Monday, November 12 , 2018, 11:22 am | Smoke 68º


Race for Santa Barbara School Board Off to Slow Start

There are more empty seats than candidates, but a few more people are considering the challenge.

[Editor’s note: First in a series.]

With less than a week to go before the filing deadline, it remains to be seen whether there will even be a contest this year for the Santa Barbara School Board, but some people deeply involved in the schools are sniffing around.

In a year when two incumbents for the sprawling K-12 district are stepping aside, it’s perhaps surprising that only one political newcomer — Dos Pueblos High School swimming pool fundraiser Susan Deacon — has filed papers to run. The only other filer so far is incumbent Annette Cordero, meaning that just four business days before Wednesday’s deadline, there are only two candidates — and three open seats.

Three others pulled papers to run this week, including H. Edward Heron, immediate past president of the nonprofit Partners in Education, and Charlotte Ware, immediate past president of the Dos Pueblos High School PTA. Also among them is Brenda Lopez, who declined to be interviewed Thursday, saying she had filed that day and wasn’t expecting a call from the media so soon.

The Santa Barbara public school system includes two districts: the elementary district, which exists wholly within the city, and the seventh- through 12th-grade district, which stretches from Montecito to Goleta. It enrolls about 16,000 students.

Heron said Thursday that he hasn’t decided whether he will take the plunge. As president of Partners in Education, the retired real-estate professional was highly instrumental in the organization’s signature program, Computers for Families, which refurbishes donated computers and brings them to the homes of economically disadvantaged fourth-graders. The organization has raised $3.8 million, just shy of the $4 million goal with which the organization has planned to use to start an endowment to run the Computers for Families program in perpetuity.

“My hot buttons are technology and solving the digital divide, and making sure everyone has an opportunity for a quality education,” he said.

Ware was an engineer for General Motors for 13 years before leaving work to raise her two daughters, one of whom is a student at Dos Pueblos High. She has been a volunteer in the schools for 15 years.

Ware said she decided to pull papers because many people have urged her to run. She said she has filled out her paperwork and is planning to file, but, like Heron, she hasn’t made her decision.

“I have a lot of hands-on, in-the-trenches kind of experience,” she said.

Meanwhile, the two candidates who have filed — Deacon and Cordero — have endorsed each other.

Deacon, a former journalism instructor at Santa Barbara City College, is widely credited for heading up a successful $2 million fundraising effort to build an Olympic-sized swimming pool at Dos Pueblos High. She is still president of the nonprofit group that raised the money, the South Coast Community Aquatic Center.

She also has secured the endorsements of many people in the local political establishment, including four of five current school board members, Mayor Marty Blum, Santa Barbara Councilwoman Helene Schneider and Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

Deacon said she is interested in working on closing the achievement gap separating students in different socio-economic spheres, as well as improving the district’s ability to attract and retain quality teachers, which she acknowledged is a challenge in Santa Barbara’s out-of-reach housing market.

“I think you build a reputation as a district as a great place to work,” she said. “It’s not all about money for teachers. They want a community of peers to support them and challenge them.”

Cordero, an English instructor at the city college, said her main areas of focus are closing the achievement gap and fiscal responsibility. She said that although the district has made strides on the latter measure, there is still quite a bit to worry about, since the state has yet to approve its budget, which could have a profound effect on schools.

“I think there are a lot of things to focus on, but achievement is always No. 1,” she said. “In order to do that, we have to focus on the funding, but it’s really all about achievement.”

The two incumbents who are stepping aside are Nancy Harter and Laura Malakoff.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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