Crowded Schools Chief Race, Little Voter Interest

Californians call public education a vital issue, but voters have shown such apathy in choosing a qualified superintendent that the crowded race for schools chief has become one of the most unpredictable in this year’s primary season.

With less than two weeks until the June 7 primary, few voters have even heard of the 12 candidates for superintendent — even though early favorites Delaine Eastin and Maureen DiMarco are two top names in public education.

Even money and television may be powerless to help them now.

”The problem with running ads in the last two weeks is that they bump up against one another. There’s clutter,” said Mark DiCamillo, managing editor of the Field Poll, which showed the voters’ disinterest last week.

”Whether the ads would create clear information or greater confusion is unknown,” he said.

So what schoolchildren are left with are adults who are as likely to choose a voucher proponent to run the public schools as they are a lawmaker who helped lead the charge against the voucher initiative last year. Or they might choose a first-grade teacher who has built a campaign around her distaste for bilingual education as easily as they might choose the governor’s education director.

Yet the differences among candidates can be striking. Here are profiles of the five who emerged as leaders in the last Field Poll, a survey that showed that 56 percent of likely voters are still undecided.

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GLORIA MATTA TUCHMAN

Born: Pecos, Texas, 1941.

Experience: Teacher for 30 years, school board member since 1975.

Education: B.A. in early childhood education, Arizona State University.

Cash on hand: $ 1,179.

Largest campaign contributors: family members.

TV and radio ads: None planned.

Gloria Matta Tuchman is unknown to most parents and teachers, but her impact on public schools is felt by thousands of students each day: It was she who helped persuade Governors Wilson and George Deukmejian to veto laws requiring bilingual education.

Tuchman is a first-grade teacher in Orange County who specializes in teaching Spanish-speaking students. She calls bilingual education ”a failure because it delays the learning of English.”

She is also president of the Tustin school board and has worked with several lobbying groups, including the Campaign for California’s Kids, which she founded to oppose bilingual education.

Tuchman strongly opposes the California Learning Assessment System, the new state achievement test known as CLAS. In March, she appeared at a state Board of Education hearing to applaud the removal from the test of stories by authors Alice Walker and Annie Dillard. The educators had deleted the stories after religious conservatives complained about them.

But teachers and civil liberties groups decried the removal as censorship, and the stories were restored to the pool of literature available for the test.

Since then, the Field Poll shows Tuchman with a small but surprising lead in the superintendent’s race. Among her admirers is William Bennett, U.S. Education Secretary under President Ronald Reagan, who now works to legalize tax-financed vouchers for private tuition. Tuchman uses a praise-filled letter from him to promote her campaign but said in an interview that she opposes vouchers.

A registered independent, Tuchman said she has given up ”tons of money” from Republicans because she would not join their party.

”I’m an independent for a reason,” she said. ”Because the children have no party.”

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JOSEPH CARRABINO

Born: Somerville, Mass., 1925.

Experience: Former president of the state Board of Education, commissioner of the California Postsecondary Education Commission and president of the Pacific Coast Association of Port Authorities.

Education: B.S. in mechanical and aeronautical engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute; MBA, Northwestern University; Ph.D. in engineering, University of California at Los Angeles.

Cash on hand: about $ 100.

Largest campaign contributors: Auto dealer Burt Boeckmann, insurance broker Bill Hooper, insurance executive Bill Erwin, retired entrepreneur Henry Salvatori, commercial real estate developer W.J. Morrow.

TV and radio ads: none planned.

Easily the most controversial of the dozen candidates, Joseph Carrabino has also proved somewhat popular in early polls.

An appointee of Deukmejian, Carrabino spent six years on the state Board of Education, two as its president. He is remembered for pushing the board to sue then-Superintendent Bill Honig in 1991, an act that resulted in a shift of financial and decision-making powers from the elected superintendent’s office to the appointed board.

But Carrabino was forced to leave the board in 1992 after state Senate leaders warned him that he lacked the votes to win confirmation for another term. Educators had flooded the confirmation committee with calls and letters calling attention to Carrabino’s irascible personality; they sent recordings of him using offensive language during a hearing and submitted testimony that he had made ethnic slurs.

Carrabino’s campaign literature touts his lengthy educational background and professional associations.

But it does not mention that Carrabino was the only educator at UCLA in more than 25 years to be demoted from the rank of full professor, a punishment he received in 1982 for refusing to teach an undergraduate management course. Carrabino challenged the demotion and lost. His full rank was restored in 1988 on the day he left his job, an agreement made in exchange for his early retirement.

A longtime critic of the Education Department, Carrabino is running on a campaign of cleaning out the store. He accuses state educators of excessive bureaucracy and corruption.

”My No. 1 priority is to make more effective use of the resources available to kindergarten through 12th grade,” he said. ”And by this I mean we would eliminate many ineffective programs.”

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MAUREEN DIMARCO

Born: Rochester, N.Y., 1948.

Experience: Governor Wilson’s secretary for child development and education, president of the California School Boards Association in 1990 and classroom aide.

Education: Completed freshman year of college, University of Southern California; took courses in real estate law, Glendale Community College; on leave from Western State University Law School.

Cash on hand: Would not disclose before the state’s 5 p.m. reporting deadline yesterday.

Largest campaign contributors (estimated): Virco Manufacturing, $ 5,000; Association of California School Administrators, $ 5,000; California Association for the Gifted, $ 5,000; Walt Disney Co., $ 2,500.

TV and radio ads: Will not disclose plans.

Just over three years ago, Republican Governor Wilson delighted his political opponents by appointing a registered Democrat, Maureen DiMarco, to be his education secretary. The move was seen as a repair-minded gesture by the new governor to end the bickering that became the hallmark of relations between the Education Department and Deukmejian.

Since then, DiMarco has earned a reputation as a conciliator who has generally worked well with the Education Department while advising Wilson on education. Her priorities have been health care for preschool children and mentor programs for youth.

As education secretary, DiMarco defended the governor’s early effort to suspend Proposition 98, which guarantees that schools receive at least 40 percent of the state general fund. In an interview soon after her appointment, DiMarco called the guarantee ”a witch’s caldron of stuff,” as Wilson unsuccessfully battled educators to set it aside.

DiMarco describes herself as a moderate, ”certainly not the poster-girl of the right.”

She supports the idea of teaching critical thinking that is embodied in the state’s new CLAS test, which replaces multiple-choice questions with essay questions and includes literature, rather than short paragraphs of text.

But after a wave of complaints and lawsuits inspired by religious conservatives that the test contains questionable literature and intrusive questions, DiMarco recently called the test ”seriously flawed” and urged an audit of the $ 28 million it cost to develop CLAS.

DiMarco also asked that the public be allowed to see actual copies of CLAS, which has been kept from view to prevent students from knowing what is on it in advance.

She has made ”zero tolerance” of drugs and weapons on campuses her campaign priority.

”Californians have a fundamental right to send their children to school to learn English and math, not duck and cover,” she said.

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DELAINE EASTIN

Born: San Diego, 1947

Experience: Member of the state Assembly since 1986; chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee since 1990; former corporate planner for Pacific Bell; former teacher of government, international relations and women’s studies at De Anza and Canada community colleges.

Education: B.A., political science, UC Davis; M.A., political science, UC Santa Barbara.

Cash on hand: Would not disclose before the state’s 5 p.m. reporting deadline.

Largest campaign contributors: Would not disclose before deadline. However, here are some known contributions: Ellen Tauscher, $ 19,950; California Federation of Teachers, $ 13,649; California Optometric PAC $ 10,950; National Women’s Political Caucus of California, $ 10,000.

TV and radio ads: TV ads are expected, but not radio.

A high-profile lawmaker who has made education her priority in the Legislature, Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin, D-Fremont, was considered a shoo-in as superintendent last fall.

Now, half a year later and only two weeks before the primary, Eastin remains as unfamiliar to most voters as the other 11 who have since joined the race. The latest Field Poll shows that only 6 percent are prepared to vote for her. Eastin has led the Assembly Education Committee since 1990. Among the laws she has authored include one authorizing $ 1.9 billion to build new schools throughout the state, where enrollment grows annually by 100,000 students. Another requires the new schools to be wired for modern technology, but provides no financing. And another sends lottery money to schools for disabled children.

Eastin has a reputation for being both eloquent and outspoken. She harshly condemned the decision by state educators to remove the Walker and Dillard stories from the CLAS test in February and has since defended the test while blaming the Education Department for bungling its debut into California schools. She also campaigned against Proposition 174, the voucher initiative, last year.

Critics call her too cozy with the teachers unions, especially the influential California Teachers Association. Eastin denies the charge.

Many of the laws she has sponsored deal specifically with teachers. Among them is one that eases the way for teachers to teach in more than one subject area, gives out-of-state teachers two years instead of one to complete courses needed for their California credential and creates a credentialing exam tailored for deaf applicants.

Eastin favors spending more on public education to match the national average.

”I want to get more dollars to children in the classroom,” she said. ”I believe that real change will come from the classroom up — not from Sacramento down.”

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WILBERT SMITH

Born: Tulsa, Okla., 1950.

Experience: Member of the California Community College Board of Governors and reserve deputy sheriff; former bank vice president, community college instructor, school board member and drug abuse counselor.

Education: B.A. in economics, California State University at Dominguez Hills; M.A. in special education for the learning disabled, University of San Francisco.

Cash on hand: $ 372,000.

Largest campaign contributors: Former Walmart executive John Walton, $ 131,000; Joseph Jacobs, president and CEO of Jacobs Engineering, $ 50,000; San Francisco venture capitalist Bill Obendorf, $ 25,000; Heinz Co. executive Clifford Heinz, $ 12,000; Dave Rawlings, CEO of Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, $ 10,000.

TV and radio ads: Plans for radio ads beginning next week, plus TV ads in selected southern California markets.

Wilbert Smith began life much the way many poor minority children do — several paces behind his more affluent white peers.

Born in South Central Los Angeles, Smith was the second of 10 children. His father abandoned the family when Smith was 14, and his mother cleaned houses to support them.

But there he parts company with many others of similar background. Smith worked his way through school and became a high achiever, a wealthy man and a Republican.

”As a product of that community, I understand the needs, particularly those of minorities and low- income families,” he said.

Today, he calls California public education wasteful and largely ineffective. Like the other candidates, Smith condemns crime in the schools. But Smith has personal experience with it. Last year his cousin’s 16-year-old son was shot to death at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. Another student’s gun discharged accidently, killing him instantly.

Smith, who has been a reserve deputy sheriff for 15 years, says he will use his law enforcement experience to rid schools of crime. He says he will streamline the state’s $ 30 million education budget by using outside contractors to do much of the work.

He opposes teacher tenure and has been highly critical of the CLAS test.

Although Smith’s well-funded campaign has mailed out reams of background information, nowhere in the material does it reveal that he favors vouchers and approves of using public school money to subsidize private and religious school tuition.

Nor did he discuss his position during a campaign speech this week before the California School Boards Association, which opposed the voucher initiative last year.

”Private schools today have to find funding, and they should partner with us,” Smith said in an interview, adding that students attending religious schools should also be entitled to receive state-funded vouchers.



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