The San Luis Coastal Unified’s board of trustees election hinged on one main issue — the current board’s controversial decision to give Superintendent Eric Prater an unorthodox $950,000 low-interest home loan from the district’s general fund.
And the race for two open spots in Trustee Area 2 covering Los Osos and Morro Bay still appears to be too close to call.
Challenger Evelyn Frame was critical in her campaign of that loan and other leadership issues relating to Prater and was the only candidate endorsed by the teacher’s union. She has picked up 26.8 percent of the vote with 100 percent of precincts reporting as of 12:43 a.m. Wednesday, narrowly trailing top vote-getter Marilyn Rodger (30.1) and Jim Quesenberry (27.4), both incumbents.
Remaining mail-in and provisional ballots still need to be counted, and Quesenberry acknowledged the race isn’t decided yet.
Frame’s campaign advocated for voters to cast their ballots for just her, rather than either of the other two candidates, saying that was Frame’s best chance to win, which drew criticism from board president Ellen Sheffer.
“I fully realize it’s the voter’s right to choose whomever they believe would be best for the job,” said Sheffer, adding “I just don’t like such tactics and don’t believe they support democracy to the fullest...”
Frame previously told The Tribune that “our highest paid employee was offered a building loan for work he should be doing and not rewarded for.”
The board argued the loan was designed to help Prater stay in the community after he considered leaving because of a high cost of housing, and for success in his role, particularly in guiding the district through the transition of significant losses in school revenue due to the impending closure of Diablo Canyon.
Frame also told The Tribune that teachers are overburdened with work and struggling to meet the demands of mandated testing.
“Teachers also are feeling they are in overdrive on district-mandated testing,” Frame said in a phone interview. “They have new curriculum, and some of their prep time is being taken away. There are a lot of teachers that would like to see changes that would be no cost to the district.”
Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Quesenberry told The Tribune the race is still too close to determine, but he’s cautiously “optimistic” because his results showed better mail-in results thus far than Frame’s.
The former teachers’ union president said that he recognizes that dissatisfaction exists among teachers over workload, and “we’re looking at any ways they can mitigate that.”
“Class sizes is an issue that is being negotiated,” Quesenberry said. “We’re staffing the schools at the agreed upon class sizes, but I realize it can be challenging.”
Quesenberry said that support and training is being provided to teachers on how to best prepare students for testing, and he still believes room for creativity exists. And he defended the board’s decision to give Prater a $950,000 home loan in 2016.
He said the loan made financial sense because the interest was earning more than it would in a county fund (2.26 percent versus 1 percent), and because Prater made concessions on his salary and willingness to stay with the district instead of seeking a potentially higher paying job elsewhere.
“I feel we’ve made the right decision,” Quesenberry said. “He is a very good superintendent.”
Quesenberry said he’d work to help usher through the project goals of Measure D facilities bond and continue to examine ways to best address budget challenges.
Kathryn Eisendrath-Rogers, a sitting board member, also criticized the tactics in endorsing only Frame, calling it “undemocratic.”
“I do not want to see our local school board elections reduced to the street fighting we see on the national level,” Eisendrath-Rogers said.
Correction: This story should have noted that the San Luis Coastal Teachers Association endorsed Evelyn Frame, but advised its union members to vote for any candidate they wished as a second choice and didn’t support voting for just one candidate.