An April 16 runoff election for a seat on the Pasadena Unified School District board pits a three-time incumbent with 12 years of experience against a finance expert who says it is time to bring some fresh ideas to Pasadena's public schools.
Vying for the four-year post in the at-large election are incumbent Elbie Hickambottom, 66, and E. Clark Coberly, 42.
Hickambottom is a retired U.S. Army major whose time in office has been punctuated by his often vocal concern for what he calls "low-achieving, poor and minority students." He claims the support of many minority families in the district, which is 80% nonwhite.
A former administrator with the Pasadena Redevelopment Agency, Hickambottom is active in the Calvary Christian Methodist Episcopal Church of Pasadena and has served as church trustee, recording secretary and Sunday School superintendent.
Hickambottom cites his years of leadership on the board in explaining why his experience makes him the ideal candidate to help improve high school dropout rates and scores on standardized achievement tests.
"For the first couple years, board members aren't nearly as effective as they are later . . . when you learn who's responsible for what and what's going on," Hickambottom said.
Coberly, a lawyer and financial officer for two San Gabriel Valley corporations, says the beleaguered school district must concentrate its efforts on all students, whether gifted, low achieving or run of the mill.
The challenger, who has four sons in various grades at Pasadena Unified, says he would like to rekindle pride in the district and bring back into the fold many of the affluent families who long ago abandoned public schools for private institutions.
Coberly adds that he was asked to run by a former president of the school board and he believes that his corporate background would provide innovative solutions to some of the board's financial problems.
Coberly is vice president and chief financial officer of California Pools in El Monte and is also chief financial officer and co-owner of Bonneville Steel in Irwindale.
"I've been roundly criticized for referring to the district as a business, but one reason we've been having these problems is that we have people who . . . believe all you have to do is have well-intentioned citizens on the school board and it will be hunky-dory," Coberly said. "What you need is good, solid financial background to manage the district and set policy. I believe the board has abdicated that responsibility for years."
Both candidates say they know that the Pasadena school board faces some tough challenges. Pasadena Unified scores in the bottom third of state in math, language and reading tests; its high school dropout rate is 21.7%.
Additionally, the district is expecting a $3-million to $5-million shortfall on a $70-million budget for the 1991-92 school year and must make cuts by June 30.
Coberly, a former PTA president of Don Benito Elementary School in Pasadena, said he favors turning over to private contractors some non-instructional jobs, such as custodial positions. Coberly said his calculations indicate this could save the district up to $1 million annually, although he conceded that it would be opposed by local unions.
Hickambottom, who went through Pasadena Unified as a child, graduating from John Muir High School in 1942, said he would consider pulling the plug on employee travel, such as trips by teachers and administrators to educational conferences. He would also allocate scarce funds to instructional use before he would allow buildings to be repainted.
The feisty incumbent, whose four children also graduated from Pasadena public schools, has often taken the board lead in questioning and curbing district spending, especially when it comes to car phones and hiring pricey, out-of-town lawyers instead of more reasonably priced attorneys from the Pasadena area.
But Hickambottom's pet peeve is outside consultants.
"There's a tendency sometimes for staff to rely and call upon outside consultants more than necessary," he said. "I think if we have a well-trained staff, and we do, that we should expect they are able to do many things."
Coberly agreed that the district faces a budget crunch. But he called lack of pride in Pasadena public schools the No. 1 problem dogging the district today.
"We have general apathy and lack of interest among the community," Coberly said. "We've been telling the world we're a terrible place for so long that we believe it."
PASADENA SCHOOL BOARD
E. Clark Coberly, 42: Attorney and businessman
Chief financial officer of California Pools in El Monte and Bonneville Steel in Irwindale. Says the district can save money by using independent contractors for services such as security and custodians.
Elbie Hickambottom, 66: Incumbent
Retired Army major; former director of relocation and property management for the Pasadena Redevelopment Agency. Backs neighborhood schools, citizen participation in running schools.