The Cambrian

Coast Unified trustee candidates face era of major changes

Voters should know it’s been an eventful few years for Coast Unified School District, to say the least. 

The candidates for two seats on the board are incumbent trustee Del Clegg of Cambria and challengers Lesli Murdoch of Cambria and Michael Foster of Cayucos. Incumbent Dianne Brooke isn’t seeking re-election.

So, what’s happened?

The district is on its third superintendent since 2013, and one of them worked part time for a year. Superintendent Vicki Schumacher took over in July.  Since longtime business manager Sharon “Cookie” Henslin and accounts clerk Sandra Paolini retired in 2012, there have been three people in the business manager position, including the current one, Annie Lachance.  Jonathan Sison is the new high school principal, and Kyle Martin began as middle school principal in 2013, respectively the third and second to hold those posts in recent years.

During those tumultuous times, the district distributed iPads for student use at the middle school and high school. Students became so skilled, they teach their techniques to teachers and other students from all over the country. The middle school won an Apple Distinguished School award in 2013 for implementation of the iPad program. 

The district also faced the loss of Cayucos high school students to schools in the San Luis Coastal School District, wrestled with a turf-

irrigation problem at the grammar school, began a transitional-kindergarten program, allowed Allied Arts Association to set up the Cambria Center for the Arts in the Old Grammar School, started negotiating to allow the construction of pickleball courts on those grounds and moved Head Start to classrooms at that location. 

So, what’s the district’s status now?

Schumacher says she sees five crucial issues for the board:

• Maintaining fiscal health.

• Focusing on professional learning to support teachers in implementing the Common Core State Standards.

• Focusing on student achievement.

• Approving a three-to-five-year Technology Plan.

• Focusing on improving facilities, such as a middle school AstroTurf field.

According to Schumacher, the district is serving slightly more than 700 students, with an average class size of 15. However, there are “bubble” grades with far more students than the norm, such as second grade this year. There are two second-grade classes with 22 students each, and a second/third combination class with 11 second-graders in it. 

There’s a similar bubble in the fifth grade, she said, adding that the increase doesn’t seem to be a trend, however, as there are fewer students in other grammar school grades.

The district has 49 teachers, for a total of 115 employees who work more than two hours per day.

The district’s annual budget is about $10.6 million dollars. Total estimated annual salaries are more than $6.6 million; add in benefits, and that figure rises to more than $8.6 million. 

Trustees answered the following questions from The Cambrian:

1 . Why are you running for the office? Challengers, why do you think you’ll be good at the job? Incumbents, why do you think you are a good trustee?

Clegg: I am honored to be a part of one of the best school districts in the state.  We have accomplished so much during these challenging years of our state’s Great Recession. We have improved student test scores, started a pre-kindergarten program and received special national recognition from Apple and others for our “iPad for All” student program.  I am also proud that our district settled our long-term lawsuit over issues at our elementary school site, receiving over a million dollars. We have weathered the storm, and I look forward to our prospects of providing a world-class education to all of our students.

Foster: It is my experience as a manager and as a director of a governing board (Cayucos Sanitary District) that qualifies me for the office. My knowledge of finance and my evidence-based decision-making ability are additional strengths. Our community has great schools. I want keep them that way, and maybe make them better.

Murdoch: I want to help ensure our children receive the education they need for their and our future. As a former employee of the school district, I feel I have a unique insight that will be beneficial to the school board. 

2. How would you solve the issue of Cayucos students who want to attend high school in another district?

Clegg: For the record, our district has consistently approved transfer requests. I personally participated in negotiations with San Luis Coastal in our attempt to come up with a solution to this issue. This is a very complex problem with so many issues involved. We are still exploring ideas.

Most people identify with their new schools before moving to a new town. We have had the same school relationship of Cayucos students coming to Cambria’s high school for over 80 years.  

Foster: Cayucos parents should be able to select the high school best suited for their student and family circumstance, as has been happening for a long time. The larger issues should be decided by community vote.

Murdoch: By showing the parents and the students that the opportunity for a better quality education is at Coast Union. I would also see to it that we continue offering transportation solutions, which we do already.

3. The district provides iPads in the classrooms. What other specific steps should the district take to improve students’ technological savvy?

Clegg: I am very happy that our district has received so many accolades. Our students have presented at educational seminars at the state level and given presentations to visiting school districts from our county, our state and as far away as Australia. Yes, it’s true. Our Santa Lucia Junior High also received the prestigious Apple school award, only given to 15 schools and colleges across the United States. We have a fully functioning tech committee in our district, and they are working hard with the support of our board, mapping out our future steps. I look for great things to come.

Foster: This is an educator question. As a trustee, my philosophy is to hire great teachers and give them more autonomy to develop solutions to questions such as this. Below are some of my thoughts, but I would certainly be open to other ideas.

An iPad is a toy, it is not a computer. Reading a textbook from a screen rather from a textbook does not increase one’s technical savvy. 

Here’s what would increase kid’s “savvy”:

• Arrange a field trip to Google (or other) campus for groups from the middle school to hang out with a programmer and see how they spend their day — and let them see a connection between their studies and the cool job the 25-year-old making $300k is doing 

150 miles to the north.

• Introduce a coding curriculum into CUSD.

• Expand curricula in early years that makes learning joyful, and strengthens mathematics in later years, such as music and dance, foreign language and chess.

• Assign collaborative research projects in later years that would require online information sharing.

Murdoch: By providing our students with the educational opportunities via curriculum and projects to prepare them for their future in a technology-based world.

4. What are the district’s strongest and weakest points?

Clegg: Our district’s strength has several components. First, the staff of our district from top to bottom is the best. We have some of the most caring, talented and dedicated people any district could ever hope to have.  Second, our parents really care about the best education for their children. And last on my short list is that we live in the best area in the world, and the support and participation of our community is unbelievable. Maybe the weakest point is that we are in a rural area with a small enrollment, and we have to stretch everything and cover all the bases. Challenging, yes, but our stakeholders make it work.

Foster: CUSD strengths are its financial position; of the 1,000 school districts in California, it ranks ninth in wealth. Another strength is the low achievement gap among all of the students in the district.

CUSD weaknesses: Not enough of the resources are directed to the classroom. There is way too much money spent on overhead, facilities and administration, some of which is under investigation by the SLO County grand jury. Too many resource decisions appear to be made “top down” rather than from the classroom up.

Murdoch: Our strongest point, in my opinion, is that we have a very successful academic program and a high graduation rate. Our students are well-prepared to move to the next step in their education.

Where we can improve, in my opinion, is to offer more hands-on educational opportunities, possibly by re-introducing industrial arts, home economics and life-skills courses in our schools’ curriculum.


Del Clegg

Age: 58

Birthplace: Santa Paula

Moved to Cambria: 1980, after growing up in San Luis Obispo.

Education: San Luis Obispo High School graduate, attended Cuesta College, took many career-enhancement classes pertaining to all aspects of business ownership.

Employment: Grocery industry since 1971, working as a box boy after school and on weekends. 1976, worked for Scolari’s (was youngest fully certified clerk at that time, received many industry awards). 1979, back in Cambria store, eventually becoming manager, partner and CEO in 1986 of Cookie Crock Markets, which at one point employed more than 200 people.

Hobbies: School board member since being appointed in September 2007; other associations in which he currently holds office; also certified scuba diver and multi-engine, instrument-rated pilot.

Michael Foster

Age: 65

Birthplace: Arlington, Va.

Moved to county: 2003, to San Luis Obispo from Portland, Ore. Lives in Cayucos. 

Education: Bachelor of fine arts from UCLA, 1971 (painting).

Employment: First job, bridge tender, Portland, Ore. Certified public accountant since 1979.

Hobbies: Photography.

Lesli Murdoch

Age: 56

Birthplace: San Fernando

Moved to Cambria: 1989

Education: Graduated from Chatsworth High School, Chatsworth.

Employment: First job in a Chatsworth doughnut shop, then at her family’s print shop. Worked at Cookie Crock, then for Alexander Stationers. Retired from Coast Unified School District after 13-plus years as a “lunch lady.” Currently bartending for American Legion Post No. 432. 

Hobbies: Camping, traveling, entertaining, cooking and baking, entering pie contests with 7-year-old grandson, going to movies ... “always up for an adventure.”