CONCORD -- Regaining public trust, overcoming divisiveness and thoughtful budget planning are high on the list of priorities for Mt. Diablo school board candidates, especially in the wake of a recent teacher-led revolt to convert Clayton Valley High to a charter school.
The school board has often fielded complaints from teachers, parents and students who say administrators are not responsive to their problems and pleas for change. In addition, heated board squabbling has prompted the candidates -- including an incumbent -- to agree that effective governance requires trustees to put aside personal differences.
The race that originally included five candidates for two seats has now shrunk to four since Ernie DeTrinidad announced he was dropping out too late to have his name withdrawn from the ballot. Incumbent Gary Eberhart is not seeking another term, leaving lone incumbent Sherry Whitmarsh to face challengers Brian Lawrence, Debra Mason and Barbara Oaks. The four also recently participated in an election forum, which can be seen on CCTV.
Mt. Diablo could be forced to impose 11 furlough days and other cuts to its $270.8 million budget if two statewide school funding measures, Proposition 30 or Proposition 38, fail in November. Yet, no sitting trustee, including Whitmarsh, made a motion to endorse the governor's tax initiative -- Proposition 30 -- at a recent meeting, where the board endorsed competing Proposition 38 in a split vote. All of the candidates said they endorse both measures, as the district can't afford to lose funding.
In an election focused on improving transparency and communication, Whitmarsh said trustees have taken steps to remedy issues recently brought to their attention by two teachers regarding pay concerns and poor communication. The other three candidates said the public and staff don't trust the district.
"I don't think people feel valued and respected," Mason said.
Lawrence said trustees and district administrators often react defensively.
"Feedback is a gift," he said. "The district and board need to embrace it."
Tension between trustees has hampered the board's ability to be effective, the candidates agreed. Although Whitmarsh has clashed with Trustee Cheryl Hansen in the past, she said board members should hear each other out.
"We need to listen to each other and respect each other," Whitmarsh said.
Oaks said conflict can be good because it encourages change.
"Let's do some real team-building," Oaks said. "Let's get to know each other and work together for the benefit of the children."
Whitmarsh promised to work toward creating a strategic plan for the district when she ran four years ago. The board may finally approve its draft plan in October, she said.
Lawrence said the planning has dragged on too long with little action, leading to a lack of buy-in. Oaks said it's important to go into the community to get feedback, focus on meeting students' needs and ensure that the plan is equitable across all communities.
Mason said her experience creating community partnerships would help her build public trust on the board. Whitmarsh said she wants the district to work toward improving customer service, strengthening relationships with parents and staff, and giving students the best education possible.
Oaks said it's important to support teachers and listen to the community to earn trust and respect. Lawrence said principals should be held accountable for their schools and the sum of the district is not as great as its parts.
Occupation: Technology executive, part-time vocational school teacher
Elected history: Second-time candidate; ran unsuccessfully in 2010
Personal background: Married with four children; Walnut Creek resident
Education: B.A. in political science, UC Santa Barbara; M.B.A., Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley
Occupation: Healthy Living Program Coordinator, UC Cooperative; educational consultant
Elected history: Third-time candidate; ran unsuccessfully in 1997 and 2002; applied to fill vacancy in 2006, but was not appointed; serves on the Bay Point Municipal Advisory Committee
Personal background: Married with two children and two grandchildren; Bay Point resident
Education: Library Technology certificate and Conflict Resolution certificate from Diablo Valley College
Occupation: Retired high school principal and retired teacher
Elected history: First-time candidate
Personal background: Married with two children and two grandchildren; Pleasant Hill resident
Education: B.A. in liberal studies, San Francisco State University; M.A. in educational leadership, Chapman University; multiple subjects credential, San Francisco State University; special education credential for mild-to-moderate disabilities, Cal State East Bay; Resource Specialist certificate, Dominican College
Occupation: Business consultant at Chevron
Elected history: Elected in 2008; finalist to fill vacancy in 2006, but was not appointed
Personal background: Married with two children; Concord resident
Education: B.S. in computer science with a minor in business administration, Cal State Hayward
An Election Preview 2012's televised round table with Mt. Diablo school board candidates -- produced through a partnership between the Contra Costa Times, League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley, Contra Costa Television and the Contra Costa Election Department -- can be viewed on Channel 27 at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, 7 p.m. on Sunday, 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 14, 7 p.m. on Oct. 21, 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 28, 7 p.m. on Oct. 30 and 7 p.m. on Nov. 4; on Channel 28 in Walnut Creek at 1 p.m. on Sundays through Nov. 4; and on Channel 28 in Concord at 3 p.m. on Oct. 6, 13, 20, 26-28 and Nov. 2-5.
The forum is also available at http://www.contracostatimes.com/elections.
For more details about the candidates, read the On Assignment blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.