ORANGE, CA—The Orange Unified School District board received a resounding vote of confidence Tuesday as the back-to-basics majority won every seat, plus an overwhelming endorsement of its decision to teach only in English.
Election results late Tuesday gave the majority on the board six of the seven seats despite teachers’ union support of their opponents.
At winning candidate Linda Davis’ party, supporters of the board majority chanted, “6-1, 6-1. “
Board President Martin Jacobson, who has championed causes such as barring psychological counselors from district campuses, survived a challenge from writer and education activist Gisela Meier.
“All their money and all their lies, and those union boneheads couldn’t even buy one seat,” Jacobson said. “The strongest conservative school board in California just got stronger. “
The seat being vacated by majority ally Max Reissmueller was won by Terri Sargeant, who said she agrees with many of the positions of the current board.
Kathy Ward unseated incumbent Rick Ledesma and Linda Davis beat incumbent Jim Fearns.
At Davis’ Villa Park home, Jacobson titillated about 50 guests with updates on the vote totals. The first ration of votes, Jacobson announced, had him and Meier with exactly 5,230 votes
each. “Thank God I voted for you today,” said Davis’ husband,
Jeff, to much laughter.
In winning, the four candidates withstood a campaign against them by the Orange Education Association and the California Teachers Association, teachers unions that spent some $ 60,000 on behalf of Meier, Sargeant opponent Bill Vasquez and Ledesma and Fearns.
“I didn’t know what to expect this time, especially with all the money being spent against me,” said Sargeant, who won in her third try for the office. “(The union) tried to buy the election, but it didn’t happen. ” About 30 teachers and other supporters of the board minority packed the bar at Rookie’s Restaurant and Pub on Tustin Street.
They downed pitchers of soft drinks and munched nachos as they waited for vote updates.
“This is a catastrophe for the school district,” said Meier.
Her feelings were echoed by Fearns, who predicted that the conservative majority would take away counseling and food programs throughout the district.
“I feel sorry for the schools. The poorer schools are going to be hit the hardest,” he said. “The conservatives have taken over the board. They had it before, but now they have it in strength. “
Ledesma said simply, “I just don’t know what this means. ”
A nonbinding vote on whether voters agreed with the board’s decision to end bilingual instruction resoundingly affirmed the idea of teaching in English only.
The board’s decision to discontinue bilingual education brought national attention to the Orange district, which is often viewed as a bellwether district in Southern California.
Other controversies swirling around the board included contentious contract negotiations with teachers and a hotly debated decision to have a private company run school bus services.
To Jacobson and other members of the majority, schools are for teaching children to read and write and do math.
In their view, distractions from traditional teaching such as bilingual education should be eradicated. Federally funded services that aren’t purely academic _ such as on-campus psychological counseling _ are an unwelcome intrusion.
The Orange Unified School District stretches from Villa Park, Anaheim Hills and Orange’s historic downtown district to the heavily Hispanic neighborhoods of El Modena, and dips into Santa Ana and Garden Grove. It has 37 schools, nearly 30,000 students, and multiple languages spoken.
The upheaval in the district has led some administrators and teachers to quit. The district, with about 1,200 teachers, hired 250 new ones this year. That’s 130 more than usual. But a number of issues may have bumped up the number: Two new schools opened and several began multitrack schedules.
The voter turnout this year was nearly 19.6 percent, up from the last school board election in 1995, when it was 14 percent.
Board President Jacobson edged out children’s book author and free-lance writer Meier, of Orange, who was backed by the Orange Unified Education Association, the teachers union. An accountant, Jacobson was supported by interests such as the Tustin-based Educational Alliance, which has worked against abortion and other social issues.
The seat being vacated by board Vice President Max Reissmueller went to Sargeant, a planner for Orange County, who outdistanced Chino Assistant City Manager William “Bill” G. Vasquez, who lives in the district in Santa Ana.
MORE COVERAGE: Orange, Villa Park and Anaheim Hills readers can read more about the outcome of the election in the Register’s Orange City News and Anaheim Hills News.
67 of 67 precincts reporting
Trustee Area 1
Martin Jacobson (i) 8,928
Gisela Meier 8,677
Trustee Area 4
Linda Davis 8,924
Jim Fearns (i) 8,759
Trustee Area 5
Terri Sargeant 9,328
William (Bill) Vasquez 8,134
Trustee Area 7
Kathy Ward 7,620
Rick Ledesma (i) 7,142
Bea Gonzalez 1,524
J. Carolan Smyth III 701
Robert L. Douglas 699
Note: (i) denotes incumbent
Advisory vote only: Do you agree with the recent decision of the Orange Unified School District to replace the bilingual education program with an English immersion literacy program?
Yes 14,354 No: 2,249