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School board race includes activist

By David Scharfenberg
Monday October 07, 2002

Forgive Board of Education candidate Lance Montauk if he is less than intimidated by the Berkeley Unified School District’s $3.9 million budget shortfall. 

Montauk, 54, an emergency room physician at several local hospitals, will face a host of difficult budget-cutting decisions if he is one of three candidates elected to the five-member board in November. But he has faced far worse in the prisons of California and Poland. 

In 1968, during the Vietnam War, Montauk created a disturbance at a draft center in Portland, Org. and spent several months in a federal prison in Lompoc, Calif. where he was under constant threat of sexual assault. 


“It was the first time I’d feared for my sexual well-being,” he said. “I learned a lot about what it [must be like] to be a woman.” 

In the early 1980s, after earning a law degree from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall and working for Amnesty International in London, Montauk decided he wanted to be a doctor. His choice of medical school was a little out of the ordinary – the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, founded in 1365. 

After arriving in Poland, Montauk quickly became involved in the Solidarity movement, which opposed the Communist regime. 

“I felt that what was taking part around me was a once-in-a-lifetime event,” he said. “Like a fool, I took active part in it, even though I was a foreigner.” 

In the summer of 1982, he was arrested and quickly expelled from the country. Montauk had to fight to get his Polish wife and daughter out. 

“I’ve been willing to risk literally almost everything to defend what I consider fundamental political rights,” said Montauk. 

But the freedom fighter-turned-school-board-candidate is not your typical Berkeley activist. Montauk, despite his anti-war activity, is a registered Republican and his views on certain education issues set him apart from the other candidates. 

Montauk argues that the district does not spend enough money on teachers and books and doles out far too much for administrators’ salaries and programs like special education. 

Montauk, in an interview last week, said the district should consider dropping its most expensive special education students to save money and improve the overall system. 

“Let them sue us,” Montauk said, of special education parents. 

The candidate’s pronouncements do not sit well with Julia Epstein, of the Berkeley Special Education Parents Network. 

“All of our children need services. All of our children deserve an education,” she said. “We can’t put a price tag on that.” 

Montauk also recommended dropping district contracts with classified staff, like janitors and bus drivers, and contracting out as much of the work as possible. 

“I completely disagree with that concept,” said school board member Terry Doran, one of two incumbents running for re-election in November. “Outsourcing often means getting workers who [are paid] less than our employees. I don’t think that’s right.” 

Montauk sent his son and daughter to private school before they enrolled in Berkeley High School and moved on to Harvard and UC Berkeley. 

Montauk said he represents hundreds of parents who have passed on the kindergarten through eighth-grade schools in Berkeley. He argues that the school board has been “worse than miserable” in its efforts to improve the local schools and draw the highest-performing students back to the system. 

“Their priorities are just totally screwy,” said Montauk, arguing that the district needs to stop “running a series of social experiments” and return to the basics. 

If history is any guide, Montauk will have no problem arguing for his agenda if elected. 



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