Before an attentive audience that packed all of Mira Theatre’s seats at a 09/18/14 forum , a portion of Vallejo School Board candidates fielded a lengthy battery of questions that covered a wide range of issues. Sponsored by Citizens for Vallejo, incumbent members as well as new faces responded to questions that largely focused on such topics as teachers salaries, budget constraints, staff recognition/retention and classroom safety.
It’s a high stakes event, for a number of reasons. Members of the Vallejo City Unified Board of Education are elected to five-year terms. With three of the five seats up for election this November, the Board’s makeup could potentially change dramatically should all three seats be filled by new members. Additionally, Vallejo schools’ dropout rate is still considerably higher than the state average as well as other Solano County schools. And its graduation rate (64.9 in 2011/2013 school year) lags well behind other Solano county cities.
Could class size reduction be part of the remedy? Incumbent Hazel Wilson stressed that “we don’t have funds to reduce class size” and that “it would be irresponsible to reduce size.” When asked what her strategy would be should the Board members be given a mandate to initiate budget cuts, Wilson said that she would “increase revenues first” and also tap the reserve which is .5% above the required 3% level. Ruscal Cayangyang would advocate for “cutting administration”, saying that, compared to other districts, “We have twice as many administrators in this district”.
Candidates agreed that Vallejo teachers are underpaid. Yet had differing perspectives about just how to retain them. Shelee Loughmiller stressed that solely offering more pay would be a short-sighted solution. “They have the toughest jobs in the world. Sometimes offering them a pat on the back can also go a long ways.”
Safety issues were discussed but of the three candidates who were asked directly what their school district priorities should be, Loughmiller was the only candidate who stressed that safety concerns should be addressed ‘head on’ . And how would potential board members deal with a school superintendent they had issues with? Incumbent Tony Ubalde said he would continue his preference for “talking one on one”. Candidate suggestions for evaluating the performance of the school superintendent included observation (Ubalde), a 360 degree review process (Loughmiller) and financial solvency (Burky Worel).
Ten VCUSD candidates are currently listed on the November 4 General Election ballot.