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Carlsbad School Board Elections: A Chance for Change

On August 8th, the application window for four open seats on the five-member Carlsbad Unified School Board closed. Eight candidates are poised to compete for the chance to be a part of a “World Class District”, a school district in a community that sometimes feels like a small, old town and other times a rapidly growing suburban mecca. Although voters could re-elect two returning members, a minimum of two seats will be taken by first-time trustees. The results of this election could mean big changes for the seaside town, with four out of five seats potentially turning over to fresh occupants.

Three of the openings are due to expiring terms; a fourth short-term seat is open due to the resignation of Kelli Moors a year ago after a conflict of interest controversy surrounding her involvement with the law firm Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost. Last September, the remaining board members selected Claudine Jones, an active district parent, to take her place temporarily. Now the position is open for voters to fill.

Of the incumbents whose terms are up, only Williams submitted paperwork to run again. Current board member Elisa Williamson’s term will expire in 2016, as will the term of the whoever is elected to fill Moors’s seat. The terms of three current board members are expiring: Lisa Rodman, Anne Tanner, and Veronica Williams. With three four-year terms to fill and one two-year term, voters in Carlsbad have a rare opportunity to redesign the make-up of the board that has long been nearly impenetrable by outsiders. Anne Tanner has served since 2010, Rodman since 2002, and Williamson since 2000. Anne Tanner’s husband Mark Tanner served on the board for 8 years, from 2002 until 2010 when his wife was elected. Veronica Williams, the most recently added member, was elected in 2010.

Claudine Jones, who was new to the board a year ago, will run now for one of the four-year spots.

In addition to Jones and incumbent Williams, four applicants have thrown their hats in the ring for the long-term spots. Two additional candidates, Ray Pearson and Janae Torgerson, applied to run for the two-year vacancy to finish Kelli Moors’s term.

Plenty of choices, and a plethora of decisions for voters.

Three of the applicants were willing to share their views on some key topics for this article. Here’s a summary of their responses.

Incumbent Veronica Williams, who has two children and several nieces in CUSD schools, has served on the board for four years. A successful business owner who grew up in a family that spoke English as a second language, Williams feels strongly about the “equality of opportunity” in public education. She sees the district’s priorities as preparing students for rigorous academic standards, including UC and CSU requirements, smaller class sizes and “right-sized” schools, and ensuring the district is fiscally sound. In addition to evaluating how money is spent, WIlliams would encourage searching for new sources of revenue from outside the district. According to WIlliams, the current board “is committed to use Prop 30 funding to reduce class size.” Regarding technology in the district and funding, she includes professional development as an important part of that expense because, “We could have all the technology in the world, but if it's not used effectively, there is no point in having technology.” On the topic of the often adversarial relationship between school boards and teachers unions, she says, “Teachers are the most important ingredient in public education.” To that end, she expressed a need for the school board to work cooperatively with teachers unions because “The more effective we can make our teachers, the more our students benefit.”

Janae Torgersen, parent of three current CUSD students, has worked in CUSD as an instructional aide and substitute teacher and been on PTA and two school site councils. She cites class size reduction and the eight state-wide priority goals for accountability including student achievement, school climate, credentials/materials, implementation of common core, parental involvement, course access, and student engagement. In regards to the Common Core State Standards, which brings out strong feelings on all sides, she says, “I feel that Common Core is taking our students back to the basics. Instead of covering lots of material, our teachers can now get more in depth with the standards that they teach.” As an educator working part time with the Adult Literacy Program at Carlsbad City Library, she has been able to volunteer at her children’s schools frequently and plans to continue spending time familiarizing herself with the schools firsthand. In terms of budget priorities, she says, “We need to make sure that the class sizes are reasonable, that the students have a safe place to learn and that the technology we use is valid for today's world.” On the other controversial issue of teachers unions, she claims little experience but feels “in general they want what's best for the teachers and staff they serve.”

Sage Naumann, the youngest candidate but one of the most visible, has been organizing and fundraising for this election since early in 2013. A former Carlsbad High student, he has stayed closely involved. He has sought input from current students and teachers to inform his perspective. He would like to see local businesses working with the schools to ready students for the working world, for instance through expanded internship programs, and would like to see the district partner with city hall to take a more business model approach to managing its finances and operations, such as merging their truck fleets. Top priorities as he sees them include lowering classroom sizes and balancing the budget, with smaller classes being the first item for the new board to tackle.

Not a fan of the new Common Core standards, Naumann sites backlash in New York State in which principals and other educators protested the new standardized tests which were given last spring to align with recently implemented curriculum changes. The concerns expressed by the principals, however, were not about the standards themselves or the changes in curriculum and instruction; the misunderstanding that many skeptics have, including Naumann, is that the issues were specifically with the assessments and whether it is fair to hold students accountable for new content in a new format while using uncalibrated tools. Naysayers are quick to spin concerns about the tests into an argument against the entire Common Core approach, when the emphasis is really on the validity of high-stakes tests in such a new context.

Despite his opposition, Naumann acknowledges the reality of moving forward with the standards and is resigned to supporting teachers fully with training and materials for effective implementation.

On the topic of teachers unions, Naumann sees the job of a school board trustee as representing the students while the union represents teachers. “Naturally, there should be tension between the two.” Accomplished and organized for his young age, Naumann seems to have boundless energy for the causes about which he is passionate, evidenced by his active presence in local Republican party functions and Carlsbad civic activities. He explains his motive for running for the board with these words: “I want to see a vibrant workforce, I want to see safe streets, I want to see educated voters, and I want to see a booming business-friendly town.”

Ray Pearson did not respond to inquiries for this article, but he returns to the ballot as a candidate for the short term position after running unsuccessfully in 2010. He shares his platform on Facebook and Blogspot.

Additional candidates include Kathy Rallings, Maria Rosino-Miraccco, and Gil Soto, none of whom answered questions in time to be included in this article. Look for a Part 2 with their responses soon!

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