Experience on a school board is the common denominator among most of the candidates hoping to oversee Liberty Union High School District for the next four years.

Three of the four candidates for two open seats are either an incumbent or have served as a trustee of the district in the past.

Take Ray Valverde, who's currently the board president and is making his bid for a fifth term.

The 66-year-old Brentwood resident is still in the classroom, working as a substitute high schoolteacher in Antioch.

Although he said the district has received a clean bill of health from the county Office of Education for its three-year budget projections, Valverde expects board members will have to reduce spending further in 2013-14 if both tax initiatives on next month's ballot fail.

He would prefer axing expenses that least affect classrooms such as busing.

But if money's available, Valverde's goal would be to upgrade Liberty High School's playing fields as well as replace its aging swimming pool; he noted that students there currently use the one at Brentwood Family Aquatic Center for competitions.

Valverde considers his role as a district trustee in Heritage High School's improving scores his most important achievement: Students at that Brentwood campus met the state's goal for the first time last year by earning an average score of 800 on the standardized tests they took.

How to raise the performance of the other two comprehensive high schools is up to district personnel, he said ("We don't micromanage"), although he believes that trustees would intervene if their scores weren't improving.

Also hoping to return to the board is Ron Enos, a 65-year-old Brentwood real estate broker who graduated from Liberty High School, taught math there for about a dozen years, and served as a district trustees for two terms.

Apart from missing the enjoyment of the job, Enos said his real estate background could help the district in planning to build a fourth high school.

He had a hand in the design and construction of Freedom High School, he added.

One of Enos' top goals is ensuring that school sites remain safe now that the district has eliminated some campus supervisors; the other is raising test scores.

In talking to parents, he isn't convinced that the district is doing enough to help students with average academic track records.

"We worry about the 'lower' kids, but are we concerned enough about the 'middle' kids?" Enos said, noting that teachers sometimes spend a good deal of time with a few underachieving teens while the rest of the classroom is on its own. "We also have to zero in on the kids who are going to college."

At the same time, Enos wants the district to sustain the current level of sports activities both during and after school.

He also said he doesn't see a lot of communication between the district and the general public and would like that to change, perhaps by administrators including more information in the school board agendas.

Yolanda Peña-Mendrek is running again after having served one term a few years ago.

The 61-year-old Brentwood resident has eight years of administrative experience in the district as well, having worked as a vice principal at both Heritage and Liberty high schools. And Mendrek is still in the classroom, teaching Spanish in a neighboring district.

If re-elected, Mendrek would have the district provide more training for teachers. That doesn't necessarily mean giving them more days off, she said, but rather having them use the time already allotted for professional development more effectively by allowing them to choose the type of training they need.

Noting that Freedom High School has reached capacity, Mendrek also thinks the district should inventory the amount of classroom space it has and decide whether -- and where -- it should build a new school.

And if it must cinch its financial belt, she says guidance counselors should be the last to go. They are the ones who can uncover the real reason a student is floundering in school and meet with parents to come up with a solution, Mendrek said.

Although uncertain how much the district is doing to help students who aren't reaching the state's minimum goals on standardized tests, Mendrek said she would review test results and suggest what could be done to raise them.

Brentwood resident Steve White doesn't have any children in the district, although his wife is a teacher here.

The 58-year-old construction project manager wants the chance to get parents more involved in its schools such as attending back-to-school night.

Better communication between the district and families in the form of newsletters and emails could make that happen, White said, noting that school officials should be conveying to parents what it expects of them and their children.

The degree to which parents participate in their student's school has a lot to do with whether it excels, said White, who thinks that some might be able to serve as teachers' assistants now and then or volunteer in the campus' library.

"That is the big key to so many things. One, the dropout rate. Two, our test scores," he said.

The more visible parents are on campus the more likely teens will mind their manners rather than risk running into someone who knows their mother or father and might tip them off to their kid's bad behavior, White added.

One strength he says would bring to the board is his willingness to hold true to his opinions even if his colleagues disagree.

"I'm not a go-along-to-get-along guy," White said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee

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