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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 6:14 am | Fair 37º


Students Put Santa Barbara School Board Candidates to the Test

At Open Alternative School, ice cream and playgrounds are top issues on the minds of the young moderators.

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Santa Barbara school board candidates, from left to right, Susan Deacon, Annette Cordero, Ed Heron, Charlotte Ware, Kate Smith — who last week was disqualified from the race for living outside the district’s boundaries — and Jacqueline Inda attend a forum Wednesday moderated by students at Open Alternative School. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

Move over, Tom Brokaw and Jim Lehrer, and make room for the students of the K-8 Open Alternative School on Foothill Road in Santa Barbara.

On Wednesday, the students served as the moderators of the final forum for the Santa Barbara school board race, where five candidates are vying for three open seats.

The litmus test of a good forum is whether it can draw out differences among the candidates, and on this score, the students didn’t disappoint.

The students’ questions touched on issues both macro and micro. They asked candidates to share their new ideas, and to opine on the virtues of outdoor education — an important facet of the school’s core educational curriculum. And like any good town-hall forum, the students asked what the candidates can do for them, touching specifically on a couple of matters that have long chafed the school’s adherents: the lack of grass on the playground, and a shortage of playground equipment.

The question that highlighted the widest diversity of opinion centered on the seemingly innocuous topic of ice cream.

A student asked the candidates whether they would help the school bring back “ice cream Fridays,” a fundraiser that was prohibited by a new school board policy minimizing junk food on campus.

On this, two candidates — Susan Deacon and Jacqueline Inda — said they would be open to it.

“Sometimes common sense tells you you don’t have to be so rigid,” said Deacon, a former Santa Barbara City College journalism instructor and current president of the South Coast Community Aquatic Center. “I think ice cream one day a week is something we can definitely do.”

Inda, one of the founders of a new advocacy group to stem gang violence called Esperanza, said she remembers ice cream day as the “funnest day in the whole entire week.”

“I think sometimes we look past the real impact of what’s really going to help our kids,” she said. “With things like ice cream day or any kind of fundraiser, they’re really not created to keep the kids in a bad habit, they are really created to keep that bonding.”

Candidates Ed Heron, Charlotte Ware and Annette Cordero weren’t so sure.

Cordero, the race’s lone incumbent, admitted that she is one of the board members who made the decision to minimize sweets.

“There are lots of nutritious alternatives to ice cream that are also really delicious,” she said. “Ice cream is not the only thing you can sell to do a fundraiser. … There are lots of people who are lactose intolerant, and who have allergies to dairy products.”

Ware, immediate past president of the Dos Pueblos High PTSA and a former engineer, suggested that students hold a fundraiser by putting on a farmer’s market. Heron, a retired business executive and the immediate past president of the nonprofit Partners in Education, said he supports any choice that is healthy.

Kate Smith, who last week was disqualified from the race for living outside the district’s boundaries, nonetheless showed up at the forum. She, too, was a proponent of ice cream. “John Hopkins University declared that chocolate was medicinal,” she said. “Do you know what medicinal means? It’s medicine for your body. It releases endorphins in your brain, and it makes you feel good.”

As for new ideas they would bring to the district, the three candidates who answered most succinctly were Deacon, Cordero and Heron.

Deacon said she would try to get the district to stop hiring so many teachers on a temporary basis. “Everybody knows that having job security is good for how you feel,” she said, adding that she would like to see more teachers get hired on a permanent basis.

Cordero said she would like to see school board meetings held at school campuses on a more frequent basis, instead of nearly always happening at the downtown district headquarters. “So that your parents and your teachers and the principal and the people who care about your school would be able to come to the meeting and talk to us about the things that are important to you,” she said.

Heron, whose experience with Partners in Education included a successful program that refurbishes used computers and places them in the homes of low-income families, said he wants to bring more technology to the classroom. “Everybody needs technology in this world to succeed,” he said. “You need to be exposed to it.”

Inda said she would like to see more after-school activities. Ware said she would want to ensure that different schools and other stakeholders work together and communicate to solve important issues.

Smith said it’s time for a new paradigm. “We can no longer have an elected board like this,” she said. “We have to have a group of very wise people who understand educational philosophy. … We know from Aristotle: ‘That which we need to learn, we learn by doing.’”

Ware showcased her PTSA skills when answering the question about how the school can find a way to plant grass.

“I have volunteered on the campuses for a lot of years, so I have some ideas for you,” she said.

Ware said she could provide the school names of landscape architects who may give them a design for free, and suggested that different classes take turns watering the grass to save maintenance costs.

In response to the question of whether the candidates would find money for the school to receive new playground equipment, Cordero offered an answer that was brutally honest, saying the fiscal realities at the district are bleak.

“It would be easy for each one of us to say, ‘Yes, we will be giving you whatever you want, because we want you to vote for us,’” she said. “But I really can’t make that promise.”

Ware suggested the students hold a fundraiser — selling not ice cream, but Smoothies.

After the forum, student Luca Vallino said his favorite three candidates were Smith, Ware and Heron. “I just liked their ideas,” he said.

Student Isabella Gay said she liked Cordero, Ware and Smith. “They did a great job and will help our school,” she said.

Alice Upton liked Ware and Inda. “I think they are really good, and are going to deliver a lot of extra stuff,” she said.

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

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