March 15, 2002

SDUSD Board Recall: Disenfranchised Want Lopez and Ottinger Out

By Yvette tenBerge

The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has undergone a metamorphosis since the school board hired Superintendent Alan Bersin almost four years ago. Teachers and principals have retired early, bilingual aides have been dismissed, low-scoring students have been tracked into three-hour literacy and math blocks, and funds for community-backed programs have been redirected to feed the "Blueprint for Student Success."


Heriberto Escamilla addresses crowd at March 12 recall demonstration.

Despite concerns from the community, parents and teachers about these changes, the three-board majority made up of President Ron Ottinger, Vice President Edward Lopez and Trustee Sue Braun has voted for every policy the Superintendent and Chancellor of Instruction, Anthony Alvarado, have set before them.

Voters for Truth in Education (VO/TE), is a nonprofit corporation that aims to "better the education of students within public schools in San Diego County." After a Tuesday, March 12 board meeting, it announced a recall of board members Lopez and Ottinger, an action similar to an impeachment that would, if successful, remove Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ottinger from the SDUSD board. The San Diego County Interdenominational and Ministerial Alliance and members of the Latino Coalition are also supporting the recall effort.

Mr. Lopez is serving his second term and represents District E, which encompasses Chollas Park and Paradise Hills as well as portions of City Heights, Normal Heights, Rolando Redwood, Encanto West and Encanto East.

Mr. Ottinger is serving his third term and represents District D, which encompasses Southeast San Diego East, Southeast San Diego West, Golden Hill, Center City, South Park and Balboa Park as well as portions of Middletown, North Park, Normal Heights and City Heights.

Reverend Robert C. Ard has been the pastor of Christ Church in Golden Hill for the past 28 years. He addressed television cameras outside of the 4100 Normal Street SDUSD building on Tuesday to explain the reasons these board members are being recalled, and to rally the rest of the city.


Members of community rally for recall.

"I am well aware of, and disappointed in, Ed Lopez' representation of [District E]. He exhibits a certain degree of arrogance and disdain for the community. He does not provide an avenue for the participation of parents, grandparents or people of the community to participate in the decision-making process," says Reverend Ard, who believes that the same characterization applies to Mr. Ottinger. "Rather than contributing to a solution, they have become part of the problem."

Actually recalling an elected official, though, is far from easy. The County of San Diego Registrar of Voters' records show that petitions to recall 74 candidates from 51 districts have been filed since 1979. Of this number, only 36 actually collected the signatures necessary to place the recall on the ballot. Twenty of these 36 candidates were successfully recalled.

Before this recall petition is submitted to the Registrar of Voters, it must contain the signatures of at least 15 percent of registered voters in the city of San Diego. In order to qualify a recall petition for the November 5, 2002 general election, VO/TE will need to collect 77,208 valid signatures for each board member whose recall is sought.

Mike MacCarthy is the president of Voters for Truth in Education. He confirms that VO/TE will serve notice of their intent to recall in early April. They have 60 days to meet the Registrar of Voters' requirements and gather the necessary signatures.

"The hardest part will be organizing. We need to find sufficient volunteers who are willing to donate 60 days of their lives to make this cause work for the benefit of all the children of San Diego. People from all five districts have come forward, willing to help," says Mr. MacCarthy, who estimates that VO/TE will need a maximum of 5,000 volunteers to collect 20 signatures each, or 500 volunteers to collect 200 signatures each. "The enemy here is the Blueprint; this is not about personalities."

The recall website appears to back Mr. MacCarthy's statement. It makes no personal attacks against Mr. Lopez or Mr. Ottinger. The reasons it cites for recalling these board members are: "The Blueprint is a failure;" "The district continues to fail to comply with the law regarding students with special education, learning disabilities and mental health needs;" "Prop MM is behind schedule," and the school board "seeks to exclude average citizens" from its decision-making process.


Joevanni Muñoz, 5, participated in recall announcement after board's decision to compromise magnet fund issue.

Despite these statements, Mr. Ottinger stands behind the district's claims of "Steady Progress." "According to two independent research studies, our district reform strategies are working," says Mr. Ottinger, referring to the results of a recently released AIR report, which analyzed everything from the Blueprint's effectiveness to it's effect on the teachers, and the results of an analysis by Dr. Andrew Porter, which evaluated the district's representation of data. "When I last stood for election in 2000, two thirds of the city's voters elected me to continue to help lead this important effort."

Heriberto Escamilla is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the evaluation of programs in schools and detention centers across the state. He is a resident of Golden Hill, and has three children who have either attended or still attend schools in the district. Mr. Escamilla points to the failure of both board members to accurately represent the communities who elected them.

"Both Lopez and Ottinger are irresponsible, and they have forgotten what they were elected to do. They are here to develop policy, not to rubber stamp a policy developed by somebody else. We have a system that is dysfunctional," says Mr. Escamilla, denouncing the district's reliance on public relations personnel to deal with the community. "Hiring public relations people to further project an image rather than making substantive changes to the Blueprint doesn't make any sense."

Mr. Lopez stands firm in his backing of the Blueprint. "It's clear that the education reforms that I have helped lead are focused on improving achievement for all our students, especially students of color," says Mr. Lopez. "It is sad to note that this small group of people oppose efforts to improve student achievement and close the achievement gap for Latino and African American students."

Reverend Charles J. Dorsey, the pastor of True Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Mid-City for the past 21 years, has a different view. He is the President of the San Diego County Interdenominational and Ministerial Alliance, a group made up of roughly 35 congregations. Although his children are grown, he has grandchildren who attend schools in the district.

"We don't believe that this Blueprint is for people of color; we believe it's against us. Mr. Lopez should be recalled because he is not doing his job," says Reverend Dorsey, who states that he "loves him as a person." "I don't hate anybody; I'm a pastor, but he's not supporting his people."

After VO/TE officially announces its recall effort in April, and if they then turn in the more than 77,000 required signatures per candidate by June, candidates interested in replacing Mr. Lopez or Mr. Ottinger may begin submitting their paperwork. It is at this time that the cost of the recall effort will skyrocket from less than $1,000 to get it on the ballot, to as much as $100,000 for personal campaigns.

When asked what they are looking for in a candidate, most seem to be in accordance: they want someone who speaks and fights for the people, as all candidates promise to do when running for office. They also agree on the importance of the timing of the recall.

Mr. Escamilla describes what he believes has happened within the community over the past four years as similar to the "Boiling Frog Phenomenon." "If you put a pot of water on the stove, place a frog in it and turn on the heat, you will gradually boil the frog. If you put a frog in water that is already boiling, he'll jump out," says Mr. Escamilla, who looks ahead to the probable renewal of the Superintendent's contract within one month's time. "If we do not do something now, we'll have a boiled frog here."

The recall website is: www.cityschoolsrecall.com

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