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ORANGE COUNTY ELECTIONS

Capo to have at least 1 new trustee

Two incumbents and eight challengers are seeking three trustee seats on the panel that has been beset by controversies.

October 28, 2006|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

For the first time in nearly a decade, at least one newcomer will be elected to the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees.

Two incumbents and eight challengers are vying for three seats on the board in next month's election, and some challengers have the backing, finances and name recognition to pull off a victory.

"There could be a sea change," said former district spokesman David Smollar, who resigned earlier this year and then released information that fed recent district controversies. "I wouldn't bet money for or against anybody in those races."

The board, which oversees 50,000 south Orange County students and a $563-million budget, has for years been run by longtime trustees -- the current seven board members have 77 years on the panel between them. Trustees typically retire before their terms expire, and the board appoints replacements who could run as incumbents during the next election. The last time a newcomer won a spot was in 1998, when Suzy Elliott defeated incumbent Dorsey Brause.

Although many of the district's 56 schools are ranked among the state's best academically, critics have grown increasingly dissatisfied with its trustees and administrators. The district has been badly shaken by controversies, including the attempted recall of all seven trustees, an ongoing criminal investigation of the district, allegations that the district's longtime superintendent kept an "enemies list," the resignation of the superintendent, and disputes over attendance boundaries, a new high school's location, portable classrooms and a costly new administration center.

One of the three seats up for election is guaranteed to be filled by a newcomer. Incumbent Crystal Kochendorfer, an 18-year member of the board, announced in August that she would not run for reelection because of her parents' faltering health and the impending arrival of a grandchild. Unlike many trustees past, she didn't resign before her term expired.

Political observers say the crowded race could confuse voters, boosting the incumbents' chances of holding on to their seats. "When people do have lots of options, what it tends to do is diffuse concentrations of support," said Mark Petracca, a UC Irvine political science professor.

The incumbents running are John J. Casabianca and Shelia J. Henness. They had raised $36,043 between them as of Oct. 21.

Henness, 51, the owner of an invitation and calligraphy business, urged voters to consider the district's sterling academic record. She said her priorities include healing the rift with the community and upgrading aging campuses.

"I feel that people who know the truth of what's going on will understand our children are getting an excellent education, and that's the mission of our school district," she said.

The group that tried to force the recall has splintered into the CUSD Recall Committee and Capistrano for Better Representation. The CUSD is fielding three candidates known as "the ABC slate," Ellen Addonizio, Anna Bryson and Larry Christensen.

These candidates have won the endorsement of the county GOP, as well as support from the Educational Alliance, which calls for back-to-basics schooling and disparages teachers unions and state and federal involvement in local districts.

The Capistrano Unified Education Assn., the local teachers union, has also endorsed Addonizio and Christensen; Bryson has picked up the backing of several well-known local politicians, including U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, (R-Huntington Beach) and Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange). The trio had raised $14,581 in campaign donations as of Sept. 30.

Addonizio, a 50-year-old certified public accountant who lives in Mission Viejo, became involved with the recall backers when she signed their petition outside a supermarket in San Clemente in June 2005. At first, she said, she thought they were exaggerating their criticisms of the district. But she grew increasingly concerned as she learned more and said that if elected she would urge the board to conduct a financial analysis, create a 20-year facilities maintenance plan, clean up the aging portable classrooms and make its finances more easily accessible to the public.

Three other recall backers are seeking board seats: Jill E. Case, Kathleen LeBon and Ron Lackey. Lackey, who attends every board meeting, sued the district and its trustees in July, accusing them of conspiring to curtail his ability to speak at board meetings. As of late October, Case had raised $2,598, LeBon $5,100 and Lackey $2,247.

Also seeking a board seat are Chuck Salisbury, who opposes state and federal involvement in the school district and says recall proponents tried to dissuade him from running, and Jody Vaughn, a former PTA president who is largely viewed as Kochendorfer's choice. Salisbury had raised less than $1,000 and Vaughn $20,654 as of Oct. 21.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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