ALAMEDA -- With state Propositions 30 and 38 casting a long shadow over the election, candidates for the Alameda Unified School District's Board of Education are touting ideas for financial rescue should the measures -- which would raise billions of dollars for the state's schools -- both fail.

Eight candidates are competing for three seats on the board. Incumbents include business owner Ron Mooney, attorney and child advocate Trish Spencer and retired school principal Niel Tam.

Challengers include retired social worker Barbara Kahn, businessman Tom Lynch, businessman Kurt Peterson, nurse practitioner and college instructor Jon Murphy, and retired human resources manager Michael Robles-Wong. A ninth candidate, Robert Mann, has suspended his campaign.

Challengers have lobbed accusations that two incumbents, Tam and Mooney, have squandered school finances, which both deny.

A contentious issue is administrator pay, specifically that of Superintendent Kirsten Vital, which some candidates say is draining needed funds away from classroom education. Incumbents, who approved a salary package for Vital, are taking heat from challengers.

"Our teachers are the lowest paid in the county, yet we have the highest paid superintendent -- more than Piedmont," Peterson said.

Vital was hired at a salary of $204,225 per year, with 3 percent increases and $15,000 annual performance bonuses for four years, beginning July 1, 2011, and ending June 30, 2015. When her contract was renewed in August, she was awarded full health benefits.


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Tam and Mooney approved the contract for Vital. Both incumbents also approved Vital's recommendation that the district lease office space during a seismic retrofit at a cost of $552,000 a year for six years.

"I disagree that the board has made fiscally sound decisions," said Spencer, who has been endorsed by the teachers union along with Murphy and Kahn.

Spencer and Kahn can be counted on to put children and classroom learning first, according to a press statement issued by the teachers' union. And Murphy, who just completed his doctorate in educational leadership, brings needed skills to the role as co-chair of the California Community College Budget Committee.

Candidates have suggested concrete ways to pare down spending. Robles-Wong said the district has wasted money trying to force an electronic infrastructure into "old, crumbling buildings that weren't meant to have them."

Mooney said the district should continue computerizing its antiquated record-keeping system, which will reduce staff.

Lynch said the AUSD could follow the example of several other districts in the state and shed its adult school. Adult schools, once funded separately, have been meshed with K-12 education.

Kahn said the district erred in replacing "teacher-leaders" with higher-paid administrators, but has also said the primary issue in developing a budget that works is drawing parents and teachers into the process.

And Spencer said the district wastes money by employing an attorney full time rather than on an as-needed basis, and spends "a significant amount of money" on consultants whose contracts are not discussed in public hearings.

In the worst of times, Alameda schools saw per student spending plunge $1,421 per student, spurring layoffs, teacher furlough days and a shortened school year.

Alameda schools rebounded in with the help of a Measure A parcel tax. By spending the money wisely, the district has avoided -- or at least postponed -- the devastating program cuts that have befallen other districts, some school board candidates say.

If Props. 30 and 38 both fail, "We are in a mess," Kahn said. "The whole state is in a mess. The first question has to always be, 'What is best for children?' "

the candidates
Barbara Kahn
Kahn did not respond to our request for information, but according to a statement on her Facebook page, she decided to run for a seat on the Alameda school board after some 50 years of being active in Alameda politics "because I believe a voice must be raised for children."

Tom Lynch
Occupation: Thirty years in sales, marketing, and management for high-tech companies.
Managed state and local business unit that sold computer solutions for state and city payrolls, DMV systems, Medicaid, and other state and municipal systems. Managed all aspects of lobbying and compliance programs.
Elected history: none
Personal: President of Alameda Council PTA, former chair of Alameda Boys and Girls Club auction, former Bay Farm School PTA president. Married with two children; a fifth-grader and an eighth-grader in Alameda schools.

Ron Mooney
Occupation: Self-employed business owner and manager
Elected history: Elected to school board in 2008
Personal: Parent of three children, two attending public schools in Alameda (elementary and high) and a third in college. School board president. Earned National Lifetime Achievement Award during 12-plus years with PTAs and has worked with the Alameda Education Foundation.

Jon Murphy
Age: 53
Occupation: College instructor; nurse practitioner since 1996. registered nurse since 1990; co-chair of budget committee for Merritt College, program director of two Allied Health programs (vocational nursing and medical assistant programs); and on academic senate for two years.
Elected history: none
Personal: Married father of two children, ages 29 and 16. Son graduated from Encinal High School; daughter attends an Alameda parochial school.

Kurt Peterson
Age: 58
Occupation: More than 30 years of management experience in the wholesale and retail trade.
Elected history: none
Personal: Resident of Alameda for more than 35 years; married with two grown sons who attended the AUSD schools for their K-12 educations; community activist with more than 10 years as a member of the Alameda Point Restoration Advisory Board; member of the City of Alameda Open Government Commission, member of the Alameda Citizen Task Force.

Michael Robles-Wong
Age: 62
Occupation: Retired business manager; completed a 33-year career as a business manager and human resources manager.
Elected history: none
Personal: I am also the past president of the Community of Harbor Bay Isle Owners Association; chairman, Alameda Civil Service Board; campaign chair of the Measure A parcel tax. My family are plaintiffs in the Robles-Wong et al v. state of California educational funding lawsuit.

Trish Spencer
Age: 53
Occupation: Attorney
Personal: Co-chair, Alameda Youth Collaborative, overseeing more than 35 organizations. A 14-year school volunteer who has served not only my children's schools, but every school in AUSD. President of Alameda PTA Council, 2006-2008 (two terms), overseeing all Alameda PTAs as a parent volunteer in 2006-08. Substitute teacher in virtually all AUSD schools, including long-term assignments teaching elementary school, English language learners, and special needs students.
Elected history: Elected to school board in 2008
Personal: One of five children raised in South Gate (Los Angeles) in traditional Mexican-American family. First child to graduate from college. Practiced business litigation in Newport Beach before moving to Alameda in 1998. Raised four children in AUSD schools: one daughter graduated from UC Santa Cruz; another daughter attends College of Alameda; and still another daughter attends Harvard University.

Niel Tam
Age: 67
Occupation: Retired and former Alameda school principal for 10 years and an Alameda teacher for 29 years.
Elected history: Elected to school board in 2008
Personal: A 43-year resident of Alameda. Married to Judy Wong; our two sons graduated from Encinal High School. Have worked collaboratively with parents, teachers, staff and the community. Served or is serving on the boards of several nonprofits -- including the Alameda Food Bank, Alameda Family Services, Boys & Girls Club and more.