Hire, train and retain great teachers.
Raise expectations among students, teachers and staff.
Provide an inclusive environment and serve the needs of all students. Find ways of bringing parents more into the educational process.
These were among the areas of general consensus Monday night during a candidates forum for the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Trustees.
One incumbent and three challengers are vying for the three seats up for election Nov. 6, and they covered a variety of topics during a 90-minute question-and-answer session at the Louise Lowry Davis Center, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Youth Council.
Retired businessman Ed Heron is running for a second four-year term on the board. Seeking to join him are Gayle Eidelson, a mother of seven who has been an active volunteer with the school district; Pedro Paz, who serves as the program and evaluation manager for First 5 Santa Barbara County; and Lou Segal, a real-estate business owner.
“We need to elevate the level of education, and continue to increase it,” Heron said when asked what is the greatest nonfinancial challenge the district faces.
“We need to increase all students and their achievement,” he added. “We need to look at the English learners, the disadvantaged, the children of special needs. We have to have high expectations of every child.”
Eidelson and Paz expressed similar views, with the latter saying, “The biggest challenge is being sure we are serving all students.”
In addressing the achievement gap among various groups, especially minority students, the candidates cited several contributing factors, including the need for better teacher training, the impact of significant budget cuts in the district, and a lack of outreach to families and parents.
“Great teaching is easy to say, but much harder to implement,” said Segal, who at several points during the evening asserted that “special interests” — most notably teacher unions — were undermining the educational system and thwarting needed reform.
Budget cutbacks, which have totaled some $20 million over the last four years, came up several times during the forum, with all but Segal saying they supported Measures A and B, the district parcel-tax measures whose fate voters will decide next month.
“I support the parcel tax because it is a good tax,” Eidelson said. “The benefits (of the existing parcel taxes) are all around us. It would be hypocritical to not want what the parcel tax gives to the community.”
Segal said he wouldn’t mind paying more taxes for schools, but not until they prove they can use the money wisely.
“If they don’t do the reforms, it’s good money after bad,” he said, adding later that progress won’t be made “if we continue to elect school board members who refuse to stand up to special interests.”
In response to a question posed by members of the youth council, all the candidates said they supported efforts to keep schools safe, and pointed to the “restorative justice” program in place at Santa Barbara Junior High School as an example of an effective program.
“We need to make sure our teachers are prepared for diversity and equity in our classrooms,” Paz added.
Heron pointed to a new district program that involves the use of specially trained dogs brought in to the schools to sniff out illegal drugs, weapons and other contraband.
“We want campuses that are safe from drugs,” Heron said.
About 50 people attended Monday’s forum, which will be televised on public-access TV Santa Barbara, formerly the Santa Barbara Channels.