Election creates rift among Republicans
By Miriam Raftery
Five candidates are vying for two seats on the Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD) Board of Trustees. The stakes are high. The outcome of this election may determine if a popular superintendent will be retained, if a new high school will be built in Alpine, and if divisive forces will regain a majority on the board—forces that prominent Republicans and Democrats have accused of opposing public education.
Carroll Boone, an attorney/mediator from a family of educators, is backed by the Democratic Party, San Diego Imperial-Counties Labor Council, Service Employees International Union, many individual teachers and parents. “I’m tired of the divisiveness,” she said, adding that she will use her experience as a mediator to forge common ground on tough issues. “We need to look at education as a wise investment in the future of our children, our grandchildren, and the future of our community.”
The other four candidates are conservative Christian Republicans. Two of those—incumbents Priscilla Schreiber and Larry Urdahl--are past and current board presidents endorsed by nearly all of East County’s prominent Republican office holders including Congressman Duncan Hunter and Supervisor Diane Jacob as well as the Grossmont Education Association (teacher’s union). So why has the San Diego Republican Party put its backing behind two lesser-known GOP challengers, Meg Jedynak and Gary Woods?
Schreiber and Urdahl emerged as independent thinkers who stood up against former board president Jim Kelly on key issues during one of the most divisive eras in the district’s history. Kelly, who heads up recruitment for the San Diego GOP, appointed GOP Party Chair Ron Nehring to the GUHSD board after pastor Gary Cass stepped down to found a school in Florida to train Christians to run for office. Nehring tried to turn the entire public school district into a charter district, a move which Urdahl and Schreiber helped halt after the real agenda behind the measure was revealed.
“I supported Ron Nehring at first,” Schreiber recalled. “I wouldn’t today because he didn’t support children.”
Kelly recruited a controversial superintendent who drew criticism from many quarters. Under the Kelly-led board, Proposition H funds targeted to repair or replace crumbling buildings languished and an oversight board was stacked with “Kelly cronies” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, which endorsed Schreiber and Urdahl . A bitter18-month labor dispute with teachers ensued and board members were barred from placing items on the agenda without Kelly’s approval. Calls for strategic planning were repeatedly postponed, Schreiber and Urdahl noted.
Disturbed by a board majority more concerned with a partisan political agenda than improving public education, Schreiber and Urdahl endorsed Democrat Ken Sobel and Republican Dick Hoy for the board in 2006. Sobel narrowly lost, but Hoy won – forging a majority along with Schreiber and Urdahl. The trio stood up against Kelly and Robert Shield.
Jedynak and Woods have been endorsed by Kelly and Cass, though both denied in a recent public forum being recruited by Kelly. (Jedynak and Woods failed to respond to interview requests with East County Magazine and the San Diego Union-Tribune.) But the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial concluded that despite denials of recruitment by Kelly, Woods and Jedynak “show all the earmarks of being his latest recruits.”
“It’s all payback,” Schreiber told East County Magazine in an exclusive interview. “They need to use Larry and I as standard bearers of what will happen if you cross the party. They didn’t look at our service record…While I came in with Jim Kelly and Gary Cass, I believe there is corruption across the board.”
In the 2006 election, Hoy won a seat vacated by Nehring, who left to become Chairman of the California Republican Party. Although Kelly won reelection, another candidate backed by Kelly lost.
The new board majority led by Schreiber conducted a national search for a new superintendent Robert Collins, who has won praise from teachers in a districtwide survey. As the Union-Tribune phrased it in an editorial endorsing Schreiber and Urdahl, “A bumbling superintendent recruited by Kelly retired and was replaced by one with impeccable credentials and real vision.”
Schreiber warns, “This election will determine whether we keep this superintendent. I think there could be an effort to remove the superintendent through a buyout we can’t afford.”
Urdahl, current board president, takes pride in requesting and pushing for adoption of a strategic vision plan for the district, as well as voting to hire Superintendent Collins. He was also instrumental in seeking a bond performance audit, which led to hiring of a bond advisory committee.
“With the previous board, there were a lot of articles attacking the citizens bond oversight committee and progress on the bond itself. We needed to take action and that’s what we did,” he said. The new committee included representatives with finance experience as well as representatives of teachers, parents, students, and local business. “Now we are getting very good reports from the San Diego Taxpayer Association,” Urdahl said. Cost overruns have been reduced from 10% to 3 or 4%, he added. “People are happy with the forward progress of the district.”
A life-long San Diego County resident, Urdahl is a graduate of the East County Chamber of Commerce, member of a community planning group and the East county Gang Taskforce. He is also the parent of a recent graduate of the Grossmont district.
Urdahl levels sharp criticism at Jedynak and Woods. “These people are anti-public education,” he told ECM. “Gary Woods has spoken in support of homeschooling, which is fine if that’s what you want to do…but I question how dedicated you are going to be to the premise that you equal things out in America through education.”
Woods sends his own son to private school, the San Diego Union-Tribune noted in an editorial, which suggested, “Would someone who opposes public school financing be better as a fundraiser for private schools?”
Woods, chairman of the El Cajon Planning Commission and a former public schoolteacher, now teaches seminary at Shadow Mountain Church and is director of EBI Leadership Development, which includes instruction in intelligent design (creationism).
He holds a doctor or education degree in technology and learning at Alliant International University. In a recent debate, he insisted upon being called “Doctor” and suggested that Urdahl and Schreiber are unqualified because they lack post-graduate degrees.
On his website, Woods states that he is a fiscal conservative who supports “excellence in education incorporating technology and learning styles” as well as “afety of students, modernized classrooms, and ADA compliance.” However he opposes Proposition U, the bond measure which would fund modernization of classrooms in the GUHSD district.
Asked in the debate if he supports separation of church and state, Woods said he would follow the law. Boone, a Christian who attends United Methodist Church, and Urdahl, a member of Skyline Church, stated that they support separation of church and state. Schreiber supports teaching multiple creation theories. “For me, God created science,” she said.
Jedynak has three children who will soon enter the district. She is listed as a journalist on her ballot statement. She holds a journalism degree from San Diego State University and worked as a news writer at a local TV radio before moving back East. Her website lists several feature stories such as an ice cream parlor review published many years ago in The Alpine Sun. However, that newspaper reported on October 9, “Jedynak claims to be a one-time freelance journalist for The Alpine Sun, but according to recent articles in another paper has only recently returned to East County four months ago, after a nine-year absence.”
After East County Magazine sent an e-mail asking where she now works as a journalist, Jedynak cancelled the interview and did not respond to requests to reschedule. The Registrar of Voters requires that candidates list their current occupation and has forced other candidates to remove designations if found to be invalid. For instance, a candidate with a lifetime teaching certificate in California was not allowed to list herself as “teacher” because she is not currently employed teaching. Asked what proof of current employment Jedynak was required to produce, a Registrar’s employee replied, “Just a business card.”
On her website, Jedynak pledges to “protect taxpayers from unneeded expense, and parents and children from mediocrity and experiments in social engineering.” She pledges to “make school facilities the best they can be to keep kids safe and inspire learning” though she opposes Proposition U and lists no alternatives for improving school facilities. Jedynak also vowed to restore “civility” to the board.
However, during a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and American Association of University Women, Jedynak and Woods “took every opportunity to evade issues and instead, attack and offend the incumbents,” the Alpine Sun reported.
This reporter also witnessed that debate, at which Jedynak and Woods made numerous unsubstantiated accusations of wrongdoing and also attacked Urdahl for a personal bankruptcy and foreclosure against his home.
Schreiber and Urdahl have not been without controversy. Both voted for the district to support Proposition 8, a state ballot proposition that would overturn gay marriage in California. Both say their votes resulted from teachers voicing concern over the prospect of having to teach that a family may include two mommies or two daddies, an assertion that opponents of Prop 8 dispute.
A complaint alleging that Urdahl improperly loaned money to his wife’s campaign has been referred to the District Attorney. However the DA has stated that no criminal law was violated. The Urdahls maintain that the money came from a joint account and that it is legal for Rose to loan money to her own campaign. But Woods accused Urdahl, “Why should the voters trust you?”
Boone, Urdahl and Schreiber all support Proposition U, the bond measure on the November ballot which would allocate funds to repair decaying buildings and construct new classrooms. Jedynak and Woods oppose the measure. The pair also oppose building a new high school in Alpine. Boone, Urdahl and Schreiber support an Alpine High School. (See article on Proposition U for details.)
Boone supports vocational training to help students who are not college-bound obtain useful working skills. She sees investment in education as “especially important because of what’s happening now – drop-outs and people not going on to college.” She calls for frugality in spending without diminishing quality of education.
“Another issue that is dear to my heart is safety of students on school grounds,” she said. “I think it’s critical for them to learn without constant fear.” Noting problems with bullying as well as two mass school shootings in the district at Santana and Granite Hills High School, Boone called for an increase in peer mediation and anti-bullying education.
She supports charter schools only if they are not funded at the expense of public schools. “If it creates a two-tiered system, so that people who have more money would have quality education and others would not, then I would not support that,” she said.
Boone, a Christian, is adamant that all religious beliefs should be respected in public schools. “I don’t think it is healthy to create an education system that reflects only one set of religious values,” she said. “The board is responsible for the whole community and all of the students.”
She hopes to bring more art, music, creativity and physical fitness back into GUHSD schools. “Kids need a balance. You can’t just be teaching to the tests,” she said. “Another thing I believe in is surveying communities to find out what their concerns are.
A certified mediator and lawyer, she also holds a Master’s degree in social work. “I have taught and developed classes in conflict resolutions, respect-based communications, problem solving, team building and goal setting,” she said. “I also have experience overseeing budgets and deciding funds and resources will be allocated in a fair and transparent manner.
Boone, a mother and grandmother, comes from a family of educators. “My mother was an elementary school principal. She created the first program for dyslexic students in Fairbanks, Alaska,” Boone said. Her father taught high school math, science and photography and her sister is a retired teacher/school librarian in Colorado.
Schreiber, an East County native with certification in construction accounting and business administration, has been an active member of Shadow Mountain Church. She and her husband, Charley, have a daughter who graduated from SDSU. Priscilla has completed the California School Board Association’s (CSBA) Masters in Governance program and was named Rookie School Board member of the year by CSBA. She has represented CSBA in Sacramento as an elected delegate.
She lauds the Superintendent’s “Character Counts” program launched recently and called for more “critical thinking” among students and board members.
Schreiber hopes to see more collaboration between the GUHSD and the Grossmont Community College District. “Our eastern area really needs a burn center,” she said, adding that she hopes to see a nursing program with an emphasis in treating burn victims.
If Jedynak and Woods win election, she predicts, “This district will go backwards. It comes down to what’s best for the kids.”
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Miriam Raftery is a national award-winning journalist, a GUHSD graduate, and mother of two recent GUHSD graduates.