Despite financial troubles stemming from more than a decade of declining enrollment in the Huntington Beach Union High School District, candidates for three seats on the board of trustees say they would not consider closing a high school campus to save money.
In 1987, a citizens' study group recommended closure of one of the district's seven high schools to save an estimated $2.5 million a year. While the board of trustees has studied the school closure proposal, incumbent board members say they have so far rejected the idea.
"I'd hate to see the elimination of a school to meet short-term budget goals," said David Warfield, one of three incumbents running for three trustee positions on the Nov. 7 ballot. "I feel really good about the size of our schools."
Challenger Tom Steele's answer to the district's budget problems is to study unifying the high school district with four local elementary school districts in an effort to streamline administrative costs and services.
Steele, 51, who is running for first time, said the district should explore forming a "super district" to include the Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach City, Ocean View and Westminster elementary school districts. Another option, Steele said, would be to disband the high school district and incorporate each of the high schools within a corresponding elementary district.
The Huntington Beach Union High School District operates Huntington Beach, Edison, Marina and Ocean View high schools, and Wintersburg Continuation School, all in Huntington Beach. The district also includes Westminster and Fountain Valley high schools. More than 158,000 voters in Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach and Westminster are registered to vote in the election, according to the county registrar of voters.
Candidates include incumbent Bonnie P. Castrey, 47, of Huntington Beach, a labor relations and family dispute arbitrator; incumbent Jerry L. Sullivan, 54, also of Huntington Beach, a professor at California State University, Long Beach; incumbent Warfield, 34, of Westminster, who is executive director of the employees' union for the Coast Community College District, and Steele, 51, a telecommunications consultant of Fountain Valley.
Candidates Maia Thomas and Sterling E. Colthurst, both of Huntington Beach, withdrew from the race, but too late for their names to be eliminated from the ballot.
The Huntington Beach high school district has gone from an enrollment of 21,193 students in 1978 to a projected enrollment of 13,671 this school year, according to David Hagen, assistant superintendent of business services. "We're expecting three more years of decline before enrollment starts picking up again in 1992."
Following the citizens' study group recommendations, rumors abounded that one or another of the district's seven high schools would close. When a local newspaper reported that Ocean View High was the one most likely to be shut down, students and their parents packed school board meetings in protest.
But while trustees studied the proposal, it was never voted upon.
Sullivan said, "Nobody on the current board is in favor of eliminating one of the schools."
Instead, Castrey said, board members have trimmed the district's budget in other ways, including cutting administrative costs and eliminating some temporary teacher positions. But she added, "we have made those cuts in a very sensitive, thoughtful and caring way."
All three incumbents have been endorsed by the district's teachers, according to Doug Scott, president of the Huntington Beach Union High School District Educators Assn.
Scott said the teachers' union is endorsing the incumbents based on their records in office. "We had endorsed all three incumbents four years ago. We checked to see if they lived up to their campaign statements. They have been extremely accessible and extremely knowledgeable about education issues," he said.
But challenger Steele disagrees. He said that after following school board issues for the last four years, he believes the incumbents are discounting community input.
"The board functions in a vacuum, concerning itself primarily with professional educators," Steele said.
"Board members tolerate but don't listen to community groups. As a trustee, I would be in a position to express a dissenting opinion and let the community know what is going on."