Shrinking school budgets and a long slate of school improvement projects are among the issues facing Atascadero Unified School District Board of Trustees candidates this election season.
Of the four candidates running for three board member seats, three are incumbents with deep roots in the community.
The other, a relatively recent transplant to Atascadero, is the only candidate to currently have a child in the Atascadero school system. His opponents are all parents of district graduates.
Here’s a look at the four candidates:
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As cofounder and executive director of Association of Amputee Surfers, or AmpSurf, Dana Cummings has plenty of experience balancing budgets, coordinating volunteers and solving problems.
“I took it from a really small nonprofit to a national program,” said Cummings, whose organization teaches people with disabilities how to surf. The county veterans services officer credits his two tours of duty in the U.S Marine Corps with teaching him how to “make decisions on the fly.”
An Atascadero resident since 2004, Cummings said he’s concerned budget cuts will force the district to shave days off the school year.
“There has to be a way that we can maintain that same level of education and maintain our school year,” said the candidate, whose 8-year-old daughter attends Santa Margarita Elementary School.
He proposes bringing in student teachers from Cuesta College and Cal Poly. Another idea involves instituting split-grade classrooms so multiple instructors can teach to their strengths.
“I’ve always been a believer that change is good,” Cummings said. “New blood … brings fresh ideas, a fresh way of looking at things.”
As a former Marine, George Galvan considers it his patriotic duty to serve on the Atascadero school board.
“As Americans, we owe our community and our country,” said Galvan, whose extensive background in law enforcement includes stints with the county Sheriff’s Office and Atascadero State Hospital. “We should do something to pay (them) back … for what they’ve done for us.”
The longtime Atascadero resident and father of two said he’s seen big changes during his 12 years on the school board, including significant improvements in student test scores and a stronger relationship between board members and district staffers. He’s also witnessed painful cuts to several school programs.
“The big gorilla in the room is what happens with the tax initiatives,” said Galvan, referring to Propositions 30 and 38, which would both temporarily raise personal income taxes to fund education. “If either one fails, we’re going to see some significant cuts in the school year.”
Corinne Kuhnle, who joined the school board in 2000, sees students as Atascadero Unified’s primary stakeholders. Her four children are among the district’s graduates.
Although Kuhnle said the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee has given the entire district a say on how funds are spent, she worries that certain programs remain in danger.
“We need the ABCs of academics,” she said, but the district also needs to offer extracurricular activities such as sports, music and drama to keep students engaged.
Kuhnle also believes board members should take care in distributing the $117 million school improvement bond measure passed by local voters in November 2010.
“When you apply that districtwide for every school site, that money starts to go away very fast,” said Kuhnle, who’s helped operate a family ranch in Carissa Plains for 38 years. “It’s just critical that we stay within our budget.”
Terri E. Switzer
An Atascadero school board member for 10 years, Terri E. Switzer prides herself as the voice of the average Joe.
“I represent … the average person who sends their kids off to school and tries to do the best they can,” said the San Luis Obispo County native, who has worked as a bookkeeper at Joel Switzer Diesel Repair in Santa Margarita for about three decades.
All three of her children attended Atascadero schools.
“The biggest challenge that we have as a district is making ends meet with less and less and less,” Switzer said, which brought about layoffs, furloughs and other cuts. “We’ve been able to keep a lot of our staff and our programs, and that has been our goal.”
Although she anticipates more tough decisions in the future, Switzer remains confident about the ability of board members, staffers and teachers to rise to the occasion.
“They’re willing to do what needs to be done to keep the doors open,” she said.