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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 10th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 31

Educating the electorate

Candidates answer questions at the Santa Maria-Bonita School District Board of Education forum

BY AMY ASMAN

Four of the six candidates running for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District Board of Education spoke at a public forum on Oct. 4 at Tommie Kunst Junior High School. For two hours, board incumbents Linda Cordero and Jody Oliver and challengers Ricky Lara and John Hollinshead spoke about meeting children’s educational needs in a financially sparse time. The other two candidates, Michael Kon and Helen Galván, were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.


The other candidates
The Sun interviewed the two candidates who couldn’t make it to the forum. Here’s what they had to say:

Helen Galvan is a retired Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) teacher. She taught Kindergarten, third grade, and junior high, and worked at the district office for 12 years as a teacher on special assignment in the bilingual and English learners departments.

“I feel my experience and knowledge of SMBSD’s student population and needs will contribute to making informed decisions on the curriculum, standards, and other matters affecting teaching and learning in the classroom,” Galvan said in an e-mail to the Sun.

Some of her goals include maintaining a strong curriculum and standards; incorporating regular instruction of all subject areas, including physical education and the arts; advocating for professional development for teachers and support staff; and increasing parent involvement in the schools and the community.

She supports Proposition 30 and is against Proposition 32.

Michael Kon is a former SMBSD employee. He currently works as a substitute teacher for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, and serves as high school basketball and football official.

When asked why he was running for the board, Kon said, “I have two children who will be entering the school district next year. … As a concerned citizen, I want not only my children but all the children of my community to have good learning opportunities.”

His goals include making sure teachers and students have everything they need in the classroom and that parents are informed about what’s going on in the district. He’d also like to see administrators spend more time in the classroom as instructors.

He supports Proposition 30 and is against Proposition 32.

Forum moderator Jeff Cooper, a social sciences teacher at Santa Maria High School, welcomed the candidates and invited them to make opening statements.

Cordero, a former district reading specialist and site administrator, said serving on the school board “is an opportunity for me to give something back to the community that has supported me.”

Lara, whose children attend schools in the district, echoed that sentiment, as did parent and coach Hollinshead and Oliver, who is a former teacher in the district. However, the two latter candidates also alluded to some problems on the current school board and Oliver called on voters to select their leaders wisely.

“This is a critical election for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District,” she said. “I look to all of you to make sure we get the best candidates to serve on the board.”

Forum organizers (students from Santa Maria High School) and members of the audience asked the candidates a vast range of questions, including: If elected, what would you do to improve communication between the district and parents? And how would you bolster parent participation at school sites?

Hollinshead said he enjoyed volunteering for some of his son’s elementary school field trips and would encourage more parents to do the same. He said he would also strive to build stronger relationships with local businesses and other community organizations.

Oliver acknowledged that the written notices the district sends out in both Spanish and English “haven’t satisfied the [communication] problem.” The key, she said, is to make parents feel comfortable at school sites, to invite them to activities, and to answer questions when they’re asked.

Lara said he would work harder to break the communication barrier between the district and Latinos.

Another question: How can individual board members, with differing opinions, work together to achieve goals as a board?

Cordero admitted that building consensus can be difficult, but said board members must “work to understand what other perspectives are” and do their homework on the issue.

“It’s fine to have a different opinion, but the democratic process indicates that we vote, and once we vote the decision is made and we all support it,” she said.

All of the candidates were asked to share their major goals for the district.

Lara said he’d like to see more teachers’ aides in the classroom and smaller class sizes.

Cordero said she’d like to see more schools built to support the district’s growing student population and to focus more on student achievement—“not just test scores, but [whether] the teachers are seeing individual progress.”

Oliver said, “According to the California School Board Association, the No. 1 job of a school board is to keep the district fiscally solvent.” She was also supportive of building more schools.

Hollinshead said he’s interested in pursuing dual emersion education, a type of curriculum that incorporates lessons in both Spanish and English, and opening more schools.

The discussion shifted to legislation on the upcoming November ballot that would affect schools and teachers, including propositions 30 and 32. According to the official California voters’ guide, Proposition 30 would increase taxes on earnings of more than $250,000 for seven years and sales taxes by a quarter cent for four years, to fund schools. It also guarantees public safety realignment funding.

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Hear for yourself
To listen to a recording of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District candidates’ forum, click here.

All four candidates said they support Proposition 30. Lara and Oliver were asked what they would do as board members if the legislation didn’t pass.

“I don’t want to think about what would happen if it doesn’t pass because we don’t have many places from which we can cut,” Oliver said. “You can’t cut a box of crayons and all of a sudden expect to have a downfall of money.”

She and Lara noted that the current board and district administrators have budgeted for that possibility. The failure of Proposition 30 would leave the district with a $6.2-million deficit.

The conversation on Proposition 32—dubbed the “paycheck protection initiative”—was a little more convoluted. If approved, the legislation would ban corporations and unions from contributing to state and local candidates; ban contributions by government contractors to the politicians who control contracts awarded to them; and ban automatic deductions from employees’ wages to be used for politics.

“My understanding is [Proposition 32] pertains to [collective bargaining], and I’m in support of it—collective bargaining for fire, nurses, public entities, public employees,” Hollinshead said.

Cordero said the proposition doesn’t actually pertain to the bargaining.

“What it pertains to is the union—the bargaining units—being able to use funds to support propositions, measures, or candidates and to have an impact on legislation and who’s elected,” she said. “Proposition 32, if it were passed, would eliminate that ability. So, no, I’m not supportive of it.”

Lara and Oliver didn’t support the legislation either, and Hollinshead, after the proposition was clarified, reversed his position in his closing statement.

The candidates also discussed the revenue sources they would pursue if elected, including potentially placing a bond measure on a future ballot.

Cordero said a feasibility study commissioned by the district showed that the community would be supportive of such a measure.

“But we need to educate our community about why they need to support a bond measure, like the city of Santa Maria did with Measure U,” she said.

All of the candidates were supportive of seeking out bonds, if the campaign was researched and presented to the community well.

Some other issues addressed at the forum included year-round academic schedules (which no one supported); STAR testing; classroom sizes; mandatory fingerprinting and TB testing for volunteer parents; collective bargaining; No Child Left Behind; and the functional role of a school board member.

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at aasman@santamariasun.com.