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Morals Likely Issue in School Board Races


Galvanized by recent debates over sex education and the firing of a former Ventura County school principal, at least four candidates who have supported conservative Christian causes have filed to run for the Simi Valley and county school boards.

The entrance of these candidates promises to make the Simi Valley and county school board races among the most closely watched local contests this November.

Besides these races, 16 other school boards in districts from Fillmore to Conejo Valley have seats up for election.

The board of the Conejo Valley Unified School District alone has 10 candidates vying for three seats.

With no major issues at the forefront in Conejo Valley, some challengers say their main goal is to oust the two incumbents who are running--Mildred Lynch and Richard Newman. The third available seat belonged to trustee William Henry Jr., who resigned in July.

Lynch, a former teacher, is pursuing her third term and Newman, a retired Simi Valley police officer, is seeking reelection to his second term.

Robin Cohen Westmiller, one of the eight challengers in the race, said she is concerned that no one on the board has school-age children.

"The current board is out of touch with what is going on in the schools," said Westmiller, who has three children in Conejo Valley schools. "They don't have any kids in the school district."

Besides Westmiller, the challengers are Cheryl S. Heitmann; Elaine McKearn; Elroi Reimnitz; Charles E. Rittenburg; Barbara A. Sponsler; Susan Witting; and Ellyn Wilkins, who served on the school board for six years in the 1980s.

In the Moorpark Unified School District, incumbent trustees Pam Castro and Gary Cabriales face challenges from two longtime activists on school issues.

Ted Green, an IRS auditor and NAACP member who made a previous unsuccessful bid for the school board in November, has criticized the district for including on its reading list the novel "The Cay," which Green considers racist. David Pollock, a corporate planner for Rockwell International, has worked on several education committees in the district.

In the Oxnard Union High School District, three Latino candidates are challenging three white incumbents. The district, whose student population is 55% Latino, has never had a Latino trustee, district officials said.

Board President Nancy Koch, who is completing her first term, and trustees Janet Lindgren and Jean Daily-Underwood, who have each served on the board since the early 1970s, are all seeking reelection.

Competing for their seats are Margaret Cortese, a clinical psychologist and community activist; Carlos De Moss, an air traffic controller; and Robert Q. Valles, a civilian employment director at the Port Hueneme Navy base who has long been active on a school district advisory committee.

In addition to these local school elections, the Ventura County Community College District board also has three of its five seats open.

Incumbent Karen Boone, who represents Ventura, will face two challengers: former Ventura College administrator John Tallman, a vocal critic of the current district leadership, and Jim Hibbs, a local businessman who wants to boost enrollment and improve student services.

The race for the seat representing the Thousand Oaks area is wide open because trustee Gregory Cole is not seeking reelection. So far, four candidates are vying for this position: university administrator Annette B. Burrows, psychologist Don Kingdon, attorney Donald E. Stevens and orthodontist Norman J. Nagel.

And incumbent Pete Tafoya is facing no competition in his bid to continue representing the area including Oxnard.

In the Simi Valley Unified School District, which was rocked this year by severe earthquake damage to its schools, a raucous debate over sex education and the on-campus killing of a 14-year-old student, two major issues likely to come up for debate are school safety and a push by conservative Christians to teach morals in the schools.

Though board President Carla Kurachi is pursuing a second term, trustee Doug Crosse has decided against running.

Vying for the two seats besides the incumbent are five challengers, including two--Janice Difatta and Glenn Woodbury--who helped lead a fight this year against a proposal to give Simi Valley students information on birth control.

The fight for abstinence-only sex education has been a popular cause with conservative Christians. Woodbury, who owns a weatherstripping business, said that although he is Christian and politically conservative, he is not part of any organized movement to take over the school board. Difatta could not be reached for comment.

A third candidate, Norm Walker, is principal of a Simi Valley Baptist school and was an organizer in the unsuccessful campaign to pass the Proposition 174 school-voucher initiative in 1993.

The other challengers in Simi Valley are employment consultant Jacquie Richardson and children's literature author Sharon Hushka.

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