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Voters Face Decisions on Education, Leadership : Arcadia schools: $28-million bond measure makes ballot again. Three candidates vie for two board seats.

April 18, 1993|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After a narrow defeat in September, a $28-million bond measure to renovate Arcadia's dilapidated schools goes before voters again Tuesday.

Also on the ballot, Board of Education incumbents Joann E. Steinmeier and Mary E. Dougherty will compete with challenger Debbie Ewing, a Montebello High School teacher, in a three-way race for two seats.

Last year, the bond measure failed to get the required two-thirds voter approval by a mere percentage point. To prevent that from happening again, bond supporters are campaigning citywide, instead of focusing just on parents.

However, they acknowledge that a school board decision to restructure grade levels by the fall of 1994 may cost vital votes.

The reconfiguration will designate elementary schools for kindergarten through fifth grade, middle schools for sixth through eighth grade, and Arcadia High School for ninth through 12th grade. Currently, sixth-graders attend elementary schools, and ninth-graders are in junior high schools.

"We have greatly expanded the base of people who we're going after to support the bond issue," said Alvin Albe Jr., a parent who is leading the campaign for the measure. He said proponents have used citywide mailers and speeches to community groups to drum up support.

Voters opposing the board's decision to reconfigure grade levels should not direct their anger in the wrong place, he said. "To vote against the bond does not penalize the board, it penalizes our kids."

Bond opponents, led by resident Johann Hofer, say residents should not have to pay more taxes. "We're taxed to the hilt," she said.

Hofer said she is not opposed to repairing the schools, but that the money should come from the city and fees on non-U.S. citizens who buy and sell real estate and run businesses.

Last September, 65.8% of 4,137 voters backed the measure. It needed 66.6% of the vote to pass.

The bond issue would assess an annual fee of $20 per $100,000 of assessed value on properties for 25 years.

The $28-million bond issue would pay for new plumbing, electrical systems, heating and air conditioning in the schools and add 14 classrooms to the high school. Some of the buildings, which serve 8,200 students at 11 campuses, are 80 years old.

"This goes to bricks and mortar," Albe said.

In the Board of Education race, Steinmeier, in her fourth year on the school board, and Dougherty, in her eighth year, are being challenged by Ewing, a teacher for 10 years who is accredited as a school administrator.

Ewing decided to run for office the day a student brought a loaded gun to the high school where she teaches English.

She said the board is sending the wrong message to students by announcing it will take back Gary Southworth, a Highland Oaks Elementary School teacher who was sentenced to a year in jail for vehicular manslaughter and felony drunk driving in connection with a crash that killed a 21-year-old La Verne woman. Both her opponents have said it is the judicial system's role to penalize Southworth, not the board.

Ewing said parents should be worried about the grade-level restructuring and additional students in a four-year high school. It will mean that half of the students at Arcadia High will be new in 1994.

She said she will work to increase security at Arcadia High, where a student allegedly brought a gun last month and 11 students were arrested in February in connection with an extortion ring.

Parents opposed to reconfiguration have said they felt left out of the board's decision and may vote for Ewing as a protest.

But "if one of us is not returned to the board, a single candidate can't change what happened," said Steinmeier, 47, noting that the board voted unanimously for the restructuring.

Steinmeier, who is married and has a son, said board members took the vote before the election to be "up front with the voters."

Coping with declining revenue from the state is the No. 1 issue facing the district, according to Steinmeier, an official with the California School Board Assn. in Sacramento.

Her 16 years of community involvement, she said, means "people know they can pick up the telephone and call me."

Student safety is a priority for Steinmeier, who praises a newly installed hot line at the high school as going a long way toward encouraging students to report their peers who are bringing weapons and drugs to class.

Dougherty, 57, favors revamping the traffic patterns outside Arcadia High by closing some of the roads near the school. The plan would allow the campus to expand across a road, and increase security by cutting the number of entrances, she said.

Dougherty, married with two grown sons, said she wants to serve another term to follow through on school restructuring. "We're going to go through a real dynamic change to improve the high school," she said.

"This represents a great opportunity for high school and middle school administrators to create a more student-friendly environment."

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