Howard Hills drops out of Laguna Beach USD election to endorse fellow challengers

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Howard Hills, a diplomat and former Navy JAG lawyer, announced Monday that he will bow out of the election for Laguna Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education and asked his supporters to vote for two newcomers.

Hills told the Independent in a phone interview that he endorses Laguna Beach parents Amy Kramer and Sheri Morgan for school board. He hopes suspending his campaign will avoid splitting a portion of the electorate who believe the panel is in need of a culture change.

“Based on my 2016 [election] experience, it’s easy to see that the agents of change are going to be competing for the same voter pool,” Hills said. “On school board issues, I believe [Amy and Sheri] are ready to hit the ground running.”

Hills fell short in a 2016 bid for school board and then attempted a long-shot campaign as a write-in candidate in 2018.

Hills’ decision to drop out narrows the election field to four candidates seeking two seats. The other two candidates are incumbent Jan Vickers and Kelly Osborne, president of the Laguna Beach Parent Teacher Association Council.

He hopes that a new school board majority will foster a new environment that will welcome disagreement among board members rather than aiming for a consistently unified board.

“I don’t think that minority voices should be treated as disloyal,” Hills said. “We should value minority voices, not resent them.”

Over the last two years, Board member Dee Perry has clashed with her colleagues on transparency and confidential matters, a dispute that has morphed into an ongoing federal lawsuit that’s been thrown out of court twice.

In August 2019, then-president Vickers said Perry’s claims of retaliation and discrimination were without merit, adding that political disputes do not belong in the courts.

Hills also advocates for the school board to search for a new superintendent, adding that the district’s legal fees have more than tripled under Supt. Jason Viloria’s tenure.

Kramer said she supports a stronger school board that gives more direction to the superintendent, rather than having the district’s chief executive directing board members. Morgan appeared to agree with this perspective.

“I think the school board’s job is to provide oversight and governance of our district,” Morgan said. “That is my intention. If the current administration is compliant with that we wouldn’t have an issue.”

Lastly, Hills said the new school board should pursue adding term limits for its members to encourage new people with fresh ideas to pursue public office.

“The idea that we need eight to 12 years to get up to speed on the school board is unacceptable,” Hills said.

Kramer said Monday that she was very pleased to receive Hills’ endorsement.

“I respect Howard immensely,” Kramer said. “I think as a citizen and community member in the school district he has the most clarity about what has gone on historically as well as what is going on now.”

Morgan said she respects Hills’ decision and appreciates his support.

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