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Decision '92 : SPECIAL VOTERS' GUIDE TO STATE AND LOCAL ELECTIONS : THE LOCAL CONTESTS : S.D. School Board Candidates Are Divided Mainly by Details


The differences are mainly in the details when it comes to separating candidates for the San Diego Unified School District board in their citywide contests.

All espouse better schools, a stronger curriculum and programs to help children prepare better for classes.

But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of what exactly to do about integration programs, health clinics, class size, teacher pay--all the things that make school board service a vexing experience in an era of tight budgets--there are some clear-cut distinctions.

"We may be two black people, but there's a world of difference between our academic training and our accomplishments," Trustee Shirley Weber says of her reelection bid against teacher Rhoenna Armster.

Weber, a professor of Africana studies at San Diego State University, said her constant pressure on administrators to improve nonwhite student performance has, among other things, brought about the first efforts to hold teachers accountable for how their students achieve.

"The difference between me and Rhoenna is that I don't raise issues unless I am willing to work at solving them," Weber said.

To the contrary, replies Armster, an outspoken veteran business teacher. Last year she won a bitter fight with the district when an arbitrator said she had been transferred unjustly from Gompers to Lincoln High School for voicing criticism of Marie Thornton, the Gompers principal, for the way she runs the predominantly minority school.

"Shirley is a rhetorician with a bully attitude, but she turns into a teddy bear in terms of dealing with the superintendent when it comes to really making sure reading scores are improved or teachers are really held accountable," Armster said.

She says that if elected, her philosophy would closely match that of trustee John De Beck, the board's most irascible member who often finds problems with administration proposals.

Armster denied that her campaign is meant as retribution for the way she was treated by the district. "But this messenger is not going away until the message is heard."

In the other contested race, trustee Ann Armstrong is seeking a second term against retired San Diego school teacher George Vojtko.

Armstrong, a former school aide, strongly supports health clinics, nursing programs, sex education and other programs, and defends the way the district has made budget cuts during the past two years.

Armstrong says he is more progressive than his opponent.

Vojtko said "there is a lot of trouble in the district" regarding drop-out rates, reading scores, counseling, lack of parent involvement and student discipline.

Vojtko said there has been too much emphasis on social programs at the expense of academics, although he refuses to be pinned down on which ones he would eliminate "until they have been studied individually." He is the only candidate who supports the controversial proposal to give parents vouchers using public tax funds which could be applied to any school, public or private.

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