FREMONT -- Among Alameda County schools, Fremont's district is sort of like a homecoming queen. It is much admired but still has problems.
Six school board candidates are running with the hope of solving its issues, such as renovating aging facilities and improving shaky finances. They also aim to build on its strengths, including the high test scores recorded by many Fremont schools.
Lily Mei, the race's lone incumbent and current board president, said she is proud of the district's accomplishments, even as the state has taken away $95 million since 2009, putting a strain on this year's $251 million budget. Mei said the Save Fremont Students program, which raised $600,000 for arts, music and science classes, is but one of many successful district grass-roots efforts.
"We kept summer school programs, and we saved our busing and school transportation programs," she said. "Because you can't improve students' education if they can't get to school."
Desrie Campbell, president of the Fremont Education Foundation, knows a thing or two about comebacks. Campbell was orphaned when she was 12 but earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and now owns a small business. One of her top goals is to narrow the achievement gap afflicting minority students.
"That's what compelled me to run, to build upon our successes by making sure all of our subgroups are represented and meeting the achievement requirements," she said.
Hiu Ng, a retired management consultant, said he is the most qualified to improve the district's financial woes. Ng also wants to improve the district's culture, saying that the constant threat of layoffs has lowered morale among teachers and administrators.
"The No. 1 resource in our schools is our people," he said. "The most successful companies do not mistreat people. Caring about our people is the only long-term approach we can take."
Ann Crosbie, a substitute Fremont instructor and Ohlone College trustee, praised the board for its handling of the budget crisis but said its community outreach could be improved. "I want to be an advocate and lead the way in working with the community, in finding solutions together."
Crosbie believes her teaching experience gives her a leg up on other candidates. "Our students will graduate into a global economy filled with technology," she said. "They'll need to be equipped with skills for that world."
Reshma Karipineni, a finance director by trade, wants to tackle the budget crisis with metrics-driven analyses so the district gets the most bang for its buck. "I'd like to see that when we create a program, we use specific metrics by which that program will be evaluated," she said.
Karipineni said management of the district budget is uncertain, especially because two trustees who serve on the budget subcommittee are leaving the board. "With my strong financial skills and experience, I'm the best person to fill that void," she said.
Yang Shao, a cancer researcher at a biotech company, said his analytical abilities would allow him to help solve the budget crisis. He also believes his strong connections to the region's Chinese community and other groups would help with public outreach.
"Another thing I can bring is my connections," he said. "I'd use my influence in the community to help them understand the importance of investing in students' futures, to help raise money for the district and to improve its facilities."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.