Capistrano Unified School District voters to decide on recall

One of this election’s most polarized battlegrounds is in south Orange County. That’s where voters will decide whether to recall two of the seven Capistrano Unified School District board members. Three other board members are up for re-election, which could mean an almost entirely new board after November 2, depending what voters decide. It’s been a contentious race.

Supporters of the effort to recall two Capistrano Unified board members say they don’t like what’s happening in the school district.

Chris Korpi is with the “Recall, Remove, Recover” campaign. That group wants board members Ken Lopez-Maddox and Mike Winsten out because, says Korpi, they’re to blame what he calls “complete, out of control and wasteful spending.”

"There was a lot of extra spending that just was unnecessary in a bad budget climate – made a bad budget situation even worse," Korpi says. "One of the things they did last September was approve out of court settlements to a handful of families that had sued the district. All the people that were awarded money in those out of court settlements were campaign donors and supporters of the trustees."

Those settlements ended lawsuits brought by parents who had wanted to get rid of long-time Superintendent James Fleming. They said he kept an “enemies list” of anyone who challenged him. Fleming, who retired four years ago, will soon be tried on charges that he used school resources to keep track of those “enemies.”

The group that pushed out Fleming used a recall to take over the school board. Now they're the recall target. It was launched a few months before teachers went on strike last spring over pay cuts.

Ken Lopez-Maddox, one of the board members facing recall, says he and his colleagues have done the best they can as the state cuts money for public schools.

"And we’ve been forced to make some very tough decisions," Lopez-Maddox says. "One of those decisions that does not sit well with the teachers' union – and you know, it certainly didn’t bring us any pleasure, I assure you – was we were forced to impose a pay cut. Nothing that the board wanted to do. It’s just a sad, stark reality that we’re facing now. And that’s really set off this whole recall movement."

Lopez-Maddox says the school district’s record speaks for itself.

"In this last two years, the budget has been balanced, we ended deficit spending, and we are now the highest performing large school district in the state of California," Lopez-Maddox says.

Recall opponents say the teachers union is Capistrano’s problem, not the school board. But recall supporter Chris Korpi says he doesn’t like the direction this school board is taking the district.

He points to increased class size and school buildings that haven’t been fixed or replaced – issues many school districts face these days.

"So here we have an award-winning school district that is one of the highest-performing districts in the state of California and we have a group of trustees that are anti-public education, that want to privatize, that want to bring in vouchers, want to bring in charter schools and experiment with the school district when there’s nothing here that’s broken that needs to be fixed," Korpi says.

If Korpi and the other recall supporters get in all of the candidates they back, they’ll have five members on the seven-member board.

Voters in the district will also decide how they’ll vote in future Capistrano Unified School Board races. Measure H would divide Capo’s school board elections by geography, so you would only vote for the board member who represents your area.

Recall supporters back that, too. They say it would make elections cheaper and would bring more local control to the school board.

Opponents say Measure H would take away the people’s say on all the members of the Capistrano school board, taking away the power of the voters.