Templeton school board hopefuls focus on future

Keeping state budget cuts out of the classroom, finding ways to reinstate home-to-school busing and selecting a new superintendent were top-of-mind for the three candidates at a Templeton Unified School District Board of Trustees election forum Thursday night.

Attending were incumbent David La Rue, office manager Lisa Hammond and physician Nelson Yamagata. The fourth candidate for two available seats, business owner Mark Stickley, didn’t attend. He told forum organizers that he no longer plans to run. Calls to Stickley were not immediately returned.

Students from Templeton High School’s government class helped moderate the event, which drew nearly 150 people to Vineyard Elementary School. The district hosted the forum.

Organizers urged attendees to be respectful, saying the event was not a debate. At least one person in the audience wanted to ask a question specific to La Rue, who was recently centered in controversy, but wasn’t allowed. This summer, an investigation cleared the 16-year incumbent board member of violating the Brown Act open-meeting law, and his fellow trustees unanimously voted to keep him on the school board.

The incident followed a 2009 objection La Rue had to mandating viewing in classrooms of a nationally televised speech by President Barack Obama on education. La Rue’s objection caused a stir within the school community and ultimately led to making the speech optional.

On Thursday, the candidates remained focused on the future — fielding nearly 20 questions, including many on the district budget.

The 2010-11 school year budget will be about $1 million less than last year’s budget, which was slashed about $1.7 million from the year before, to about $18 million.

The trio agreed that busing needs to be addressed — with perhaps a combination of charging parents for rides or using community donations.

Hammond also said she would work to reinstate the now-cut home economics classes, boost FFA livestock programs and focus on collaborating to bring new technology into the classrooms.

“Our kids are new creators and innovators,” she said, adding that advancing STEM education programs in science, technology, engineering and math is key.

La Rue said his long-term school board experience has given him keen knowledge of budgets and that the district needs to continue its diverse course offerings to boost enrollment, which drives revenue.

“We need to protect the revenue we have and find innovative ideas to create new revenue,” he said.

Yamagata would work to expand foreign language offerings and boost athletics and the arts so every child finds a niche.

“As we go through the budget, (I’ll) try not to cut down to one pathway,” he said.