HEAD OF THE CLASSES

SCHOOL-BOARD ELECTIONS ARE IMPORTANT. VICIOUS, GOOFY AND CONFUSING, TOO.

Student population: 10,273
Annual budget: $51.4 million
Official issue: Academic achievement Real issue: Jobs

Long a hotbed of political confrontation--largely between an established African-American community and a burgeoning Hispanic population-- Roosevelt's players and issues are an old, bitter story. Roosevelt is the largest employer in South Phoenix, where good jobs are scarce. When the school board flips between an African-American and Hispanic majority, top-paying positions seem to follow the color line.

After perhaps its most turbulent years (three superintendents, monstrous legal bills and the recall election of most of the board), the district has ended up with a few new faces on the board and an Anglo superintendent, John Baracy. The old guard of both sides formed a bizarre, black-brown alliance, adding a new twist to the Roosevelt mix--the protection of traditional ethnic cronyism from anything else. It kept Baracy on a fairly short leash, and away from major reforms.

Now both moderates on the board--Linda Armstead and Larry Casillas--are on the ballot facing three challengers, including NAACP head Charles Fanniel. The result is anyone's guess. The place: Glendale Union High School District

Student population: 12,220
Annual budget: $66.6 million
Official issue: Academic achievement
Real issue: Business as usual

Former students Jerry Pate, 20, and Jim Savoca, 18, put their civics lessons to work and filed to run for the school board. But maybe they should have reviewed a textbook first. The incumbents, who hired a private investigator for assistance, challenged the youngsters' ballot-qualification signatures in court and successfully had Pate and Savoca bumped off the ballot. Quick learners, the lads filed a complaint with the Department of Education against three district principals, charging that they had illegally circulated the incumbents' ballot petitions.

That's education for you.

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