Politics & Government

Atascadero Unified School District race centers on finances

Three candidates vying for one two-year seat on the Atascadero Unified School District’s Board of Trustees will need to address needed facilities improvements, oversee the implementation of Common Core standards and manage tight district finances.

The candidates running in the Nov. 4 general election are veterans service officer Dana M. Cummings, businessman/writer Bret Heinemann and small business owner Mary Kay Mills. 

The candidates are replacing the seat vacated by George Galvan, who resigned in May from a term that expires in 2016. 

In addition, the district has four candidates running unopposed for seats of four-year terms. They are Ray Buban, Donn Clickard, George Dodge and Tami Gunther.

The district has an operating budget of about $40 million a year. But the district has been particularly concerned with special education costs as $4 million was taken last year from the general fund to cover expenses related to those needs. Frugal spending has helped the district operate within its means, Galvan said. 

“We’ve been smart enough to know we can’t spend money we don’t have,” he said. 

Cummings said that an important component of the budget will be getting voters to approve a school facilities improvement bond measure on the same ballot. 

The measure asks voters to reauthorize $58 million in general obligation bonds in order to complete major upgrades at 10 schools. 

“Getting the Measure I-10 bond reauthorized will save the district millions in interest,” Cummings said. 

Cummings also wants to make sure students who are low-income, in foster care, and use English as a second language — who make up nearly half of the district — are getting “the support they need to be successful in their education.” 

He also supports bolstering opportunities for students to participate in dance, music, drama, painting and literary programs.

“I have three children who will be going to the school in the district until 2030,” Cummings said. “I have a vested interest.” 

Mills — who has three children in the district and a fourth who recently graduated — said getting families up to speed on core curriculum will be important moving forward. She said some families don’t have computers at home and it will be particularly important to serve those families.

Ensuring extracurricular programs such as sports, dramas, art and music remain offered to students also is a concern for Mills. 

In addition, she supports occupational programs that prepare students for local jobs, such as the wine industry.

“Every child in every school is entitled to a quality education,” Mills said. 

For Heinemann, who moved to Atascadero in 1971 and doesn’t have children attending the district, getting funding under control is a priority. He emphasizes fiscal responsibility as a key issue to help restore cuts to programs.

“One possible source of new funding would be to create an endowment to fund programs in addition to what is received from the state and national sources,” Heinemann said. “It would help insulate the district from controversy of politics, future mandates and future budget issues.”