Battle Not Over
Finish the Job
Special Recall Election
2008 General Election
Vigilance and Hope
Welcome to the official website of the CUSD Recall Committee, the grassroots organization that led hundreds of South Orange County residents in the unprecedented campaign to recall all seven elected Trustees of the Capistrano Unified School District.
Like never before, taxpayers in South Orange County came to realize just how serious the problems are at CUSD. By the thousands, voters embraced the core message of the recall campaign -- the CUSD Trustees had squandered millions of taxpayer dollars and breached the public trust, and by so doing they had relegated the children into overcrowded and substandard conditions.
Why Recall Was Necessary
The old guard Fleming Trustees permitted a culture
of corruption to infect our school district.
They permitted district personnel to use scarce district resources to create unlawful lists of your political “enemies” -- including children. They engaged in illegal closed session meetings where district business was conducted in secret. They and their staff repeatedly provided false information to the public regarding district finances. They failed to effectively control their staff – even giving their former superintendent (now indicted for multiple felonies) a standing ovation and lucrative retirement package just hours after police investigators armed with search warrants raided his office.
They grossly mismanaged district finances.
They recklessly spent $52,000,000 on an administration building and over $140,000,000 for a single high school next to a dump -- while our schools were in dire need of repairs and students were crammed into substandard portable classrooms with non-functioning restrooms. Their reckless deficit spending created a self-inflicted, multi-million dollar budget crisis that put our children at risk and resulted in massive program cutbacks – overcrowding classrooms and severely diminishing the quality of education.
They arrogantly disregarded the public by repeatedly ignoring problems until they become crises.
They broke the public’s trust.
In order to place the recall on the ballot, the Recall Committee and its volunteers faced the daunting task of gathering approximately 143,000 signatures (20,300 signatures for each of the seven Trustees). Thankfully, when presented with the disturbing pictures and hard facts, thousands of people lined up to sign the CUSD Recall petitions. More than 177,000 recall petition signatures were obtained!
From the very beginning of the CUSD Recall campaign, a core group of volunteers agreed that the campaign would be led and administered by an executive committee of eight to nine members from across South Orange County, including San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and Rancho Santa Margarita. This committee came to be known as the CUSD Recall Committee ("Recall Committee").
The Recall Committee members agreed that:
All strategic decisions relating to CUSD Recall campaigns would be made by the Recall Committee -- not by any individual.
Certain Recall Committee members served in designated capacities -- Kevin Murphy, (former) Chairman, Michael Winsten, (former) Chairman, Jennifer Beall, Vice-Chair, Petition Management, Tom Russell, Official Spokesperson, and others were appointed to head up research, website design and maintenance, etc.
The Recall Committee was required by State law to form a public fundraising committee. A Statement of Organization was filed with the state and county to create a "Recipient Committee" known as Capo for Better Representation. California law requires any political campaign raising more than $1,000 in campaign contributions to create a "recipient committee" to assure that all political contributions are publicly disclosed. As a result, Capo for Better Representation became the CUSD Recall Committee’s statutorily required "recipient committee" -- it’s fundraising vehicle.
Bottom line -- every strategic decision from the beginning of the CUSD Recall campaign in April 2005 and continuing to this very day has been made by a core group who constitute the Recall Committee.
There was one major change in the constituency of the Recall Committee - immediately after the OC Registrar refused to certify the CUSD Recall petitions, Kevin Murphy resigned as our Chairman and officially terminated his affiliation with the Recall Committee in late December 2005.
...But We Continued the Fight
In response to his resignation, the Recall Committee paid tribute to Murphy. The people of South Orange County owe Kevin Murphy a debt of gratitude for having the courage to start the recall campaign and we wish him well. However, the problems in CUSD remained and the battle for reform was carried on by the remaining members of the Recall Committee.
Thanks to the incredible hard work, dedication and total commitment shown by hundreds of volunteers from all across South Orange County, the campaign for reform has been an amazing success and the public mandate for reform has never been stronger.
Victory with the "ABC" Reform
But even with more than 177,000 signatures submitted to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, the CUSD Recall Campaign failed to produce a sufficient number of valid signatures to certify a special recall election. However, the Recall Campaign succeeded in raising public awareness of the serious problems at CUSD to unprecedented levels, providing the foundation for victory in the November 2006 general election.
The CUSD Recall Committee fielded three reform candidates (Ellen Addonizio, Anna Bryson and Larry Christensen). Because of their simple, non-partisan message, the "ABC" candidates won endorsements and support from voters, elected officials and organizations from all parts of the political spectrum.
The result - an unprecedented, three-way, landslide victory that sent a clear reform mandate to the remaining old-guard trustees and administration and bringing reformers one step closer to restoring honesty, integrity and accountability to CUSD.
Recall 2007 - Finish The Job
Even after criminal indictments were filed against former Superintendent James Fleming and former Associate Superintendent Susan McGill on five felony counts, the four Fleming-era holdover trustees continued to reject or ignore the clear reform mandate of the voters.
In response, the Recall Committee commenced a second recall campaign in August 2007 to finish the job by removing the worst offenders, old guard trustees Sheila Benecke and Marlene Draper. The second recall campaign succeeded in collecting more than 66,000 petition signatures, and on March 10, 2008, the OC Registrar certified a special recall election. The CUSD board set the date for the special election on June 24, 2008.
The "P.M. Reform Slate"
The CUSD Recall Committee endorsed two reform candidates, Sue Palazzo and Ken Maddox, to replace Fleming-era Trustees Marlene Draper and Sheila Benecke in the June 24th special recall election. Marlene Draper and Sheila Benecke suffered humiliating defeat as they were recalled, and the reform slate candidates, Sue Palazzo and Ken Maddox, were elected by overwhelming, landslide margins.
Reform Candidate who replaced Marlene Draper, Trustee Area 2
Reform Candidate who replaced Sheila Benecke, Trustee Area 5
The Reform Slate
The Recall Committee also backed four reform candidates in the November 2008 General Election - Jack Brick, Ken Lopez-Maddox, Sue Palazzo and Mike Winsten. They were opposed by a slate of union-backed, status quo candidates. Despite heavy financial support from the teachers union, the four reform candidates were elected in a four-way sweep.
Fleming-era Comes to and End
The results of the November 2008 General Election marked the third consecutive time South Orange County voters had rejected the Old Guard and the third time they demanded change at CUSD. After more than four years of grassroots efforts to reform their school district, CUSD parents and community members had replaced all seven CUSD board seats with reform trustees putting to rest any doubt about the voters' reform mandate to the leadership at CUSD.
A New Era of Reform
The time for special interest and back-room politics is over. Now is the time for fair, honest and open local government.
We urge everyone to join with us by supporting the new reform trustees in their on-going efforts to reform the our school district.
We encourage all parties of goodwill to help the new Reform Trustees in their efforts to lead the district away from the corrupt practices of the past and into a new era of hope and reform for the benefit of all CUSD stakeholders and the success of all of our children's future!
Please visit www.cusdrecall.com to learn more and to get involved.
Tom Russell, Chairman and Spokesman
CUSD Recall Committee