BERKELEY -- One of the first tasks facing the winners of two at-large school board seats here will be choosing a new superintendent, a process that until now has been mired in criticism and controversy.
Current board member John Selawsky is not seeking re-election and board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler is running for a second term.
The search for a new superintendent started last January, shortly after Superintendent Bill Huyett announced his retirement. But the current board, which paid a search firm $30,000 to find candidates for the job, has been criticized for choosing a finalist who later backed out after parents and teachers unearthed a 2008 memo he wrote against gay marriage.
Edmond Heatley, who was superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools near Atlanta when the Berkeley board announced he was their final candidate, wrote the memo while he was superintendent of the Chino Valley Unified School District. The memo, urging his school board to take a stand against gay marriage, caused an uproar in Berkeley, and Heatley withdrew.
The search for a new superintendent is on hold until after the current election.
"Without a doubt we need a new search firm," said candidate Judy Appel, a lawyer and executive director of Our Family Coalition, a group that advocates for gay and lesbian families in schools. "There is no question they failed. It's the board's responsibility to keep the people working for them on task."
Appel said that if elected she would rebuild community confidence in the board and unify it to make sure "we are a place a super-star superintendent would want to come."
She said a new search firm would know what Berkeley wants and does not want in a candidate before it sought them out and she would restart the process of gathering community input that the current board started last spring.
"We need to make an extra effort to reach the people who don't come to the meetings," Appel said. "We need to get input from the community, set good solid criteria, and once you have good candidates you need to vet them fully."
Beatriz Leyva-Cutler said the failed search for a new superintendent is usually the first issue that comes up when she speaks on the campaign trail.
She too would get a new search firm and she would participate in any site visit to a prospective superintendent's current place of work. Leyva-Cutler said she did not go to Atlanta to visit Heatley's place of work because she didn't have time. Only one board member went on that site visit, but she contends that number is adequate to gather information and report back.
"The board definitely heard the desires of the community (about what kind of person it wants) and we're going to incorporate that in the search," Leyva-Cutler said. "What happened with the search didn't happen in our favor. But looking ahead we will identify the next leader with a background in instructional leadership, someone who has been a principal, a teacher and a superintendent, and who has experience in community and family engagement."
Tracy Hollander, a former classroom teacher, said she believes the search firm was partly at fault in not bringing good candidates, but the board should take more responsibility for its actions.
"You can't just blame the search firm," Hollander said. "The board members need to be active as well. Before we go looking, we need to decide what we're looking for. We need input from educational experts within our community who understand our issues."
Hollander said she would seek out a candidate who is a "good instructional leader, not someone who is just good at balancing a budget."
Hollander said she would "absolutely go do a site visit and make sure I interview people."
Norma Harrison, who also is a former teacher, declined to answer questions about the search for a new superintendent because her desire to move toward a more socialist system make it irrelevant.
"Given that school is a badly placed institution in society serving the capitalist system, my focus is not to maintain it, but to surpass and to advance our struggles for justice, which is the struggle to build socialism," Harrison said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.
Party: Peace and Freedom
Occupation: Residential real estate agent
Professional Background: Former elementary school teacher in Chicago, Indiana, Israel, Roanoke Va.
Personal: Widow, two children
Education: Bachelor's degree in education from Roosevelt University, Chicago; associate of art's degree from Southeast Junior College, Chicago
Name: Judy Appel
Occupation: Executive Director, Our Family Coalition (Gay and Lesbian Family Support, Welcoming School and Advocacy)
Professional Background: Past member of Berkeley schools superintendent budget advisory task force; former legal director, Drug Policy Alliance; former PTA president at Oxford Elementary School in Berkeley
Education: UC Hastings College of the Law; masters in city and regional planning from UC Berkeley
Personal: Wife, Alison Bernstein, two children, 14, and 11
Name: Tracy Hollander
Occupation: Full time school volunteer; Berkeley PTA Council; part time data analyst
Professional Background: Former classroom teacher in east Harlem, N.Y.; San Francisco; Brisbane, Calif.
Education: Bachelor's degree in philosophy, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Personal: Married, two children
Name: Beatriz Leyva-Cutler
Occupation: Berkeley School Board Member; Executive Director of Bay Area Hispano Institute for Advancement
Professional Background: Co-chair of Chicana-Latina Foundation; member of National Latino Children's Institute
Personal: Widow, two adult children
Education: Master's degree in human development from Pacific Oaks College, Pasadena, Calif.
Web Site: reelectbeatrizforschoolboard.nationbuilder.com