School board forum dominated by Measures E and G
on September 26, 2012
Four School Board candidates had one message at Monday night’s candidate forum: Measures E and G, the $360 million bond measure and parcel tax extension, must pass.
“If you don’t support that parcel tax, I’m cutting 150 teachers this year,” said Robert Studdiford, who sits on a district budget committee and bond oversight committee.
Studdiford, Randy Enos, Todd Groves and incumbent Antonio Medrano spent about half of the forum in bond and parcel tax talk, especially questions about the level of taxation of West County citizens, and if rebuilding schools — as Measure E would do — is the best approach when the district has so many concerns.
If passed, Measure E would be a sixth bond measure and the last round of funding needed to finish rebuilding all the schools in the district, Medrano said.
“We’re the only district in the state doing this,” he said. “Equity is important. What one school gets all schools should get.”
The district is also trying again to extend the parcel tax, but this time they are not asking for additional money from Contra Costa taxpayers.
In June a measure that would have extended and increased the current parcel tax for three years from 7.2 cents per square foot to 10.2 cents per square foot, received 65.5 percent voter approval, just shy of the two-thirds required for it to pass, according to the Ed-Data website.
“I think people, especially people who don’t have kids, don’t understand,” said Cindy Mekjian, who has two children at Harding Elementary School. “My classroom went from 21 to 27 students. It was an enormous jump, but the expectations haven’t changed.”
Enos, who has 30 years of experience in the district, said when he taught at Kennedy High School he had a class of 40 seniors and felt first-hand how large class sizes affect learning.
Passing the bond measure and parcel tax are crucial to the issue, he said.
“We know if we bring our class sizes down it improves their education,” he said. “My dad used to say, ‘You can’t not vote for money for schools.’”
Studdiford said about one third of voters in the district do not have children, which makes asking them to pay more taxes for education a challenge.
The event, held in the Harding Elementary School auditorium, was hosted by the PTAs of Kensington Hilltop, Harding, Madera, Mira Vista, Fairmont and Portola Schools and brought out about 70 people who listened to the candidates address issues such as teacher salaries in the district, private schools, poverty in developing children, and adult education.
The four candidates seemed to mostly agree with one another, so in addition to lamenting the need for more support from the state, they slipped in their qualifications for the job.
Enos brought up his legacy of service in the district, having served at principal of Gompers Continuation High School and a teacher at Kennedy High.
Studdiford, who said he has attended every school board meeting for the last six years, has also volunteered at multiple PTAs and served on two district committees.
Medrano, who is the incumbent, is a retired bilingual educator with 40 years of classroom experience.
Groves touted his slightly different background. He began his career as a project manager at a public policy research institute and volunteers with WriterCoach Connection.
Another topic of debate was how candidates would increase support to both students in the district who are high achieving and students and families facing poverty in the community.
Groves said the district needs to expand its policies to encompass a full spectrum of learners.
“We have a one-size-fits-all curriculum, but really it’s a one size fits none,” he said. “We really do need to think about all our learners.”
Anna Watkins-Porter, a parent volunteer at Kensington Hilltop Elementary School, said the PTAs took about 25 questions ahead of the forum and about 10 questions were submitted Monday night.
Overall, about 15 questions were presented to the candidates.
“It’s a really important election year,” Watkins-Porter said. “There are some great choices for parents.”
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“My dad used to say, ‘You can’t not vote for money for schools.’” So said Mr. Enos.
I used to feel that way. Until I learned how much money has been wasted on the massive bond program.