LANCASTER — With voting underway for the Nov. 3 election, the mudslinging began as the first hit mailer in the Antelope Valley Union High School District Trustee Area No. 3 race reached voters’ mailboxes over the weekend.
The target was longtime school volunteer and former trustee Donita Winn. Winn is running for the vacant Trustee Area No. 3 seat. Her competition is retired judge and longtime school volunteer Dana LaMon, businessman Robert Teller, and adjunct instructor Christian Green.
The mailer spelled Winn’s name correctly but the facts stop there.
“The hit mailer is completely filled with lies but this person’s attempt to smear my name has backfired. So many people have reached out with words of support and encouragement in reaction to the mailer. I am truly blessed to call these people my friends. One thing is true I have always promised the community and myself that I will run a clean campaign. I find no value in mud slinging hit mailers. The students, teachers, staff and the community deserve open honest communication and I will give that to them,” Winn said in a statement.
According to the mailer, Winn is responsible for the suspension and expulsion of 10,000 students over her 14 years on the Board. Winn served more than 13 years on the AV Union High School District Board. She was appointed in April 2002. She won election in 2003, 2007, and 2011. She lost to former member Robert “Bob” Davis. Davis posted images of the mailer on his Facebook page.
Board members are not responsible for student suspensions. Suspensions occur at the school site level only. Board members consider student expulsions in closed session. Even then, the Board has five members with the exception of this year.
Rules for student suspensions and expulsions are governed by California Education Code. Technical rules of evidence do not apply to the hearing. Before expulsions go to the Board, an expulsion panel that typically includes retired school administrators conducts an expulsion hearing to interview witnesses and review facts. Only those cases the panel deems suitable for expulsion move forward to the Board.
District data shows that over the last five years of Winn’s Board tenure expulsions dropped 60.21% from 289 students in 2010-11 to 115 students in 2014-15.
The mailer wrongly says Winn eliminated Highland High School’s International Baccalaureate program, “negatively impacting over 400 students.”
In fact, the District restructured the International Baccalaureate program in 2013 to help assure its long-term stability. The District consolidated the program at Quartz Hill High School, which had a more robust program enrollment than Highland High. The District then opened enrollment to all qualified juniors and seniors at all district schools.
At Highland, an average 28% of candidates received the International Baccalaureate diploma, while 56% at Quartz Hill did. The program continued at Highland High School through the 2015-16 school year.
The mailer wrongly said Winn was recalled by Highland High parents and students for the elimination of successful programs at the school. That is incorrect.
Highland High parents Greg Cortina and Michele Martin, started the recall effort after Ellen Coleman, Highland High School’s former International Baccalaureate coordinator, and her husband Dana Coleman, who taught college-prep classes, were transferred in January 2013 to Littlerock and Eastside high schools, respectively. The Colemans later left the district.
That led to fears that Highland’s International Baccalaureate program was going to be eliminated. However, the program continued through the 2015-16 school year.
Cortina and Martin initiated the recall against all five Board members in 2013 originally. They reduced the recall effort to Winn and current Board Clerk Jill McGrady after learning the other three Board members were up for election in November 2013. Cortina and Martin had to collect a minimum of 16,999 signatures each for Winn and McGrady to force a recall election. The deadline passed with no signatures submitted. The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk considered the effort abandoned, an election spokesman said at the time.
Cortina would not disclose how many signatures they collected but said at the time that they stopped after 30 days and discussions with other recall efforts. Cortina turned his efforts to support candidates for the Nov. 2013 election. One of those candidates was Dana Coleman, who won the election. Coleman served one term. Coleman joined forces with Davis after Davis was elected in November 2015. Cortina later recorded Board meetings for them.
The mailer also wrongly said Winn is under investigation for alleged serious Education Code violations and was suspended in September 2019. The former Board majority of Davis, Victoria Ruffin, and Amanda Parrell voted in closed session at the Sept. 12, 2019 meeting to initiate a personnel investigation. Winn was informed the next day that her status as a volunteer for the high school District had been suspended pending the investigation.
Davis, Ruffin and Parrell’s action appeared to be in retaliation against Winn’s support of the unsuccessful recall effort launched against them. Davis also was possibly looking forward to the Nov. 3, 2020 election and a challenge by Winn. However, Davis resigned suddenly last November. His seat has been vacant ever since.
Davis signed a contract on Sept. 16, 2019, with Armando Zatarain Investigations. Attorney John W. Harris of Harris & Associates also signed and approved the contract. Zatarain apparently never completed his investigation. Public records requests for invoices submitted by Zatarain were never filled because there were no invoices submitted.
AV Union High School District reinstated Winn in May after a district investigation determined she did not violate existing Board policies, administrative regulations or the education code when she joined recall supporters outside Littlerock High School last September to collect signatures for the recall.
The mailer also wrongly blames Winn for an alleged 2,500 student drop out in 2015. Coleman was also a Board member in 2015. The district’s graduation rate for the Class of 2015 was 81.2%, an improvement over the Class of 2014 when the graduation rate was 79.7%, according to state data. A freshman who started with the District but who left prior to graduation would count against the graduation rate even if they graduated from another school in a different district or state because there is no way to track them.
The mailer says it was paid for by Antelope Valley Parents and Teachers for Better Education and Jobs. No such organization is registered with the California Secretary of State.
The address for the organization is 111 North La Brea Avenue, Suite 408, in Inglewood. That is the address of Political Reporting Plus, a political consulting and reporting business run by two people: Cine D. Ivery and Michelle Moore Sanders.
“We keep your records for all required areas of campaign disclosure reporting. With the use of our specialized computer programs we will record all contributions, non-monetary contributions, expenditures, accrued expenses, loans and loan payments, adjustment to cash, pledges and pledge payments,” the “about us” page on their website says.
Reached by telephone, Ivery said she did not handle the AV Union High School District account and referred the Antelope Valley Press to her partner Moore Sanders.
“I am the treasurer. The FPPC ID# is pending. I will forward your communication to the committee. Thank you,” Moore Sanders wrote in an email in response to a request for the campaign 410 form and its filer ID.
A list of partial clients on the company’s website includes Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, who represents the 64th Assembly District. Gipson donated $1,000 to candidate Green’s campaign through the Gipson for Assembly 2020 committee, campaign finance records show.