Citizens Against Recall Efforts will try to defend Fowler against the challenge. As of late last month, the group had raised $1,000, said CARE Treasurer Richard Laubacher, an executive of an Oxnard real estate firm.

In its first public act in support of Fowler, CARE ran an ad touting the trustee's accomplishments in the Sunday editions of the Oxnard Press Courier and the Ventura Star-Free Press.

"Thanks for all you do!" the ad said.

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