For the Lucia Mar Unified School District, the Nov. 6 general election will not only determine whether two or three new members join the seven-member board; it will also decide the fate of a ballot measure that proponents say will protect funding for education.
Administrators of the county’s largest public school district have planned ahead, setting aside about $4.6 million to use in the current school year should Proposition 30 fail.
But the district could face another multimillion dollar cut in the 2013-14 school year if the measure doesn’t pass, and that could lead to painful discussions about ways to cut costs, including furloughs, Lucia Mar Superintendent Jim Hogeboom said.
The budget is the top issue the school district board members will tackle next year. The school board will face other challenges, such as deciding how to move forward on district goals with limited resources, and how to improve communication between district administrators and teachers.
The board has backed some programs to further its goals, including a new high school, Central Coast New Tech High, which raised some concerns among some teachers and parents that it would siphon money from the general fund.
More recently, the teachers union and thedistrict reached an agreement on a teacher training and evaluation program that was put in place at seven schools, known as TAP.
The amended agreement met some of the union’s concerns by allowing school sites to opt out of the program with a simple majority vote of teachers and included assurances that it won’t affect the district’s general fund.
Elections will be held for two trustee areas. Lucia Mar board members are elected from four areas, depending on where they live, but are voted on by South County residents at large.
Trustee area No. 1
Three candidates are running for one seat in trustee area No. 1 covering Nipomo.
Chad Robertson, 40, is a general contractor with two businesses and also works as a paramedic supervisor for San Luis Ambulance. Robertson attended Lucia Mar schools, graduating from Arroyo Grande High in 1990, and now has two daughters at Dorothea Lange Elementary.
He thinks the board is on track with its vision but noted that “at the same time we have to understand the reality is we can’t do everything that we’d like to. Or at least we have to be financially responsible about it if we do.”
“I’m a father and a business person who has a lot of experience in people situations, and I think I can bring a lot of value to the school board,” he said.
Jeffrey Stein, 62, has lived in the South County since 1987. He teaches part-time at Cuesta College and also previously worked five years for CASA of San Luis Obispo County as an advocate for children with disabilities who are in foster care.
Stein’s wife is a teacher at Fairgrove Elementary, one of the schools where TAP was implemented.
When asked whether he thinks the program could be expanded to other schools, should funding become available, he said, “I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but the union has to have a memo of understanding with the board because it flies in the face of their contract.”
He also would like to see board meetings televised.
Derek G. Carnes, a parent and administrative assistant who is also running for the seat, could not be reached for comment.
Trustee area No. 2
Four candidates are running for one seat in trustee area No. 2, which covers Arroyo Grande and Huasna.
Edie Cajas, 67, graduated from Arroyo Grande High in 1963 and went to work for the Lucia Mar district in 1983 as a special education instructional assistant. She also served 12 years as president of the Lucia Mar chapter of the California School Employees Association.
“I see a real need in the district for a board member that can work with everybody, and I think I can do that,” she said.
She supports the programs, including New Tech High, that the district has put in place, adding: “It’s a really tough time, but we have kids going into the 21st century; we have to give them the skills to get them a job.”
Mike Fuller, 48, is a financial adviser who graduated from Arroyo Grande High in 1982 and has owned his current business for 18 years. He also served on the Arroyo Grande City Council from 1994-98.
He said in his candidate statement that he’s uniquely qualified for the seat because he’s spent countless hours advocating for his daughter, a special-needs student.
In 2006, Fuller and his wife alleged the district had denied their daughter a free and appropriate public education. That matter was resolved in a settlement agreement in 2007; but in 2010, the couple disputed the way the district planned to transition their daughter back to school full-time.
A judge for the state Office of Administrative Hearings determined in July that the district’s plan was appropriate. Fuller said the hearing was based on an old individualized education program and the couple still wants their daughter to transition back to traditional school full-time but in a higher grade level than the district has proposed.
“They’re willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of your and my money to fight us on that,” he said, adding that he believes he would question and bring more clarity to some of the district’s financial decisions.
Fuller has until today to appeal the decision; he declined to comment on whether he will do so.
Vicki Meagher, 63, taught 38 years in the Lucia Mar district at Nipomo, Dana and Grover Heights elementary schools. She retired in June 2010, but knew she wanted to run “to be a spokesperson for the elementary student” even before she retired.
“There were a lot of cuts, and it seems like it’s easier to cut at the elementary level,” she said. “The computer techs are gone at the elementary level … music has been cut back to the sixth grade. Those are things you remember as a student.”
She wants to see computer lab assistants restored and 21st century skills expanded to the lower grades. Meagher supports the district programs, including New Tech High and TAP, and hopes such efforts can be spread across the board as much as possible.
Cathy Springford, 60, is a real estate broker who has been involved in district issues for numerous years. She has served on individual school councils and parent-teacher organizations, and served for two years on the district superintendent’s budget review committee. She currently sits on the district’s 7-11 committee, which studies whether vacant district-owned land should be declared surplus.
She unsuccessfully ran for a school board seat in 2010 and is running again “because I still feel my experience, knowledge and background will help the district.”
She supports the district programs including TAP and New Tech High, adding, “We need creative innovative programs that serve as options for our students, because all students don’t learn the same way.”
Springford thinks more needs to be done to reach out to the private sector to raise money for these and other innovative district programs. She also would like to see more students pass advanced placement exams.
Trustee area No. 4
In trustee area No. 4, covering Grover Beach, Pismo Beach and Shell Beach, incumbents Erik Howell and Dee Santos have both filed to run again. An election will not be held for their seats.
Howell is also running for a seat on the Pismo Beach City Council. Should he win there, he said he’ll resign from the school board and a replacement would be appointed.