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Board hopefuls go for Round 2

Formidable incumbent to be challenged by former opponent who says she is more in touch with classroom.

September 01, 2010|By Tom Ragan, tom.ragan@latimes.com
  • Judy Franco, a 30 year veteran of the Newport Mesa Unified School District School Board, is running again in November.
Judy Franco, a 30 year veteran of the Newport Mesa Unified… (Scott Smeltzer,…)

NEWPORT BEACH — She's been in the school board seat for nearly 30 years, and she'd like to hold onto it for four more.

But Judy Franco, 73, whose tenure on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board of education has elicited cries for term limits, may be facing the challenge of her life for her Area 5 seat in November.

Loretta Zimmerman, 58, who garnered 31% of the vote against Franco four years ago, is hoping to ratchet up her popularity with the general voting public and defeat Franco at the polls.

"I think there's time for new blood," Zimmerman said from her Balboa Island home.

"We need somebody who's more in touch with the classroom," Zimmerman added. "My daughter just graduated from Corona del Mar High School, so I know a thing or two on what goes on in the classroom. I know a thing or two about what's needed on a day-to-day basis."

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Franco said while it is true that her four children have long graduated from Newport-Mesa schools, she does have grandchildren in area schools.

"So I'm not as out of touch with the classroom as some might think," Franco said from a booth at Woody's Diner on the Balboa Peninsula, just a few blocks from her Lido Island home.

She's lived there since 1968, when she and her husband, who worked for the city of Los Angeles, moved from Arcadia.

It wasn't until Franco's four children started getting older and attending the district's public schools that she decided to get involved, joining the PTA and winning a school board seat in 1981.

Since then, she's been a formidable incumbent, having been reelected at every turn for every term, leading some to criticize her for "owning" the seat outright.

"I don't 'own' it," said Franco, the daughter of a public school administrator, who was born in Iowa, graduated from high school in Palo Alto and attended UC Berkeley.

"And if I lose," she added, "then it's one race, one bridge too far."

But now is the time, Franco said, that the people reelect her, given Sacramento's financial problems and the current state of fiscal affairs that have dealt Newport-Mesa and its 22,000 students a "double-whammy."

Not only has the state cut out $12 million from the district's budget in "categorical" funds — resulting in more than 100 teacher layoffs and the wholesale dismantling of the district's adult education programs — but property taxes revenue within the school district has declined with the housing market.

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