2014 was perhaps the first time ever that the school board race was more interesting than the City Council election. The debate on school issues focused on high stakes substantive policy, instead of the same old petty politics and anachronistic rivalries we saw in the council contest.
Of course, as expected, Ketta Brown, the only one of three incumbents to run for re-election, was retained by voters. No surprises there.
But for the first time in 20 years a candidate not recruited from inside the public school governing establishment won. Dee Perry, also the first retired teacher to win a seat, came in second, beating School Power candidate Carol Normandin.
Normandin entered the race at 4:59 p.m., one minute before the deadline on the last day for filing. Her unplanned late entrance was prompted by school district establishment alarm over the threat of insurgent conservative Annette Gibson.
Normandin was so confident of winning and appalled at the prospect of Gibson being elected that she urged her own supporters also to vote for Dee Perry. Normandin assumed she had as much support as Ketta Brown and could afford to share votes with Perry to stop Gibson.
That was the first of Normandin’s miscalculations. Not only did constructive but persistent school board critic Perry have more support than Normandin, Gibson came closer than the establishment expected to catching up with Normandin in votes for the third open seat.
Gibson overcame overt prejudicial bias against her Crystal Cove address and private religious school choice for her kids, and more than any other candidate defined the campaign by her opposition to federal and state Common Core curriculum mandates.
Gibson warned parents that Common Core as embraced by LBUSD will degrade our public schools over time, and by the time parents realize that it will be too late for their children. She predicted that children of wealthy families will move to private schools.
Gibson advocates preservation of standards higher than Common Core, innovating responsibly to ensure our public schools will be as good or better than private schools in the years ahead.
In contrast, the Normandin and Brown campaigns told voters questioning Common Core is “irresponsible,” “reckless” and “dangerous.” Normandin and Brown also defended spending well above comparable school districts getting better performance results.
Voters had a clear choice and made a split decision. Now the debate over curriculum and spending will move to the local school board, were it is on the record and there is official accountability to the public.
Christopher Kling, Laguna Beach