School boards on the North Coast runneth over with candidates

Each of the five North Coast school board incumbents whose seats are up for election Tuesday want to keep their jobs, but there are an equal number of challengers who want to take over positions.

That’s unusual.

This will be the first contested Cayucos Elementary School District race since 1992, and in most recent Coast Unified School District elections until the one in 2008, there had been barely enough candidates (including incumbents running again) to fill available seats.

Depending on how the elections go, the new boards also could include a husband-and-wife team. Gretchen Ross of Cayucos is running for the Coast Unified board, and her husband, retired certified public accountant Michael Foster, is seeking a seat in Cayucos. Their children are 8 and 10 years old.

This year, Cayucos is sending 28 high school students to Coast Union, which is how the districts are supposed to work. However, Ross estimates there are as many as 80 high schoolers in Cayucos, and the others choose to attend Morro Bay High School or another campus.

In both districts, whichever candidates win will face daunting financial prospects, although Coast and Cayucos have so far weathered the state’s fiscal storm without having to lay off teachers or make drastic cuts to classes or services. Both districts offer art, music and other elective classes, and each district still provides bus transportation for students.

Both districts report good API scores and healthy reserve balances in the bank.

Coast Unified

The Coast Unified district includes Cambria Grammar School, Santa Lucia Middle School, Coast Union and Leffingwell high schools and Cambria Community Day School.

This year, there are 764 students in the district (up from 755 last year), about 60 teachers and five counselors (two full-time). The district has a $10.8 million budget.

Running for re-election are two-term incumbent Dianne Brooke and Del Clegg, who has been on the board since being appointed in 2007 and again in 2008. Challenging them are Ross and businessman Lee Chamberlain of Cambria.

Two issues have attracted a lot of public discussion and disagreement in the past couple of years. One was the possibility of random drug testing for students participating in sports and certain competitive extra curricular activities; while it wasn’t approved, a stricter code of conduct for those students was adopted. The other topic of note is the cutting-edge, subterranean-reservoir irrigation system for field grass at the new grammar school, a system that didn’t work at first and still isn’t working as expected.

Cayucos Elementary

The Cayucos district consists of a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school that has about 215 students.

The district’s 2010-11 budget is $2.4 million, with projected expenses of $2.37 million. Staff includes a dozen full-time teachers and a dozen full-time classified employees, plus five part-timers (two of them teachers).

The candidates are: incumbents Cathy Launchbaugh, Ginger Ortiz and Ron Wilson. The challengers are Foster, contractor Dan Chivens and college chemistry lecturer Kerry Friend.

Nobody filed to run against a fourth incumbent candidate, emergency-medicine physician Eric Jacobsen, appointed in January to replace Robert Schwennicke, who resigned. Jacobsen will be appointed in lieu of election to fill out the remaining two years of the term.