Feb 2008 through Jun 2008 - Following its successes the 2005 CUSD Recall, the 2006 ABC Reform Slate and 2007 CUSD Recall campaigns, the CUSD Recall Committee, once more, is leading the grassroots effort to reform CUSD by fielding two reform candidates, Sue Palazzo and Ken Maddox, to replace recall targets and Fleming-era trustees Sheila Benecke and Marlene Draper in the upcoming June 24, 2008 special election. The themes of the campaign, "Reform CUSD, Finish the Job" and "P.M. Reform Slate, Say Goodnight to Corruption."
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Aug 2007 through Jan 2008 - The four remaining old guard Fleming-era trustees, Sheila Benecke, Marlene Draper, Mike Darnold and Duane Stiff, ignored or repudiated the reform mandate of the voters in the November 2006 general election. These Fleming-era holdovers arrogantly persisted in their illegal and unethical behavior by continuing to violate the state's open meetings, public records, environmental and other laws, and deceitfully misspending millions of taxpayer dollars. The CUSD Recall Committee took up the challenge of leading a second recall campaign to remove the worst offenders, Fleming-era trustees Sheila Benecke and Marlene Draper. The petition campaign succeeded in collecting 66,000 signatures, of which enough were certified to qualify for a special election. The theme of the campaign, "Reform CUSD, Finish the Job" and "Your Children Deserve Better." The CUSD board set the date of the special election on June 24, 2008.
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Jun 2006 through Nov 2006 - In June 2006, the Recall Committee announced its endorsement of three reform candidates, Ellen Addonizio, Anna Bryson and Larry Christensen, to run for CUSD board seats as the "ABC Reform Slate" to replace Fleming-era incumbents, Crystal Kochendorfer, Shelia Henness and John Casabianca, in the November 2006 general election. Although incumbent Kochendorfer resigned before the election, each of the ABC Reform Slate candidates faced competition from multiple challengers. The outcome was an impressive, three-way landslide victory by the ABC candidates and clear reform mandate by the voters of South Orange County. The theme of the campaign, "Reform CUSD, Easy as ABC."
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Apr 2005 through Dec 2005 - The CUSD Recall Committee led this unprecedented grassroots campaign to remove all seven of the old guard Fleming-era CUSD trustees, Sheila Benecke, John Casa Bianaca, Mike Darnold, Marlene Draper, Shelia Hennes, Crystal Kochendorfer and Duane Stiff. Volunteers gathered 177,000 petition signatures and, though this was insufficient to qualify for a special recall election, the campaign raised public awareness of widespread corruption and financial mismanagement at CUSD, setting the stage for the campaigns that followed. The themes of the campaign, "A campaign to restore honesty, integrity and accountability to the Capistrano Unified School District" and "Your Children Deserve Better."
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Nov 2002 through Apr 2004 - Though the Arroyo Vista K-8 expansion was not a significant issue during the 2005 CUSD Recall, 2006 ABC Reform Slate or 2007 CUSD Recall campaigns, it was one of the most divisive issues ever to face CUSD. In fact, the Arroyo Vista K-8 project was so fraught with unethical and illegal conduct by district leaders and certain of their advocates, it has become a poster child for all that is corrupt at CSUD. From chronic dishonesty, deceit and vendettas by school district officials, to a complicit, partisan school principal and PTA leaders improperly engaged in political activism, to refusals to enforce campus civility and security policies, to violations and cover-ups of violations of environmental, fire and life safety, traffic safety, open meeting, public records, competitive bidding and election laws, to sham staff reports, parent surveys and community information meetings, to rigged trustee meetings, to community disinformation and intimidation schemes, to false State filings, deceptive funding schemes and flawed facilities planning, to fraudulent attempts to steal a private community park, to intentional schemes to fracture community relations and interference in local city council elections -- the Arroyo Vista community has experienced a wide spectrum of the various government abuses for which CUSD is so notorious.
CSRSM publicly exposed all of these issues and violations, and reported most of them to the appropriate local, county and state agencies, and the press. However, with local, county and state agencies disinterested and oversight abysmally lacking, CSRSM resorted to working with the City of Rancho Santa Margarita to seek protection for local residents from the impacts of the district's illegal overcrowding of the school facility. The city intervened by threatening injunctive action unless the district agreed to cap student enrollment at 1,050, rather than the 1,500 originally planned. CUSD conceded to the cap, but stubbornly proceeded to overbuild facilities for 1,500 students anyway, unnecessarily covering virtually all of the children's ball fields and playgrounds with underutilized facilities at an incredible cost of $16 million -- all for just 300 additional children. Even though CSRSM was unable to stop the over-expansion in time to save scarce facilities funds required by needier schools elsewhere, it did play a pivotal role in mitigating the negative impacts of this Fleming pet project on the local Arroyo Vista community.
One ironic and bitter footnote: The funds used to pay for the expansion were taken from Measure A bond funds, paid for by parents in other parts of the district with much needier schools. Fleming and his rubber stamp trustees intended for these other parents to carry the burden of paying the bonds, while the parents of Arroyo Vista, who didn't pay, enjoyed the benefit.
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Mar 2002 through Nov 2002 -
CSRSM and RSM City officials argued that CUSD was using unrealistically low projections of student enrollment and that a new elementary school facility was badly needed. CUSD officials projected that the need for any new school would be merely temporary and that there would be no need for such a school in four years. In September 2000, Tijeras Creek Elementary School was opened. This school now draws kindergarten through fifth grade students from many communities including Dove Canyon, Coto de Caza, Las Flores and Rancho Santa Margarita. (It should be noted that despite the original “expert” projections of CUSD officials, in 2004, Tijeras Creek Elementary remained on the State of California’s list of “Critically Overcrowded Schools.” It was this overcrowding that led to CUSD’s efforts in 2002 to acquire the Viking Building in the RSM Business Park for conversion into a hybrid 4th-8th grade “academy”).
Aug 1998 through Spring 2000 - Led Community Effort to Enforce Existing Zoning Restrictions in Residential Developments - In August of 1999, promoters of the New Horizons private school attempted to construct a large two-phased, private elementary and middle school facility upon a small vacant parcel of land located on the east side of Camino Altozano in RSM. Camino Altozano, which is a narrow two lane-feeder street, provided the only vehicular access to the parcel. The parcel of property was legally restricted for use only as a church, temple, mosque, etc., so that construction of the school would have required the County of Orange to ignore or invalidate applicable zoning codes.
The local residents who previously purchased their homes adjacent to that vacant parcel had reasonably relied upon the recorded zoning restrictions. Obviously, a large elementary/middle school facility for hundreds of children is a much more intensive land use than a church use (which typically has services only one day a week) – and this was not what the local residents had agreed to when they bought their homes. As a result, CSRSM led the community effort to protect and preserve the property rights of the existing homeowners. CSRSM representatives organized the community to assert their collective rights. They gathered hundreds of petitions and completely packed the very large Orange County Planning Commission facility. CSRSM representatives presented to the Orange County Planning Commission their legal and equitable arguments. Ultimately, the promoters of the school voluntarily dropped their efforts to change the zoning of the Altozano property. The New Horizon School now operates in the City of Irvine.
Since the County was proposing to place a dangerous project in very close proximity to Arroyo Vista Elementary School, CSRSM representatives appeared before the Board of Trustees for the Capistrano Unified District in order to make them aware of the significant community concerns and to request that they issue to the County of Orange a public statement of concern. CSRSM met with and worked closely with Orange County Supervisor Tom Wilson, who listened in good faith to the concerns raised by CSRSM and the residents of RSM. In April of 1998, in response to the concerns raised by CSRSM, the County of Orange abandoned all efforts to construct the project in RSM. In his April 1998 Community Update, Supervisor Wilson stated that, "I want to express my appreciation to both the Rancho Santa Margarita Civic Council and the Citizens for a Safe Rancho Santa Margarita. Truly the ability of a community to come together and work towards a common goal is indicative of a community which cares for its future."