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Santa Barbara School Board: Heron, Cordero, Deacon On Top — So Far

With Ed Heron barely edging Charlotte Ware, absentee ballots turned in Tuesday could tip the scales.

Even though unofficial results from the Santa Barbara County Elections Office indicate that Annette Cordero, Susan Deacon and Ed Heron have won the five-way race for three seats on the Santa Barbara school board, it isn’t over yet.

Heron, a retired real-estate businessman, is barely ahead of Charlotte Ware, immediate past president of the Dos Pueblos High PTSA and a former engineer, so the absentee ballots that were turned in Tuesday could tip the scales.

As such, Heron refrained from declaring victory Tuesday night.

“It looks like there will be two or three more days of sleepless nights,” he told Noozhawk Tuesday evening by phone from his home. “I’m amazed at how close it is. I have to say, Charlotte is a great candidate, so it should be close. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Ware couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday night.

With all precincts reporting, Cordero, the race’s lone incumbent and a Santa Barbara City College instructor, captured 25 percent of the vote; Deacon, 23.19 percent; and Heron, 16.74 percent. Close behind was Ware, with 16.55 percent of the vote. She trails Heron by just 241 votes.

Jacqueline Inda took 7.19 percent, and Kate Smith, a special-education activist who was booted from the election by the County Elections Office for living outside the district, nonetheless was on the ballot and received 11 percent.

Speaking from home around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night, Deacon, a former SBCC journalism instructor and current president of the South Coast Community Aquatic Center, said she was pleasantly surprised by her decisive victory.

“It’s a pretty exciting time to run, and an even more exciting time to win – to be a part of this feeling of optimism in the country,” she said.

Deacon praised the tone of the campaign, which by all accounts was civil.

Now, she said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do. Given the financial crisis the state is in, the best thing we can do is sharpen our goals. We need to build consensus (on the board).”

Cordero and Deacon have made no secret about the fact that they supported each other’s candidacy during the campaign.

Despite their mutual respect, their platforms were not in lockstep.

For instance, while Deacon supported the board’s recent decision to ban the use of cell phones during the school day, Cordero reminded voters that she voted against the proposal last year. 

Also, in response to a question at a candidates forum, Deacon said she would work to find more money for athletics. Cordero — and the other candidates — refrained from committing, saying athletics is just one of many departments in need of money these days.

Both agree on what they believe to be the No. 1 issue facing the local schools today: The achievement gap separating the test scores of white and Latino students. 

Throughout the campaign, Heron, a successful real-estate businessman with deep ties to the nonprofit world, has vowed to bring more technology into the classrooms. As the immediate past president of the local non-profit Partners in Education, he has already shown that he can bring more technology into the homes of low-income families.

The program, called Computers for Families, involves collecting and refurbishing old computers, so they can be placed — free of charge — into the homes of underserved fourth-graders. To date, some 7,200 local families have received a computer. With Heron at the helm, the nonprofit was able to raise nearly $4 million for an endowment that allows the program to run in perpetuity.

Ware tended to shine most during the campaign when speaking as a former school volunteer. At a recent forum hosted by the K-8 Open Alternative School, Ware shared advice that the students and faculty seemed to take to heart. In answer to a question about how to help the school acquire grass for its playground, 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.

On gangs, Deacon, Cordero and Heron seem to see eye to eye. Both Deacon and Cordero support the board’s recent decision to hire two gang outreach specialists, who will work directly on and off campus with students involved in gangs. Heron championed the idea of forging partnerships between schools, cities and nonprofit organizations that would treat the gang dilemma as a regional problem.

He praised a recent effort over the summer spearheaded by a task force of officials from the city, schools and area nonprofit groups in which 80 students involved with gangs were interviewed and counseled. The group wound up finding jobs for 10 of the youths, and produced reports on the 52 school-age youths for the administrators at the schools they attend.

Deacon said she believes the key to closing the achievement gap is hiring good teachers, and said to do this, the district needs to change some of its current practices, such as hiring so many teachers on a temporary basis, which she said is bad for morale.

Cordero has long contended that not enough academic counselors encourage Latino students to take high-level courses, and on the campaign trail she reiterated her belief that the district needs to take a hard look at this.

During the campaign, Heron criticized the way in which some schools are implementing the cell-phone ban, indicating that he believes they are being heavy handed.

Cell phones, he said at one forum, are “today’s communication tool. And when students are communicating, we need to applaud it and let them communicate.” (He did, however, say he understands that cell phones shouldn’t be used in the classroom.)

Jacqueline Inda, the handpicked candidate of a new advocacy group to stem gang violence called Esperanza, said she knows from firsthand experience what it feels like to be a disenfranchised teen. During the campaign, she said she is a reformed gang member and product of local poor neighborhoods.

Inda said local schools need to do a better job of making students feel connected, thereby preventing them from joining gangs in the first place. She credited a program at Santa Barbara High School for achieving a sense of connectedness among Latino students called the Don Riders. The program allows students to customize their bicycles, oftentimes in the low-rider style.

Ware seemed to differ with Cordero and Deacon on several issues, such as how to handle gangs, and how to approach the Gifted and Talented Education program.

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

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.

Hope, Montecito and Carpinteira school districts

At the three-school Hope elementary district in the upper State Street area, Christopher Gallo and Chad Prentice beat out M. Jason Kelly in the three-way race for two seats.

Gallo collected 40.47 percent of the votes; followed by Prentice, with 30.05; and Kelly, 28.29.

In the single-school Montecito elementary district, political newcomers Brett Matthews and Mary Morouse ousted incumbent Robert Kupiec. Matthews received 44.67 percent of the vote; Morouse, 30.05; and Kupiec, 24.79.

In the K-12 Carpinteria Unified School District, Louis Panizzon and Terry Banks edged out Royce Stauffer in the three-way race for two seats on the school board. Panizzon garnered 48.2 percent of the vote; Banks, 35.73; and Stauffer, 15.83.

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

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