Recall target's visit sparks complaints

SANTA ANA — Complaints that school board member Nativo Lopez is fighting his possible recall by drumming up political support at local schools have been referred to the District Attorney’s Office by the registrar of voters, officials said Friday.

Lopez distributed fliers and spoke Wednesday at the end of Carr Intermediate School’s monthly parents meeting, he and school officials said. Among other things, the flier requested parents’ names, addresses and telephone numbers, asked if they opposed the recall, and invited them to volunteer on his behalf, make telephone calls or post signs in their yards.

Some parents complained that the recall campaign should be kept out of the schools. Santa Ana Unified Superintendent Al Mijares is investigating.

Others who were at the meeting said they were surprised by the complaints. Lopez has support mostly in the Hispanic community for his work as leader of the immigrant-rights group Hermandad Mexicana Nacional.

“Nobody said anything,” said parent association President Evangelina Casta?eda. “I’ve always seen (Lopez) as someone who supports Latinos.”

Registrar officials said it is unclear whether Lopez’s actions at the meeting were illegal. The state education code bans using district “funds, services, supplies or equipment” to support any candidate. Lopez brought his own fliers.

Also, the recall is not yet on the ballot. Lopez’s opponents have until Sept. 12 to collect 8,624 valid signatures to make that happen.

“We’re just unsure,” said Suzanne Slupsky, assistant registrar of voters. “We would normally refer something like this over to the DA’s Office.”

Lopez said he visited Carr because he is concerned that his opponents are trying to take away parents’ rights to choose the educational program best for their children. The recall is backed by Ron Unz, co-author of Proposition 227, the 1998 ballot initiative that ended bilingual education unless parents sign a waiver requesting it. Santa Ana has had the most waivers in Orange County.

“I’m not campaigning,” Lopez said. “I’m informing parents. … My agenda has always been to respect the right of the parents to make that choice.”

Some parents say Lopez shouldn’t have sought support at the school because parents might have felt pressure to sign because he is in a position of power.

“To me, it’s using parents politically,” said Beatriz Salas, a leader of the recall effort who complained to the registrar. “Politics should be separate from the schools.”

Some also questioned the school’s principal, Angel Gallardo, for offering extra credit or a chance to win a yearbook to students who took their parents to the meeting. About 100 parents from the 1,800- student school attended.

Gallardo said he offered the incentives to attract parents for the meeting’s main purpose — to write a master plan for the school, which is in a state program for schools with low test scores. Carr could face a state takeover if it fails to improve.

“For me, it’s not something unusual that the board members come to our school because they’re always there,” Gallardo said.

The recall effort is one of many battles Lopez has fought the past several years. The state Department of Education is suing Hermandad to recover millions of dollars in grants it says are unaccounted for. Lopez has denied those allegations.

Lopez narrowly won re-election two years ago. He faced criticism for accepting donations from architects and others who were seeking school- construction contracts.

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