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Recall Drive Targets Entire Hacienda La Puente School Board : Education: Fund mismanagement and nepotism are among the charges. Members deny any wrongdoing.

March 02, 1995|CYNTHIA WALKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A group of parents is gathering signatures for a recall of the entire Hacienda La Puente school board, claiming the board has mismanaged district funds and failed to listen to the concerns of the community.

Board members deny any wrongdoing, maintaining they have acted responsibly and fairly.

The 12 parents behind the recall effort, who have collected about 100 signatures since beginning on Feb. 17, also charge the board with engaging in nepotism and letting their children down academically. They will need nearly 9,000 signatures on each candidate to force the matter to a vote.

"They are giving our children a mediocre education," said Diana Marquez, a Valinda parent who transferred her 13-year-old son to another district after his grades fell. "Why should we have to keep a board who are doing wrong things and who doesn't care about our children?"

Kenneth Manning, board president, attributed much of the group's anger to failed attempts by two of the parents to win seats on the board.

"This same group has been trying to destroy the board because they don't control it," Manning said. "They are trying to create a board in their own image, but the majority of parents think the board is doing a good job."

Recall papers were served to all five board members--Manning, Norman Hsu, Joseph Chang, Anita Perez and Katherine L. Venturoso--on Dec. 8. The group's recall effort was recorded by the county Registrar's Office on Feb. 17, after which the parents have 120 days to gather 8,491 signatures per board member to qualify for a recall election.

A sprawling and diverse district with nearly 22,000 students, the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District covers the middle-class unincorporated area of Hacienda Heights and the working-class city of La Puente, as well as parts of Valinda and City of Industry. The vast majority of its students--87%--are of ethnic minority heritage.

Among the recall group's major gripes is the district's bilingual education program.

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A 1994 investigation into parents' complaints by the California Department of Education found the district was not complying with the state's bilingual education requirement.

"Teachers weren't properly trained, there were not enough materials and students were not being appropriately placed," said Norman Gold, manager of complaints and bilingual compliance for the state department of education. "They are working to meet the requirements and some progress is being made, but this district was one of the worst we've seen and had a history of not fulfilling bilingual requirements," Gold said.

The parents also accuse Manning of nepotism and favoritism. Specifically, they say he voted in 1992 to approve his wife for a preschool teaching position in the district.

Manning, 43, has been on the board for 16 years and defended his wife's right to work in the district. He said that he was not alone in voting for her. "My wife doesn't give up her right to live in this community just because her husband is on the school board, " Manning said.

In a second interview, Manning said he abstained from voting to hire his wife, but added that even if he did vote, he would not be breaking any laws.

The California Fair Political Practices Code prohibits anyone who holds public office from voting to hire, fire, promote or demote a family member if they stand to gain more than $250. Hacienda La Puente preschool teachers earn $9.25 to $12.29 an hour. Manning's wife, Sue, works full time at Bixby Elementary School.

The vote was taken during a closed session, but minutes from the meeting record the vote as 5 to 0, with all board members voting in favor of hiring Sue Manning. The district claims that Manning refrained from voting and that there was a clerical error in recording the numbers.

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