WHITTIER — Teachers took their struggle with the Whittier City School District from the picket line to the ballot box last week and succeeded in electing two teachers to the school board and ousting the sole incumbent.
The winners include teacher-supported candidates Owen Newcomer, who finished first in Tuesday's election, and David R. Thomas, who finished third. J. C. McFarland, who was not endorsed by the teachers but said he was sympathetic to their problems, finished second. Nine candidates were vying for three seats on the board.
"This proves that teachers can make a difference," said Barbara Gaborko, president of the Whittier Elementary Teachers' Assn. "We've had so much trouble in the past during contract negotiations, we decided we could not keep fighting the battle on the picket lines. We needed to find people to represent us and put them into the school board."
In a surprising upset, incumbent Mildred A. Early, who had been opposed by the teachers, finished fifth. The third teacher-supported candidate, Reed Wilson, finished sixth.
The teachers, disgruntled after months of haggling with district officials over details of a new contract, formed a political action committee last spring and vowed to find candidates who would listen to their concerns.
Over the summer, they held fund-raisers, including yard sales and a dinner at the Whittier Hilton. They sent 1,500 handwritten letters to voters in the district urging them to support Newcomer, Thomas and Wilson. They put up signs. They walked door-to-door campaigning. They donated $1,000 to each of the three candidates.
Gaborko said the teachers, like many others in school districts through the Southeast and Long Beach areas, have vowed to stay active in future elections.
"Now we have to look forward," Gaborko said. "This is just the first step."
Thomas, who finished 13 votes ahead of James Albanese, said he could not have won the election without the teachers' support.
"Without their assistance, I would not have been as organized," said Thomas, a special education teacher and union representative in the Los Nietos School District, which also is in Whittier. "I could not have done it without them."
Teachers and school officials said they believe Newcomer, a teacher at Rio Hondo College and member of the union, would have won anyway, with or without the teachers' support. He was also supported by several City Council members and other local groups.
Early, who had several disagreements with the teachers during contract negotiations, sharply criticized the teachers for their involvement in the election.
"The teachers (already) have representatives," Early said. "The administrators have representatives. The board is intended to represent the community. My main concern is that the community won't receive the proper representation."
"We're not going to be anyone's puppet," Thomas said. "I feel that I would probably be able to see the teachers' point of view more closely, but I would be able to see the point of view of everyone . . . providing the best education for our children is our main concern, first and foremost."
BACKGROUND The teachers, disgruntled after months of haggling with district officials over the details of a new contract, formed a political action committee last spring and vowed to find candidates who would listen to their concerns.