Seven candidates have filed to run for four seats on the Coast Unified School District Board of Trustees, including two incumbents who were appointed to replace departing board members.
Lee McFarland was appointed in June 2015 to fill out the term of Lesli Murdoch, who resigned in April of that year after winning the seat in 2014. Tiffany Silva of Cayucos was appointed in August 2015 to replace Judith Hillen, who moved out of the area after serving for three years on the board. Both McFarland and Silva are running to retain their seats. Two other trustees, Sue Nash and Cindy Fratto, declined to run for re-election, creating a total of four vacancies being sought by six candidates.
The other candidates actively campaigning for a seat on the board are Eric Endersby, Dennis Rightmer, Eileen Roach and Samuel Shalhoub. Elizabeth Weatherly also filed to run for a board seat, and her name will appear on the ballot, but she announced in an email to The Cambrian dated Oct. 6 that she was suspending her campaign.
“Due to the cruel and relentless retaliatory actions taken against my children and me, I have been advised to suspend my campaign for Coast USD school board,” her emailed statement read. “It is my hope that the new board chooses to represent the public they are appointed/elected to represent instead of their own best interests.”
The Cambrian emailed five questions to each of the candidates and received responses from all six who remain active in the race. Following are their responses to those questions:
1) Why are you running for office? What skills and experience would you add to the board? If you are a challenger, why do you think you’ll be a good director? If you are an incumbent, why do you think you are a good board member and should retain your seat on the board?
Eric Endersby: I believe I can make a difference and work together with my fellow board members, district staff and the community to address the myriad issues and challenges facing our students, district and communities. Having worked more than 20 years in local government for the city of Morro Bay Harbor Department, as a challenger I feel I bring a unique and fresh perspective, set of skills and experience to the table, including those in operations, public safety, management, executive and political areas.
Lee McFarland: As an incumbent, I feel that with my newly gained experience, I can approach issues with a background that allows me to see the large picture of the entire school district and the impact that an issue’s resolution could have on the entire district community. I analyze all issues by looking at all of the data presented and use this data to make an educated decision.
Dennis Rightmer: I belong to one of the local service clubs in Cambria, and our main motto is “Service Above Self.” When I chose to become a teacher 50 years ago, I knew that there were other fields that would be more financially rewarding; however, teaching was the path I took, “serving others above self-financial gratification.” When I was asked by members of the community to run for the CUSD school board, I felt honored and look forward to representing Cambria in this endeavor. I can bring an educator’s experience and understanding of education to the board. The only agenda I would bring to the board is to direct what is best for student learning in Cambria.
Eileen Roach: I am a woman in technology with many years working in public education. I have attended school board meetings for many years and have seen the roles and responsibilities in action. I want to be involved in the education of the children in our community. I understand that each school district has unique and changing needs, often requiring creative solutions. I would be an asset in collaboratively setting the vision and goals for the district.
Samuel Shalhoub: I believe that a well-governed public education system is the backbone of a healthy community, a vibrant local culture and a cooperative society at large. I am equipped with a wide gamut of skills that will add to the board, including my experiences within the CUSD system, CSU system and UC system. As a post-graduate, I have taught large music ensembles and worked one-on-one with students from every socioeconomic background, enabling me to have an empathetic view of the challenges that students face on a daily basis.
Tiffany Silva: I feel it is very important to have Cayucos representation on the school board, and I’m pleased to currently be that representation. My husband and I both attended Cayucos Elementary and Coast Union High School, as well as both of our daughters. Coast Union provided a quality education for our children while maintaining the small-school atmosphere. We are longtime supporters of the Coast Unified and its programs. As an incumbent, I have a strong commitment to the education of the children in this community. My primary goal is to continue to provide the quality education that this district offers.
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2) District budgets are going to be tighter in the future because of increased contributions to state pension funds. What specific steps would you take to address this challenge? Would you suggest any specific cuts to programs?
Endersby: Increasing pension funds are not the only financial challenge we are facing. Increased costs of simply doing business, capital projects and regulatory compliance, to name a few, all must be met with a reasoned and logical approach. Cuts to our students’ educational, vocational or sports programs should only be considered as a very last resort. As district trustees, it is our responsibility to accurately predict and grow our revenues and know our available funds, set and prioritize our goals and objectives, and budget against those goals and objectives accordingly. Continued pension reform, while fairly and equitably compensating our employees through amicable and agreeable negotiation, is a must. The employees and their compensation packages are not the villains they are so often made out to be.
McFarland: The board and the district as a whole must closely watch all expenditures and assess their needs and their benefits. The expenditures must be allocated such that the benefit to the students is primary in all decisions, because these expenditures will have the most direct effect on the students.
Rightmer: One of the biggest priorities as a school board member is to work with the superintendent and the district office on the district budget. The monies allocated by the state are often out of the district’s control, for instance, monies for staff and their pensions. The district then needs to focus on the budget items it does control. Realizing that not all students that walk through the school door have the same needs, the school board with district will then need to prioritize those financial challenges. I would want to look at the success of all programs and use data to assure their effectiveness.
Roach: The budget can be modified using several methods. As teachers and staff retire, hiring fewer tenured teachers creates a decrease in costs. Second, the amount of management positions were increased within the past five years. With only three school sites, these can be modified to create savings as well. The student population is decreasing rather than being on the rise. I would not support cuts to programs. I would look for creative ways to promote growing the arts, humanities and technology, while looking for areas that are either redundant or unnecessary for direct student benefit and instruction.
Shalhoub: I will endeavor to take steps toward engaging our local community businesses and leaders, state and federal government in order to secure funds for our district with the expressed purpose of supporting valuable, highly qualified faculty and staff, and providing financial aid to our students who are at greatest risk. I believe that cutting programs from our schools is only to be proposed as an absolute last resort and enacted with the most careful touch.
Silva: In the coming years, the challenge is going to be to address the rising costs of PERS/STRS. It will need to be a team effort to find innovative ways to maintain a balanced budget. Recently the district has had large one-time expenditures such as the new field at Santa Lucia, new portables, upgrades to the Ag Department at Coast Union and the purchase of new Chromebooks. These expenditures were needed and overdue. We need to continue to plan and look at long-term goals.
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3) What programs would you suggest to improve academic performance, both for the student population at large and for English language learners?
Endersby: The “College and Career Pathways” programs are a great option to gain CSU/UC-approved education, in addition to training that is vocational in nature. Opening opportunities for additional vocational or apprenticeship courses and programs for those not necessarily college-bound should be explored. Increased advanced placement and honors courses should be implemented, and for our ESL students, programs and policies that best integrate those students into all these opportunities must be a priority.
McFarland: The present program using tutors (retired individuals) should be enhanced by adding Cal Poly engineering students as tutors to help the students having difficulty with math and science. In the language arts, the improvements must be made in the areas of understanding word problems and putting into practice logical solution methods to problems. The school district is also using professors from Cuesta College to help improve their teaching methods and content; this should be continued. The benefits from this program can be confirmed by analyzing the results of the state standard testing.
Rightmer: Student learning is the priority. Policies and resources of the district need to be targeted to promote achievement for all students. School practices, which have their base in policy, should have a pinpoint focus on high standards, a rigorous curriculum and high-quality teachers. Issues a school board must consider are evaluated against the contribution toward student learning, promoting successful graduates prepared for and qualified for a career or higher education.
Roach: I would continue addressing the response to intervention programs already in place. They seem to be working nicely. I would support higher-level math and technology course options for students. English learners would benefit from these, and growing humanities programs would also assist in the acquisition of the English language. It seems there has been discourse regarding failing math grades and concern here. I would focus on providing additional resources for mathematics to bridge the gap for our students.
Shalhoub: Programs I would suggest diversifying: language arts and fine arts, music, theater, dance, photography, natural history, social science, sports, recreation and counseling. I would support introducing students to trades like carpentry, architecture, welding, agriculture, computer and auto repair, and creative technologies like audio/video, machine language and graphic design. These programs could be tailored to various age groups and implemented across our campuses, giving our students a variety of mechanisms that aid self-expression and the positive development of identity. Having these types of enhanced programs will translate to better academic performance in English, mathematics and science courses because they will improve communication across peer groups, and encourage the appreciation of knowledge and the fostering of curiosity. Each student is an individual and must be treated as such, and similarly, an open line of communication with parents and guardians goes a long way toward helping those students who struggle with workload, socialization, and growing up.
Silva: Our year-to-year comparison testing results rank us best in the county. This shows that our current programs in place are working and very successful. Our teacher mentoring program is showing it is an effective tool. I am very excited about the college and career pathways. This allows students the exposure to wider areas of learning. Students will be better prepared for college and for their future careers.
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4) If you’re elected, what would you add to or delete from the board’s current goals and objectives? Why?
Endersby: If elected, I would seek to add a goal with appropriate objectives to solve, in a fair, equitable, cooperative and transparent manner, the high school option issue with our Cayucos students. I feel the residents of Cambria and the Coast district don’t fully understand or appreciate the dilemma Cayucos’ students face with their district high school being in a community they are not connected to geographically, socially, or with sports, is generally in the opposite and distant direction of their parents’ places of work, is via a highway that is dangerous for them to learn to drive on, and just does not make sense for them to attend anymore, as evidenced by the near zero attendance at Coast of every graduating eighth-grade class from Cayucos in recent years. We must find a solution to the issue of the funding not following the students to their places of attendance.
McFarland: I do not believe that any of the present goals should be deleted, but they should be enhanced to more clearly detail the methods that will be improved and the expected results clearly defined. A focus on curriculum improvement should be continued to ensure that Coast Unified will be the district of choice for students and parents in the county.
Rightmer: A goal is an overarching principle that guides decision making. Objectives are specific, measurable steps that can be taken to meet the goal. I have read the Coast Unified School District’s goals and objectives, adopted in 2010. If I have the privilege to serve on the CUSD board, I would like to compare the goals and objectives to the data that would support them, ensuring that they are being met.
Roach: I think it is imperative to our children to find a solution to the high school option. I think it is important that the Cambria community gets informed regarding the high school issue, and works toward a fair and equitable solution that is in the best interests of all our children. We also need to address the issue of students struggling in math and support our English learners.
Shalhoub: I would delete nothing from the board’s current goals, as they are well thought out and worthy of pursuit. To truly make good on the goals and objectives that have been heretofore created would be tantamount to climbing a mountain, and I believe we are well on our way, one step, one breath, one student at a time.
Silva: I would continue to support and enhance the programs that are in place. Last year we had 48 graduates and distributed $110,000 in scholarship funds. That is $2,291 per graduate. In comparison, Morro Bay High School had 186 graduates and distributed $135,000 in funds. That is $725 per graduate. We know that all graduates didn’t apply for scholarships at Coast Union, but those who did did well. We have very generous supporters within our communities who value our children and their education.
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5) Name one decision the board made in the past year that you dislike, why you dislike it and what you would have done instead.
Endersby: I believe the unilateral approval by the Coast board in 2015 of a memorandum of understanding with San Luis Coastal Unified School District for a solution to the Cayucos high school option issue, while a noble endeavor, was not done in a transparent manner and with the San Luis Coastal staff and board involved. It should have been done with the full and public involvement of the San Luis Coastal staff and board, as well as with Cayucos’ board, staff and parents.
McFarland: There are issues that, because of their sensitive nature and legal constraints, cannot be discussed in public. As a nonpartisan organization, we must present a consensus opinion in public.
Rightmer: My wife, a teacher for 40 years, and I have lived full-time in Cambria for almost seven years now. We have witnessed changes in administration. I would like to look into the district’s history of turnover in those positions. The best goals and objectives can only be achieved with strong, consistent, educated and data-driven leadership.
Roach: One controversial decision the board has made recently was to create two new Career Technical Education courses that were IT-related (IT Essentials and Cyber Security). I applaud this decision. It is important to keep in mind that these are elective courses, and these types of elective courses keep students engaged at the same time as learning a technical skill that is in high demand.
Shalhoub: The cost of the new plastic-turf field at Santa Lucia Middle School seemed quite high, and given the potential health hazards of the materials from which it is made, I would have been highly critical of its approval. However, I do recognize the benefit of rehabilitating the field with our students’ safety in mind. I would have rather seen the money applied, though, toward obtaining books and materials for students who do not have viable access to the internet, to purchasing extra materials for science and art classes for experiments and projects, and subsidizing the cost of repairing the musical instruments that our district owns and potentially buying new ones.
Silva: As a current board member, I’m bringing my ideas and opinions to the table. As a board in whole we vote, and by protocol support the majority vote. The board, district staff and volunteers are doing a great job for the community and student population. I look forward to serving my communities for another term in office.
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Years on North Coast: 31 years in Cayucos and Morro Bay, primarily Cayucos.
Education: Vocational/trade training and certification in aircraft maintenance, repair and inspection; attendance at Saddleback and Cuesta Community Colleges in General Education; and attendance at Cal Poly SLO in Aeronautical Engineering.
Employment: Harbor Master/Harbor Director for the City of Morro Bay.
Civic Involvement: Active staff participant in Morro Bay City Council and Harbor Advisory Board proceedings, active parent and family participation in Cayucos Elementary school, past Morro Bay Rotary club member, President – Morro Bay Community Quota Fund (commercial fishing coop).
Hobbies: Travel, camping, wood and metal working, rock hounding, reading, ocean fishing.
Birthplace: San Francisco
Years in Cambria: 18
Education: BS Electrical Engineering: UC Davis (1966); MSE Industrial Engineering, Cal Poly (2003)
Family: Wife, Linda; three children; three grandchildren
Employment: Westinghouse Defense and Space, seven-plus years, field and test engineer on airborne radar systems; Burroughs Corp., seven-plus years, product engineer on large computer system disk drives; 3M Co., 17-plus years, manufacturing engineering specialist; Cal Poly, lecturer in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering departments
Civic involvement: Appointed Incumbent, CUSD board, one year; Cambria Oktoberfest Committee board member for seven years, chair for five years, raised funds for three local charities each year; Piedras Blancas Light Station volunteer staff and assistant guide, four years
Hobbies: Woodworking, photography, camping, traveling throughout the USA by car, helping neighbors with home fix-it problems
Years in Cambria: 7
Education: BA , MA+
Employment: Teacher/school administrator
Civil involvement: Member, Rotary Club of Cambria; past board member, Cambria Historic Society; Cambria Chamber of Commerce and local food bank volunteer; requested to participate in Paso Robles High School government public forum on housing issues
Hobbies: Enjoying family and friends, especially grandkids; traveling; gardening; walking; hiking Central Coast trails; reading, particularly historical genre; playing the stock market
Years in District: 8
Education: Bachelor of Science, computer science, Cal State Fullerton, 1990
Employment: Software Engineer at Cal Poly
Civic involvement: Regular attendee at community and school board meetings; past PTA treasurer and board member
Hobbies: Beaching, hiking, camping.
Years in Cambria: 22
Education: Master of Art in music, UC Santa Cruz
Employment: Associate lecturer and staff member, UCSC Music Department; private music teacher, performer.
Civic involvement: Volunteered with “Food Not Bombs” in Berkeley and Santa Cruz; canvassed against GMOs in SLO County
Hobbies: Gardening; cooking; inventing; arts and crafts; reading; writing; composing music; spending time with family and friends; reveling in nature
Years in Cayucos: 42
Education: Cayucos Elementary; Coast Union High School; Cuesta College, general education
Employment: Office manager/service writer at Nelson’s Garage in Cayucos
Civic involvement: Current “Honorary Mayor of Cayucos”; past Chamber of Commerce president; past PTA president; member, Cayucos Lioness
Hobbies: Hiking, photography, cooking, traveling and spending time with my family