ENDORSEMENTS 05: District and School Board
VOTE NOV. 8, 2005
Thursday, November 3, 2005
MONTEREY PENINSULA WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT
Four years ago, Lehman ousted then-director Ron Chesshire from his seat on the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. During her tenure, Lehman has promoted conservation and water projects that will stop the illegal over-pumping of the Carmel River. She promoted the completion of the Seaside Basin aquifer storage and recovery program, which pumps excess winter water from the Carmel River into the aquifer so that it can be used during dry summer months. She also supports the water district’s plan for a Sand City desalination plant—which has now been put on hold—and she wants to see increased wastewater recycling programs.
Her opponent opposes Measure W and still doesn’t believe that the idea of a dam on the Carmel River is dead. Chesshire would also tip the water district in a staunchly pro-development direction, which would be dangerous considering the sad state of the Carmel River and the overdrafted Seaside Basin.
As the Peninsula looks ahead, towards a real water supply solution, we need real leadership. We strongly endorse Lehman.
CASTROVILLE WATER DISTRICT
By all accounts, the Castroville Water District continues to run with expert efficiency under the direction of longtime incumbent board members. David Pecci and Silvio Bernardi have continued to help maintain sound fiscal policies while providing clean, safe water. They have also worked to prepare the water district for ongoing community growth.
The Weekly sees no reason to make a change. Although challenger and local plumber Jerome “Jerry” McCready should be applauded for his diligent efforts to join the board, he is the victim of that old axiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Nonetheless, according to general manager Eric Tynan,
McCready is a “great guy” who works well with the board.
McCready currently sits on the County Service Area 14 board,
which manages the community’s sewer and storm drain
responsibilities. The two boards work closely together.
“Everybody’s real happy with us so we’re hoping to keep it
that way,” Tynan says.
NORTH COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT
The North County Fire Protection District race provides the same storyline as the Castroville Water District race with some of the same cast of characters, including challenger, local plumber Jerome “Jerry” McCready. A lack of issues and the overwhelming approval rating of current North County Fire Protection District board members have left McCready out in the cold once again. As a result, the Weekly endorses incumbents Don Champion, Frank Balesteri and Silvio Bernardi—three men who, by all accounts, haven’t given voters any reason to make a change.
HARTNELL COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT | TRUSTEE AREA 5
Aurelio Salazar, Jr.
We’re been waiting a long time for this. Finally, Aurelio Salazar, Jr. is running for elected office. Describing Salazar as active or involved in the community would be an understatement. He currently serves on the Monterey County Planning Commission; works a day job at Sunstreet Center in Salinas, where he coordinates the Safe Teens Empowerment Program, which aims to reduce alcohol-related car crashes and injuries; and on weekends, he volunteers as a graffiti buster, cleaning up city walls with Neighbors United, a Salinas nonprofit outreach program. He also finds time to attend Hartnell Board of Trustee meetings. During the past four years, he says he’s attended more than half, which is more than the combined attendance of his two opponents.
None of this is unusual for Salazar. He’s maintained this level of participation since ‘92, when he enrolled at Hartnell. During his last year at the college, he served as student body president and was elected to board of trustees. We say send him back.
He’s in tune with the issues facing Hartnell, such as a likely search to replace embattled Hartnell President Ed Valeau (his contact is set to expire in 2008, and he has hinted he might resign earlier), and declining enrollment. Earlier this year, Salazar traveled to Sacramento with a busload of Hartnell students to protest the governor’s fee increases. Salazar says he would like to create a sort of “one-stop center” where students can access information about AA degree requirements, financial aid, career guidance and transferring to a four-year school. The Weekly believes Salazar has the right vision and the practical knowledge of Hartnell to get the job done.
HARTNELL COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT | TRUSTEE AREA 7
Brad Rice lists his top three priorities as maintaining fiscal stability, continuing the school’s expansion and increasing enrollment. We trust him to accomplish all three.
During his two four-year terms on the Hartnell board, Rice has promoted Measure H, the successful $131 million bond measure, currently funding building repairs and upgrades; he also lobbied for the $5 million King City facility expansion—which has been hugely successful in attracting South County students. And he helped start Hartnell’s agriculture program, which enables students to transfer to a four-year school through agreements with Fresno State, Cal Poly and UC Davis. The Weekly believes Rice deserves our vote.
As an incumbent trustee—and as general manager of Salinas Land Company, which rents land to farmers and vintners—Rice understand finances and has a firm handle on the Hartnell budget. He talks about increasing enrollment though distance learning and online learning—locally, nationally and abroad—as well as recruiting high school students and exploring partnerships with local businesses, similar to the Hartnell nursing program’s current relationship with Natividad Medical Center. Rice has got a good track record and experience, to boot.
MONTEREY PENINSULA COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT
Like many other community colleges statewide, enrollment is down at Monterey Peninsula College. In upcoming years, school officials will need to figure out why, and what to do about it. Perhaps more pressing, in upcoming months MPC trustees will also begin the search for a permanent college president to replace Kirk Avery, who retired in September.
The new board will also be trusted with continuing to oversee the $145 million bond (approved by voters in 2002) to rebuild and improve the campus, and moving forward with development on a satellite campus at Fort Ord.
Currently, Jim Tunney chairs the board of trustees. Robert Infelise, another long time trustee, also serves on the board. The current board works well together under Tunney’s leadership. They’re up to the tasks ahead and they’re not afraid of controversy or hard work.
We would like to see a more diverse board at MPC. But it’s
not worth electing Kathrina Ognyanovich for the sake of
diversity. She doesn’t work constructively in a group, and
virtually immobilized the board when she served as a trustee
between ‘97 and ‘01.
ALISAL UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT | TRUSTEE AREA 2
Test scores are up in the Alisal Union School District. Students’ scores improved by 41 points on this year’s California Academic Performance Index. In this kindergarten-through-sixth-grade district, where most of the students are English-language learners, and many come from migrant workers’ homes, that’s quite a feat.
Incumbent Gary Karnes is rightfully proud of this accomplishment, and says he wants to continue the district’s slow-yet-steady progress.
Karnes, who works as a community outreach director at LandWatch, is an eight-year veteran on the board. During his tenure on the board, he’s successfully worked to keep the district financially sound and has also helped obtain a multi-million-dollar grant from the federal government to implement the Reading First program, intended to establish comprehensive reading instruction in kindergarten through grade three.
He’s also helped build a partnership with the school district in Yuma, Ariz., where a lot of Alisal’s migrant students move in the winter months. Karnes—and the rest of the trustees—aren’t afraid to try new things when it comes to improving students’ education.
Karnes has won several key endorsements—including a nod from the Alisal Teachers Association, the California School Employees Association and the Salinas Education Council. The Weekly would like to see Karnes win another term on the board.
ALISAL UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT | TRUSTEE AREA 4
Ruiz-Gilpas has worked as a community liaison for the Salinas Union High School District for the past 13 years. As a fellow incumbent on the Alisal district board, she shares several of Karnes’ accomplishments—balancing the budget, increasing instructional time for students and planning time for teachers (through the national Reading First program), modernizing two school facilities and improving test scores.
She wants another term on the board because she wants to see these accomplishments continue. Ruiz-Gilpas is also the only woman on a board that represents a very diverse group of students and educators. We appreciate the perspective she brings to the table as a Latina. But the bottom line is she’s the most qualified candidate for the job.
Like Karnes, Ruiz-Gilpas has won the endorsement of the Alisal Teachers Association, the California School Employees Association and the Salinas Education Council, as well as endorsements from several individual educators.
Her challenger, Jesus Diaz, is a friend of former Alisal trustee José Castaneda, who was censured by the board for threatening Ruiz-Gilpas during a closed-session meeting in July. Diaz’ candidacy is intended to take votes away from Ruiz-Gilpas. Don’t fall for it. Elect Ruiz-Gilpas for another term.
CARMEL UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Four candidates vie for two spots on the CUSD school board: incumbents Dan Hightower and Howard Given, plus first-timers Richard Kreitman and Lewis Leader. All have or had children in the school district, although Hightower, a medical doctor and a 13-year member of the board (he serves as president), has been lambasted for pulling his kids out after middle school and sending them to private high schools. And Hightower’s record of attending board meetings pales when compared to Given’s. Leader, a PR consultant who’s worked as a substitute teacher with the district and helped coach JV baseball, enjoys unusually strong endorsements, including nods from Congressman Sam Farr and board members Ernie Lostrom and Given. He says the district is good, but could and should be great. It’s hard to argue with that logic—the district’s elementary schools are among the best in the state, while test scores at Carmel Middle and Carmel High are dramatically lower. (Last year only 29 percent of Carmel High seniors went on to four-year colleges.) Given, an investment adviser, an 8-year board member and past president of Carmel Youth Baseball, is noted for his high-level of involvement with the district—including attending forums for school reform. Kreitman, a financial consultant, has been pushing hard for test score improvements for years. But some worry that Kreitman’s focus on testing is too narrow—and say his attitude can be contentious. All candidates appear to be heading in the right direction, but it seems like the ideal time to pair the passion of newcomer Leader with the expertise of sitting board member Given.
GONZALES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
We like the way things seem to be ticking along in Gonzales, despite administration turnovers, including a new superintendent. Each of these candidates brings a different vision for the board, and we’re excited to see such diversity.
Well, we were almost excited about all that diversity. Right up until candidate Monica Ramirez was quoted as saying, “The focus [of schools] is on reading and math too much.” We here at the Weekly kind of like reading and math and are pleased that the current incumbents running, Wendy Franscioni and Eva Rios, have also made the fundamentals of education a top priority.
Rios is focusing on a balance between the needs of non-English-speaking students and their English-speaking counterparts. Franscioni is focusing on ensuring that buildings and equipment are up-to-date and cover students needs. Avalos is the newcomer, but we like that he’s familiar with the district, involved in Gonzales schools and fundraising with his own children, and is a product of the system he seeks to serve.
Gabriel Dominguez has lots to offer, including a desire to incorporate children’s ideas into board decisions. But at just 24, still in college and with little work experience, we’d like to see him work the area for a while before jumping into a leadership position.
MONTEREY PENINSULA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT | TRUSTEE AREA 2
In the wake of the controversy surrounding recently retired Superintendent Daniel Callahan, the relationship between the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and the parents of students has never been worse.
A large, vocal contingent of parents is asking the school district where $14 million of their tax money has gone—they claim it’s unaccounted for. While that is in question, by all accounts the district’s past is in financial confusion.
It’s similar to the financial crisis which has recently made news in Pacific Grove. Yet in PG, City Council members were quick to bring in new blood: City Manager Jim Colangelo, someone who didn’t hesitate to immediately call for an independent forensic audit in order to clear up the mess left by his predecessor. The Weekly believes that it’s imperative that this election brings in individuals willing to clean house at MPUSD. Because of this, the Weekly endorses Resa Foss, whose primary platform is fiscal accountability. Her political philosophy calls for a move forward to a positive future where the school board works in partnership with parents, community, teachers and support staff. “A school board must set an example of respect, diligence, and teamwork and be open and accountable in their financial and educational decisions,” Foss says.
The Weekly offers no endorsement for the second
MONTEREY PENINSULA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT |TRUSTEE AREA 3
Richard Grahlman is against a forensic audit to help account for what appears to be a lot of missing money. School district parents say they don’t trust him and have even accused him of recently taking credit for all of their fundraising efforts.
Grahlman remains closely aligned with former superintendent Callahan, which isn’t the direction that we believe the board should be headed.
The Weekly endorses Regena Lauterbach, who fully
supports a forensic audit of MPUSD’s finances. Granted,
Lauterbach is an incumbent and the current situation has
developed under her watch. But by supporting the audit,
Lauterbach has made it clear that her top priority continues
to be that the budget is continually monitored to ensure
district solvency. She believes that board actions must be
based on an understanding of educational programs and how they
relate to the budgetary issues.
SALINAS UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT | TRUSTEE AREA 1
Until Robert Ocampo decided to run, long-time incumbent Jim Reavis had planned to politely excuse himself from the table, push in his well-worn seat on the board, and call it a day after three decades of service. We applauded the move. His dedication to the position has always impressed us, though we may have wrinkled our noses at his politics from time to time.
Nevertheless, the spry 74-year-old did outlast the best of the best and made some good changes.
But then the usual politics of the school board came into play, when board member Sandra Villarreal-Ocampo’s son Robert decided to run against Reavis. There’s no love lost between Reavis and his opponent’s mother. But while Reavis expressed concern about the integrity of the board, should mother and son both serve as seated members—which would concern us too—we can’t help but think Reavis’ decision is more anyone-but-Ocampo syndrome.
We’re burnt out on the he said/she said and just want
effective leadership. Ocampo, also the son of Salinas City
Councilman Robert Ocampo, is young and a little inexperienced
for our usual taste. But we’re willing to jump out on a limb
SALINAS UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT | TRUSTEE AREA 5
The district has been plagued by finger-pointing, accusations of racism, and utterly divided for far too long. The board at times seems more interested in grandstanding and casting aspersions on one another than solving serious district problems: drop-out rates, mediocre test scores, staffing and tight budgets.
While we commend the work that incumbent Sandra Villarreal-Ocampo has done, we’re wondering how effective she can continue to be with such an abysmal attendance record—she missed nearly 30 percent of all board meetings in just four years. Attendance aside, discord on the board runs deep, and Villarreal-Ocampo’s name always seems to be involved.
We’re ready to look for new leadership and opinions.
Margaret Serna-Bonetti is no stranger to the political arena. Born in Salinas, Serna-Bonetti got her degree in political science from UC-Santa Cruz. She’s aggressive, whip smart, and has served a variety of positions in local leadership groups, like the Salinas Valley Democratic Club, where she helped organize volunteers and devise strategies for local and national campaigns. She’s also worked hard for Ag Against Hunger, literacy programs, an anti-bullying task force, and parent teacher associations. We welcome the prospect of a vibrant, front-line, no-nonsense member like Serna-Bonetti.