The issue of Cayucos students’ place at Coast Union High School created a dividing line of sorts among the six candidates for school board who gathered Wednesday, Oct. 19, for a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Old Cambria Grammar School.
Spectators filled the district board room for the forum, which featured questions from the audience posed by moderator Ed Cabrera.
The event lasted a little more than 90 minutes. Incumbents Lee McFarland, seeking a two-year term, and Tiffany Silva, vying for a four-year seat on the board, were joined by Morro Bay harbor master Eric Endersby, retired educator Dennis Rightmer, software engineer Eileen Roach and music teacher/lecturer Samuel Shalhoub. All four challengers are seeking four-year terms.
Elizabeth Weatherly, who filed for election, has withdrawn from the race; write-in candidate Stephen Kniffen did not attend.
The Cayucos issue
An ad in the Oct. 20 Cambrian featured a slate of McFarland, Silva, Rightmer and Shalhoub, each of whom advocated doing as much as possible to make Coast Union High School attractive to students from Cayucos.
Some families from Cayucos have expressed a preference for having their children attend Morro Bay High School as opposed to Coast Union, a position expressed by Endersby, who said the issue was his primary reason for running.
“It really comes down to, geographically and socially, the students in Cayucos just aren’t as connected to this community as they were in the past,” he said. “The fit just doesn’t work with the students at this time.”
Roach concurred, pledging to “work together on equitable solutions for all districts involved,” calling Coast Union “not the school that the community in Cayucos necessarily wants to go to.”
Coast Unified benefits from property taxes collected in Cayucos, because that community is part of the district. In 2013, the California Department of Education declined to consider a petition from Cayucos parents to transfer their high school age students from Coast Unified to San Luis Coastal Unified.
Other candidates said Coast Unified should do as much as possible to tout its advantages to Cayucos students.
Silva, a Cayucos resident, spoke of “bridging the gap between Cayucos and Cambria.” She suggested that the district “invite kids up here to events, to go to the dances; communication really is the key in this.”
Shalhoub, the youngest candidate at 31, touted his recent experience as a former Coast Unified student and recalled welcoming Cayucos students during his years at Coast Union: “It was a great joy to have the Cayucos students come and join us,” he said, “because they added some much needed new personalities; new faces, new perspectives.”
McFarland said the district should “work with the Cayucos School District and their board, and … publicize the benefits of going to Coast Union High School as opposed to other high schools.”
Bonds and budgeting
On the issue of a potential bond to fund capital projects and utilities, Silva and Shalhoub both suggested pursuing that course, speaking in favor of letting the community decide. The other candidates at the forum advocated for a balanced approach that could tap a potential bond and general fund money.
Roach said a bond should not be used to cover utility costs and suggested greater reliance on solar power, saying that “going for a bond is not only a lot of work, but it’s a lot of money.”
Rightmer noted that some expenditures aren’t optional: “We want our kids to come to a safe school,” he said. But, he added, “You need to have a specific reason to have a bond. It takes an awful lot of work to get a bond passed.”
Endersby advocated “a combination of both” a bond and general fund money, touting “good capital planning and amortization.”
McFarland and Silva both mentioned rising costs — and declining state contributions — toward employee pensions as among the biggest budget challenges the district faces.
“The real challenge in the next few years is addressing the rising costs of STRS and PERS,” Silva said, referring to the state’s retirement programs for school employees.
On the subject of a “pass class,” which the district no longer offers, the candidates seemed to agree that it was worth considering restoring the period, although most suggested that it involve tutoring opportunities rather than an unstructured study hall.
Each candidate was asked to list his or her top three priorities if elected. Their answers were as follows:
▪ Endersby: Maintaining high achievement; achieving a balanced, sustainable budget; solving the Cayucos high school option.
▪ McFarland: Raising math scores; improving Cambria-Cayucos community relations; ensuring that teachers, staff and students are more respectful of one another.
▪ Rightmer: Identifying what’s working and what’s not; working with citizens; addressing Cayucos parents’ concerns.
▪ Roach: Addressing the Cayucos high school issues; more transparency and better community relations; improving math scores.
▪ Shalhoub: Enhancing arts, music and theater instruction; addressing transportation issues; adding more classroom materials.
▪ Silva: Adopting new textbooks; improving community relations between Cayucos and Cambria; raising math scores.