The four candidates running for seats on the Santa Barbara school board were put in the spotlight Thursday night in a forum organized by San Marcos High School’s Associated Student Body and Leadership Class.
Seated on the auditorium’s stage, the candidates answered student-written questions about their experience, goals if elected and positions on current policies.
The forum was organized by San Marcos student Hannah Koper and moderated by senior Charlie Zimmerman.
Eidelson said she has seven children who have gone through the district’s schools and has 80 enrollment years of experience as an involved parent and volunteer.
Heron, a retired real estate executive, is running for re-election. He said he wants to make sure the improvement he has seen in his first term — such as teacher evaluations, technology and the special-education program — continues.
Paz was born and raised on the South Coast and attended local schools, and said he is running to give back to his community, adding that he has a background in research and education, and has worked for nonprofit organizations.
Segal, a local small-business owner, is running as a reform candidate who said he really wants to make some changes. There’s a crisis in public education, he said, and student achievement needs to be the topmost priority.
Asked about the strengths and weaknesses of the board, three candidates emphasized the importance to work together to find consensus.
“I’m not exactly in sync with the other four members,” said Heron, who added that he always supports the board’s actions even when he votes against them.
Segal said he wants to be a “change agent,” even if it doesn’t invite agreement. “We can have consensus and all love each other, but schools are failing,” he said.
They all agreed that maintenance should be the district’s priority for facilities funding, although there are many capital projects under way from bond measures.
“The priority is not beautiful things to be built, but maintaining what we already have,” Eidelson said.
Eidelson, Heron and Paz support them and said the money is crucial to keep both elective and core programs. If the measures fail, Heron said, the district would have a $10 million problem starting in February.
Segal said money is not directly linked to achievement and that the education system needs reform — especially with tenure and teacher evaluations — before going to taxpayers for more funds.
“I guess I’m the round peg in the square hole here,” he said.
On that note, students also asked about seniority rules for teachers, which often result in new, excellent teachers getting pink-slipped while older, less-skilled ones get to stay.
Segal said the effort to fire someone is almost insurmountable and the “last-in, first-out” rules make no sense. Without merit pay, he said, it can be difficult to attract and retain good teachers.
For years, the district didn’t evaluate teachers correctly, Heron said, but has implemented a whole new process. Superintendent Dave Cash interviews all new staff members personally and makes prospective teachers give demonstration lessons. Heron said there are more trainings and assessments, as well.
Firing someone is extremely difficult, he added: “We tried to eliminate one teacher and it cost us a million dollars — and we didn’t win.”
Paz and Eidelson said they want to support teachers and focus on thorough assessments.
For their closing statements, the candidates explained what they would bring to the Board of Education.
The schools have so many opportunities to offer, Eidelson said, and she wants to help make sure all of it can continue, even in tough financial times.
“I would bring a spirit of cooperation to the discussion,” she said.
Heron pointed to his endorsement list and said he gets along with pretty much everyone, proving that “you don’t have to be a rabid Democrat or a rabid Republican” in politics.
“Civility, dignity and integrity are important to me in everything I do,” he said.
Paz said he wants to get more parent involvement in the schools — and is bilingual, which he hopes will help with that — and support classroom teachers with more professional development. He said the board should also use available data to analyze student achievement more often.
Segal said his whole focus would be student academic outcomes, and that some rules may have to change to have a culture of success.
“I would like to see Santa Barbara Unified School District be a model for the state, even the country,” he said.