School board candidates have deep roots in Paso Robles

Among the five men and two women running, two are incumbents; there will be at least two new members

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comOctober 27, 2012 

CORRECTION: The Tribune misspelled the name of candidate Joel Peterson in this story. He is director of communications for Hope Family Wines. 


While the Paso Robles Unified School District has dug itself out of a financial hole for the time being, budgeting continues to be a focus in a district that recently experienced layoffs, furloughs and cuts in classes.

With four seats up for election and only two incumbents running, the school board is guaranteed to have at least two new members.

The seven candidates running this year have extensive volunteer or school service in the community. Two of them are former teachers. And all have had children in Paso Robles schools.

Here’s a look at the seven candidates:

Chris Bausch

Bausch doesn’t have to look far to find student success stories. His daughter, Lauren, was Paso Robles High School’s valedictorian in 1999. And she is one of four now-grown Bausch children who have or plan to get a doctorate. 

So it frustrates Bausch to hear people who live in Paso talk about putting their children through school in nearby Templeton.

“We need to do a better job marketing our success,” said Bausch, who still has one child attending school in the district. “We seem to allow the perception to persist that we’re failing.”

Bausch is a real estate agent and longtime volunteer. His mother was a teacher, and two of his six sisters are teachers.

If elected, Bausch plans to be a consensus builder who maintains transparency.

Bausch, who attended Cal Poly Pomona, said he wants to stabilize the district’s financial situation and increase student achievement.

Tim Gearhart

Although he retired after 36 years of teaching — 24 in Paso Robles — Gearhart still keeps up to date on teaching methods through his job supervising student teachers at Cal Poly.

“We have to keep current,” said Gearhart, who has also been a Cal Poly lecturer.

The incumbent school board member, who has a master’s degree in education, said candidates have to be well-rounded and not simply focused on one or two issues.

“We need people that see the whole district,” he said.

As a board member, Gearhart said he helped Paso Robles schools through a financial crisis, avoiding a potential state takeover. But he also has experience dealing with administrators and teachers.

“On the board, I can balance the financial needs with the educational needs of our district as well,” he said.

Gearhart said he eventually wants to eliminate furlough days while still modernizing staff and supporting a well-rounded education that includes the arts and sports.

Nicolette Harley

When her daughter’s favorite class was eliminated because of budget cuts last year, Harley began to consider a run for school board.

“I basically didn’t realize how bad off the school was until my daughter had her sign language class cut,” Harley said. “It made me realize the kids don’t have much of a voice in this process, and the parents don’t realize what’s going on in the school district.”

Harley, a real estate agent who has also managed branches for a Fortune 500 company, said she could be a uniting force on the board.

“Right now it just seems like things are disconnected. It seems like everybody wants to point a finger and be at odds.”

Balancing the budget is a priority, she said, and the school board should also help find additional revenue sources, such as grants, community partnerships and fundraising.

“I just think right now we’re in a crisis, and in a crisis, it’s going to take something different,” she said.

David Lambert

Lambert knows the value of sports in schools. His son, a former Paso Robles High salutatorian, was

on the track and football teams. His daughter, a sophomore at the school, plays basketball and softball. But Lambert said all extracurricular activities are important, be they sports, music or art.

“That’s the stuff that keeps kids in school,” he said, noting that he’s seen the high school’s athletic budget cut dramatically in the past few years.

A small-business owner since 1978, Lambert services and repairs swimming pools. He’s also a former Lewis Middle School wrestling coach and a past president of the Paso Robles High School Boosters.

A regular attendee of school board meetings the past two years, Lambert said he wants to improve the lines of communication, thus helping devise solutions for financial issues.

After his father suffered a brain aneurysm when he was 16, Lambert said he had to scrap his own college plans and begin working after high school.

“It showed me how important education was,” he said. “Because I didn’t have the opportunity.”

Joel Patterson

It’s easy to see the impact Patterson’s grandmother had on Paso’s education: Her name adorns Virginia Peterson Elementary School.

“She loved education,” Patterson said.

As a child visiting Paso Robles from Southern California, he would often accompany his grandmother as she attended various civic meetings. A former production assistant in Hollywood whose first job entailed getting coffee for Kevin Costner on the set of “Tin Cup,” Patterson decided to move to Paso Robles a decade ago.

“I realized I wanted to live in a small town,” said Patterson, who is now director of communications for Hope Family Wines and a past president of the Paderewski Festival, which his grandmother founded.

With a 7-year-old in the district and a 4-year-old destined to attend, the University of Arizona grad said he has a vested interest in helping to improve the district’s reputation while also improving technology in the classrooms, keeping arts in the schools and improving communications with students, parents, teachers, staff and the community.

Robert Simola

A published poet and a longtime printmaker, incumbent Simola said he knows firsthand the value of art.

“The reason I’ve worked so hard to keep the arts program is that everything I’ve ever read says that students involved in the arts do better academically,” he said.

A school board member for the past eight years, Simola taught high school English for 30 years — 20 of them at Paso Robles High School. He has also worked with student teachers at Cal Poly, and has taught adult school.

Simola, who has a doctorate in English literature, said his first priority is students.

“But if you don’t have a good teacher, the students aren’t going to learn,” he said.

As a board member, Simola said he encouraged cuts to administrative staff to preserve teacher positions, and he has encouraged more magnet schools that specialize in things like fine arts.

Joan Summers

While she has worked for a phone company and a tax preparation firm, Summers spent most of her career — 26 years — in the Paso Robles school district.

“Currently the board is comprised of retired teachers and private sector business people,” she wrote in an email. “I will bring the experience of a secretary who worked with school budgets, school staff, parents, students and union contracts.”

While retired from schools, Summers has volunteered weekly in classrooms for the past three years and has regularly attended board meetings — nearly 90 in all — the past four years.

Her children, whose needs included special education and advanced academics, participated in sports, band, choir and 4-H when they attended Paso schools.

“I realize the importance for children to have the opportunity to have access to these programs,” Summers wrote.

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