Making the grade
Minority candidates poised to take on incumbents for new school district seats
By André Coleman 02/14/2013
Should two of three incumbent candidates lose re-election on March 5, minority officeholders for the first time could hold a majority of votes on the recently reconstituted Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education.
Seven minority candidates — four Latinos and three African Americans — are running for four vacant seats, three of which are occupied by white incumbents seeking re-election.
The emergence of Latino and African-American candidates is a result of the district’s going from at-large elections, in which each voter was able to cast ballots for all of the candidates, to district-only or neighborhood elections in seven districts.
The change, approved by a special task force hoping to stave off potential lawsuits that might be filed against the district under provisions of the California Voting Rights Act, was later approved in June by 54 percent of voters in Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre, the three communities that make up the district. The 2001 Voting Rights Act prohibits “racially polarized” elections that impair the election of minorities.
The only two incumbents not seeking re-election are Board members Ed Honowitz and Ramon Miramontes, currently the board’s only Latino member. Latinos make up about 61 percent of the district’s student population. The board’s only black member is Renatta Cooper, who is not up for re-election
African-American candidates include: Hermond Dean Cooper (no relation to Renatta Cooper), running against incumbent Kim Kenne for the new District 1 seat; and Deirdre Duncan and Tyron Hampton Jr., who are among four candidates running for the board’s empty District 3 seat.
Latino candidates include Guillermo Arce and Ruben Hueso, who are also running for the District 3 seat; Stella Murga, who is looking to unseat incumbent Elizabeth Pomeroy, who is white, in District 5; and Luis Carlos Ayala, who is hoping to replace two-term incumbent Scott Phelps, also white, in District 7.
Under the new district voting system, Miramontes and Honowitz would have been forced to face board colleagues Kenne and Pomeroy, respectively, if they had chosen to run again.
District 1, which includes Eliot Middle School and Altadena, Jackson, Franklin and Loma Alta elementary schools, is the only race without a Latino candidate.
Despite being elected in 2011, Kenne, 50, is being forced to run two years before the end of her initial four-year term due to the changes in district voting procedures.
“I think [the change to districts] is a good change. There are a lot of new faces getting involved, that we wouldn’t have seen. Whether the new people will win is a different question,” Kenne said. “There is certainly more access to candidates. People are walking the districts now, and I am not sure they did that before.”
Kenne has so far raised $10,000, half from a loan to herself and a $5,000 donation from Richard Webster, owner of event listing Web site goldstar.com. Kenne said she is focused on fiscal transparency, parent engagement and accountability.
Hermond Cooper, who filed papers with the City Clerk’s Office declaring he will raise and spend less than $1,000 during the campaign, is a former school district employee who has filed two unsuccessful discrimination lawsuits against the district. He did not return phone calls.
In District 3 — a predominately Latino area in Northwest Pasadena and the only district without an incumbent — Arce, a Los Angeles County Human Services Department administrator, is squaring off against 46-year-old Hueso, a district volunteer, Duncan, a foster parent, and Hampton, a contractor.
The district includes Cleveland Middle, John Muir High, Washington Elementary and Washington Accelerated schools.
Hueso, brother of former San Diego Assemblyman Ben Hueso, is the top fundraiser in the race, declaring $6,175, including a $5,000 campaign contribution from former state Assemblymen Fabian Nuñez, also of San Diego. His opponents have so far not raised any declarable campaign funds.
Hueso is endorsed by Assemblyman Chris Holden, United Teachers of Pasadena, Honowitz, former Board member Jackie Jacobs and Democrats of the Pasadena Foothills. Hueso, who has a daughter enrolled in a local school and another daughter who recently graduated, did not return a number of calls seeking comment.
The 50-year-old Arce, who has three children attending schools in the district (two of whom have special needs) filed a lawsuit against the district for allegedly failing to meet special education requirements for one of his children. The suit was settled in 2012.
“I have dealt with the district a lot,” Arce said. “My children have been victimized by them. They are condescending and only listen when you have an attorney. I am the only candidate that will be working for the parents. My campaign is so grassroots I can smell the dirt.”
Hampton, 29, graduated from John Muir High School in 2001. He was born and raised in Pasadena and is the only candidate to go through the local school system, attending Cleveland Elementary and Washington Middle schools. Hampton has not raised more than $1,000 for his campaign.
In District 5, which contains parts of eastern and southern Pasadena and includes McKinley School, Rose City High, Marshall Fundamental and Hamilton and Jefferson elementary schools, incumbent Pomeroy is running for a second term against Murga, executive director of the Pasadena Youth Center.
“I don’t think there is much transparency or accountability in the district on a variety of levels, from the budget to hires,” the 62-year-old Murga told the Weekly. “The board needs to be more proactive and ask more questions and not just wait for staff reports. The board does not function as a team right now. Instead of focusing on student achievement, they have been focusing on their differences.”
Murga is endorsed by United Teachers of Pasadena, the Pasadena Foothills Association of Realtors, local attorney Dale Gronemeier, Pasadena City College Board of Trustee member Berlinda Brown, PUSD Board President Renatta Cooper and former PUSD Board member Susan Kane. Murga has raised about $5,000 for her campaign.
Pomeroy, a former English teacher at Pasadena City College who has raised about $7,000, including $5,000 from the California Teamsters, is endorsed by her former board colleague, Miramontes.
Pomeroy is also endorsed by Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu, Pasadena Councilwoman Margaret McAustin, Pasadena City College Trustee Jeanette Mann, Teamster Local 911, ACT Pasadena, current Board member Tom Selinske and former Board members Bob Harrison, Marge Wyatt and Alexander “Mike” Babcock.
“After four years of working intensively, I believe I see what the issues and obstacles are and I also see very promising initiatives that are under way in our district,” Pomeroy, 74, told the Weekly.
In District 7, the 49-year-old incumbent Phelps, who has raised $3,500, is a former John Muir High School math teacher who is hoping to hold off a challenge from Ayala, an immigration attorney.
Phelps has two young children attending school in the district.
The 49-year-old Ayala, who has raised $3,000 ($1,000 of which he lent to himself) has two daughters in local private schools. He also did not return calls for comment.
The West Pasadena district contains Blair International Baccalaureate School and San Rafael, Roosevelt and Linda Vista elementary schools.
“The biggest challenge is stabilizing and growing enrollment,” Phelps told the Weekly. “I believe the dual-language immersion program can do that by attracting new families.”
Phelps made national headlines in 2002 when he wrote and distributed a note to his fellow teachers that the majority of the students who were failing and disruptive were black. Phelps was suspended by then Superintendent Percy Clark. Phelps later said he was trying to get the district to stop holding teachers solely responsible for student performance.
Phelps has raised $3,500, including two donations equaling $2,500 from Miramontes, with whom he often sides on issues facing the board.
Miramontes told the Weekly he was excited to see more people of color running, but said local liberals could have made that occur well before this election.
“We have a well-entrenched liberal Democrat crew that could have marshaled their money to put more people of color on the board at any time,” Miramontes told the Weekly. “It’s good they are running, but I am focused on results. Let’s see what happens.” n