The Star-News

No interest in ousting anyone

Sat, Sep 01 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité

An effort to recall two members of the Sweetwater Union High School District board of directors failed Monday.

Since April, members of community activist group Occupy Sweetwater and other citizens who oppose the leadership of Sweetwater Union High School District board members Arlie Ricasa and Jim Cartmill have collected signatures to oust them from their positions.

They needed to present 18,000 signatures to the  Registrar of Voters on Monday so the measure could be placed on the November ballot.

Gene Chavira, who took the lead on signature gathering, said they fell short by approximately 8,000 signatures.

Chavira said the lack of signatures was because of insufficient manpower and money.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’s all volunteer and we all have jobs.”

Chavira said they were able to collect approximately $3,000 in donations from citizens, while the rest came out of volunteer pockets.

About 50 people worked to gather signatures, according to Chavira.

“Despite what happened we consider it a success,” he said. “We’ve let the district know that we’re serious. That people are not happy with them. It was a learning experience and we’re going to reassess and maybe turn around and do it again, this time with experience.”

Those behind the recall efforts said their actions were prompted by consistent failure of the board to act in the best interest of students, following a district scandal involving two present and two former board members indicted in January on felony charges by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis for their alleged involvement in a pay-for-play scheme.
Board member John McCann was later served with a notice of petition for his recall.

The group still has a few weeks to collect enough signatures of people wanting him out of office.

“The response was really good,” Chavira said. “Almost anybody who we had a chance to talk to would sign. Most people signed for all three petitions.”

McCann and Cartmill said the group is being dishonest about the number of signatures they’ve actually collected and maintain there’s no evidence that 10,000 people signed petitions. They estimate that closer to a few hundred signatures were collected.

Cartmill said the lack of signatures shows the majority of the community is in opposition to the recall.

“We live in a republic where representatives are elected by the community to represent them,” he said in an email Tuesday. “The recall is a mechanism to be utilized only as a last resort.”

Cartmill said that while he respects the rights of a small vocal minority with the backing of the teachers union to pursue a recall, the potential millions spent on the effort would be better spent on students and their education.

“The reality is I would like to work with everyone involved in the recall to maximize student achievement instead of cause more divisiveness in the community,” he wrote.

Ricasa issued a statement saying she is not concerned with the recall and will continue her commitment to serve the best interests of the students.

“I also appreciate that so many fair-minded parents with school-age children, community members and voters chose to reject the mean-spirited recall campaign, its backers and their prejudicial innuendos,” she said.

“The focus needs to remain on our kids and their educational needs, not self-serving politics.”

McCann labeled recall efforts against him a “complete sham.”

“A small group of Occupy Sweetwater has been attempting a dishonest power grab by using the recall process,” he said.

“I’ve been leading the efforts to reform and clean up the district… My focus will continue to be 100 percent on our students and their achievements and strengthening our school.”

© 2009 The Star-News