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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | ELECTIONS

Schools Chief Pushes for 2 Trustees' Ouster

October 20, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pleasant Valley Supt. Andre La Couture wants Camarillo voters to oust two school board members next month, saying they don't know their roles and don't have the students' best interests in mind.

Incumbents Virginia Norris and Ricardo Amador face three challengers--Suzanne Kitchens, Sandra Berg and Dennis Fandey--in the race for the two seats in an election that focuses on how the Pleasant Valley Elementary School District handles a growing student population.

Norris and Amador said La Couture is entitled to his opinion, but added that they are doing the jobs they were elected to do and aren't going to change because of him.

School officials expect the population in Camarillo to increase by nearly one-third in 20 years, and administrators are trying to plan for the influx of students. The district now serves about 7,100 students in its 14 elementary and middle campuses.

Voters passed a $49-million school bond three years ago, after rejecting bonds four previous times. That money is being used to renovate campuses, add classrooms and build an elementary school in Pitts Ranch. District officials are in negotiations to buy the land, La Couture said, and hope to open the school in 2002.

La Couture, who started as superintendent in 1998, said the board has prevented him from making several decisions, including how to reorganize his staff.

"I expected to come in and do a job I was appointed to do, but the board wanted to keep running the district," La Couture said.

Norris, a part-time teacher, was elected four years ago, while Amador, a high school principal in Port Hueneme, has served on the board for nine years.

"I am giving the voters of Camarillo a choice," Amador, 53, said. "I feel I have a lot to offer. I know the demands. Here I am."

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All candidates say they are eager for the district to finish modernizing existing campuses and constructing the elementary school. They also want more communication between the school board and City Council.

"We have a city that has grown by leaps and bounds," said Berg, 51. "With the number of kids they are going to add to our enrollment, we have to have something planned."

The candidates are more concerned, however, about where Pleasant Valley students will attend high school. The only high school in Camarillo is at capacity--it serves about 2,600 students. The Oxnard Union High School District is planning to build another high school in Camarillo, which very likely will not open for several years. Until then, hundreds of Camarillo students will continue to be bused to Rio Mesa High School.

"Our kids are not even going to their own high school," said Fandey, a 48-year-old retired Navy pilot with two children, ages 6 and 8. "More of us are having our kids bused out into the farm fields."

The three challengers said they will readdress the unification issue if elected. Unification, which has been debated in the city for years, would mean the Pleasant Valley Elementary School District would take control of Camarillo High from the Oxnard Union High School District.

Advocates say unification would increase local control of curriculum, eliminate busing and make it easier for parents to participate in their children's education.

"My goal is to get a second high school in Camarillo," Berg said. "I really think that we could do it a lot quicker as a unified school district."

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Opponents say the move would further segregate Oxnard schools, and leave Pleasant Valley strapped for facilities and money to cover employee salaries and benefits.

"Unification will solve some problems but will create others," said Kitchens, a 46-year-old financial analyst.

The candidates also said they want to ensure that Pleasant Valley continues to recruit talented, qualified teachers. Most praised the 10.52% salary increase recently approved by the board.

Fandey, however, said he wants more money to go to students and the classrooms. Teachers who may not teach well because of their pay should maybe "think about another profession," he said.

Kitchens has lived in Camarillo and volunteered in the Pleasant Valley schools for nearly 20 years, and has three children, ages 13, 15 and 24. She has served as PTA president at the school and district levels, and has worked as a coordinator for a state-funded grant for at-risk children. An unsuccessful board candidate in 1998, she favors improving the district's curricula, reemphasizing the arts and getting more parents involved.

"I've been very close to a lot of the district personnel and parents," she said. "It's a natural fit for me."

Berg, a sales director for Mary Kay, has three children, ages 13, 21 and 23. She wants to bring more technology and arts into the schools, and wants the district to build a partnership with the county's planned new university.

Cal State Channel Islands is planning to open an on-campus elementary school, which would be operated by the Pleasant Valley district and serve as a training ground for college students pursuing careers in education.

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