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ELECTIONS / LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT : No One Has Clear Edge for Seat Vacated by Furutani


The contest for the seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District board that represents the South Bay and part of Watts is widely viewed as a tossup.

So much so that the powerful teachers' union has made no endorsement in the four-way race, choosing instead to save its strength for a likely runoff.

"They all have strengths in different areas," said Inola F. Henry, who is head of United Teachers Los Angeles' political arm--the Political Action Council of Educators. "We felt more than likely (the race) would end up in a runoff and decided we would look at the candidates at that point."

None of the four candidates competing in the April 11 election for the open seat in District 7 has previously run for public office.

For the last eight years, the seat belonged to Warren Furutani. His decision not to run for reelection left the seat open, making it unlikely that any single contender could muster enough votes to win outright in the April contest. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, the two top vote-getters will compete in a June 6 runoff election.

Two of the candidates are longtime district employees: George Kiriyama, 63, principal of Gardena Community Adult School, and Sid Brickman, 68, a retired superintendent for elementary and secondary schools in the South Bay.

The other two candidates are district activists: Laura Ann Richardson, 32, a San Pedro businesswoman who has linked the company she works for with the school district, and Kathleen Fleming Dixon, 42, a mother of two school-age children and a family law attorney who has worked for district reform.

All support local control, a philosophy that gives teachers, principals, support people, parents and the community a voice in the management of local schools. All believe that the district needs to do more to improve the opportunities for graduating seniors not headed for college.

And although none of the candidates favors secession movements in Carson and Lomita, all of them say they will cooperate if the cities win the right to form their own districts.

The best-financed of the four candidates is Kiriyama, a friend of Furutani who began raising money for his campaign nearly two years ago. As of Feb. 25, he had $129,879 in contributions, nearly six times more than Brickman, the second highest fund-raiser, who had $22,702, including $6,000 in loans from his wife. Richardson had $8,800, including an $8,000 loan to herself, while Dixon had $925 in contributions.

Kiriyama is endorsed by Furutani, who describes him as "a guy of integrity, not real fancy, who won't come in wearing Italian-pressed suits." The other candidates, however, have all criticized Furutani for throwing his political muscle behind a candidate who only moved into the district to run for the post.

"Warren Furutani hand-selected George to run as his successor and has done everything in his power to raise money and support Kiriyama in this race," Dixon said. "For him to have supported someone who didn't even live in this district . . . is an insult to every member of this district."

Furutani defended his decision to support his friend, saying Kiriyama's service to the district more than qualifies him to represent it.

Kiriyama moved out of his house in Torrance in March, 1994, to rent a guest house behind a home in Carson. He moved two other times since February and now lives with his wife in a small apartment in Gardena. He says he will try to buy a home in Gardena if he is elected to the school board. If he doesn't win, "I may move to Hawaii, who knows?" he said.

The Los Angeles City Charter says that school board candidates in this race must have resided in the district since Dec. 12, 1994.

Noting that he more than meets the requirements, Kiriyama dismisses the criticism about his move, saying his critics are "blowing this out of proportion."

"Yes, I moved into the area," he said. "I feel I'm the most qualified person, and therefore I'm running for this office."

Kiriyama, who began his career in the district as an elementary school teacher in 1964 and has been principal of Gardena Community Adult School for five years, promises to be a strong advocate of the clustering movement, which seeks to forge stronger ties between high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them.

To strengthen local control, he said, he would encourage schools to create an advisory committee of teachers, administrators, parents and others to discuss everything from new textbooks to the distribution of condoms.


Kiriyama would encourage teachers to incorporate a discussion of values into their lessons. Schools could have art contests to illustrate themes such as honesty, he said.

To improve campus safety, Kiriyama advocates the purchase of walkie-talkies to give teachers in remote locations instant communication with the front office. They could be bought with money from bake sales and the instructional materials fund, he said.

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