School board elections can sometimes cause a little head-scratching on the part of voters who aren’t exactly sure what it is that school boards do.

This is understandable, given how schools are bound by many rules from higher levels of government, and are generally in no position to ignore mandates on testing and how to spend certain pots of money.

But make no mistake: the decisions made by the Santa Barbara School Districts Board of Education routinely affect many local lives.

For instance, because of a recent school board decision, the sight of students talking on cell phones and listening to MP3 players on campus is considerably more rare than it used to be. The board banned the use of those devices during school hours because most board members believe the gadgets to be an educational distraction.

And it is because of the school board that ninth-graders, beginning this year, no longer enjoy the luxury of having small math classes. Last spring, the trustees decided they had to cut the program to make ends meet.

Of course, by cutting one program, the board saves another. In the spring, the board spared the jobs of high school librarians and school psychologists, whose positions were also on the chopping block.

Vying for three spots on the Santa Barbara school board in the Nov. 4 election are six candidates who are eager to take on the responsibility of making such decisions, and many more.

In a Noozhawk questionnaire, the candidates weighed in on topics ranging from Gifted and Talented Education to gang-related attire to affordable housing for teachers.

The candidates are Annette Cordero, an SBCC instructor and the race’s lone incumbent; Susan Deacon, a former SBCC journalism instructor and current president of the South Coast Community Aquatic Center; Ed Heron, a retired business executive and the immediate past president of the nonprofit Partners in Education; Jacqueline Inda, co-founder of the new advocacy group to stem gang violence called Esperanza; Kate Smith, a local activist and a regular at many school board meetings; and Charlotte Ware, immediate past president of the Dos Pueblos High PTSA and a former engineer.

On some questions, their answers are similar. But a close read of the questionnaires betrays a healthy diversity of opinion.

For example, while Cordero and Deacon support the board’s recent decision to hire gang outreach specialists to work directly with students involved in gangs, Ware believes the money would be better spent on bolstering existing programs that have long focused on goals such as truancy prevention.

On the issue of affordable housing for teachers, and whether the district should set aside an unused parcel of district-owned land to build price-controlled housing, Heron said no, while Deacon and Smith said yes.

On the topic of the GATE program, Cordero and Deacon said they do not share some local educators’ concerns that GATE classes are getting too big, saying they are more concerned about the under-representation of disadvantaged students, who in this district tend to be Latino. Ware didn’t elaborate on whether the number of students in the program should shrink, but did say there are other demanding opportunities for students who want to be challenged, such as the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

To learn more about the six candidates’ positions on local education issues, click on the questionnaires.

Click here for Annette Cordero’s Q&A.

Click here for Susan Deacon’s Q&A.

Click here for Ed Heron’s Q&A.

Click here for Jacqueline Inda’s Q&A.

Click here for Kate Smith’s Q&A.

Click here for Charlotte Ware’s Q&A.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at

Rob Kuznia, Noozhawk Staff Writer

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at