Hard Knocks

Three years in the life of the Capistrano Unified School District

As parents hurry past Beall, she gives chase, peppering them with one-liners: "These last two trustees just increased class size and gave a 7 percent raise to the administration . . . $16.9 million left our city to build a new administration building . . . Tell all your friends we're out here; we're just a bunch of moms . . ." Despite their harried expressions, many parents stop and quickly sign the two sheets. They don't seem to need much convincing.

"It's a pretty easy sell here," says Beall. "This being one of the worst campuses, everyone is pretty appalled and well-informed."

But it doesn't take long for a series of similar questions to begin popping up from one or another parent: "Hey, how do you find out if your name was on that list?" one father asks.

"Who's going to call me because I'm signing this?" asks another mom.

Then someone else: "Are we going to show up on the bad-people list?"

In some form or another, the questions keep coming: Will there be another list? Is my privacy protected? Is my kid safe?

"I am totally floored by what I see in this district," says John Smith, a former teacher and school administrator in Cerritos who is out volunteering for the first time tonight. "I came from a district where the superintendent was just like Fleming," he says. "I couldn't stomach it anymore; I had to get involved."

Smith is perched on the corner of La Paz Road and Oso Viejo. "I had parents tonight say they didn't want to sign because they didn't want their names to show up on a list. That's the climate here," he says.

Because of this climate, and because of the extensive recount the recall group did for their own report following the first recall, Beall says they are taking no chances for any errors this time around. Voters are asked to fill out every part of the petition, and each and every single voter is being verified via software the recall committee purchased from the registrar's office.

So far, Beall says, of the signatures they've gathered, 85 percent have been verified as accurate by the software. With a goal of submitting 20,000 more signatures per trustee by November (in order to qualify for the February primary elections), she and dozens of volunteers are hustling every weekend.

Recall spokesman Tom Russell explains why they mean to get it right this time. "We're dealing with a staff and a culture down there that has been trained with ethical and legal baselines that are completely different from anyone else," he says. "They think that what they're doing is right because they've been trained wrong. They've set the ethical bar so low that normal human beings who walk in there expecting fair treatment end up in an Alice In Wonderland."

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