Seven of 11 candidates for three seats on the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District Board of Education met at a forum Wednesday night to answer questions ranging from how to assure students’ safety to how funds should be spent.
Unlike candidates at some other recent forums, the seven generally kept their answers short and concise, resulting in the event taking less than the two hours allotted for the use of the Little Theater on the high school campus.
About 35 members of the public turned out to hear what they had to say at the forum sponsored by the Santa Ynez Valley Star.
Moderator Dave Bemis said the fact that four candidates were not present shouldn’t be seen as a lack of interest on their part.
“We knew with 11 candidates there was no way we could find a date when all of them could attend,” Bemis said.
Those who participated were retired patient financial counselor Eileen Preston, musician Carl Johnson, retired school administrator and incumbent Jan Clevenger, business owner Kros Andrade, business owner and social worker Jessica Yacoub, lawyer Tyler Sprague and surgeon John Baeke.
Those who did not attend were association executive Elizabeth Breen, writer, retailer and substitute teacher Lori Parker, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Eric Zivic and retired teacher Tory Babcock.
Babcock was appointed to the board of education in a special meeting Oct. 3 to fill the remaining two-year term of Steve Foley, who resigned Aug. 10.
State law required Foley’s seat to be filled within 60 days, so the board of education had to make an appointment prior to the Nov. 6 General Election.
However, Bobcock’s name will remain on the ballot, and if she is one of the top three vote-getters in the election, she will take one of the open four-year seats.
The board will then have to make another appointment to replace Foley.
In addition to Clevenger’s expiring four-year term, seats to be filled are those of Kyle Abello and Jerry Swanitz, who chose not to seek re-election.
Questions and answers
Candidates were asked about the school’s role in addressing student drug and alcohol use revealed in a student health survey, the most effective way to keep students safe on campus and what they see as the school’s biggest strengths and weaknesses.
The seven were also asked how to balance the needs of the school with those of the faculty and staff, what proportion of funds should be allocated for career technical education and traditional academic courses, what the priorities should be for the 10-year facilities and the maintenance master plan.
In addition, they were asked why they are running for the school board, what issues are important to them and what they believe caused the race to draw such a large field of candidates.
For each question, the order in which candidates responded was determined by a random drawing, and often they agreed in their answers, with certain themes recurring in their responses to more than one of the questions.
Drugs and alcohol
Regarding the school’s role in dealing with drug and alcohol use, Yacoub said the school can provide education on the effects and consequences of substance abuse, students should have access to a mental health professional and students should be held accountable for their actions.
“The solution starts at home,” said Johnson, who also cited the percentage of students who reported being bullied, in a fight and seeing a weapon at school. “To me, this is almost more alarming and concerning.”
Clevenger said there has been a decrease in alcohol use but an increase in prescription drug use, and while the solution starts at home, it requires “the entire community, parents and (school) staff embracing this issue and doing what’s right for kids.”
Sprague also said the problem is a community issue but the solution mostly falls on parents, although the school can support their efforts. He said the lack of a health class at the school is “kind of outrageous and needs to be changed,” adding he believes in restorative justice.
Preston said drug and alcohol use on campus has been a problem for years, and solving it is not the responsibility of any one person.
“I really think nothing works better than parents, the schools and everyone working together,” she said.
Baeke said the problem is far greater than anyone believes, noting sheriff’s deputies told him there are 35 students using hardcore drugs, seven dealing drugs on campus and “marijuana use in the locker room is not uncommon,” and he said the Sheriff’s Office should provide a campus resource officer.
“Students simply do not feel comfortable reporting such drug use to administrators, but they have no problem reporting it to a uniformed officer,” he said.
“I personally feel the responsibility should be taken care of at home,” Andrade said, adding students who know of drug use can go to the Drug Free Coalition office to ask for help.
Keeping students safe
Candidates were told campus safety concerns not only include an active shooter but also bullying and even mold contamination and were asked what the most effective policies, procedures and services would be to keep students safe.
Baeke said the recommendations for making the campus safer made by the Sheriff’s Office should be implemented, and he called for more illumination in the parking lot.
He also criticized “The Gasser,” a 1½-mile physical education run along the trail beside Highway 246 to Alamo Pintado Road and back, because it offers “many opportunities” to harm stragglers but is only monitored at each end.
Preston said the district has a comprehensive safety plan, but the staff needs more training on identifying potentially dangerous situations, especially those indicated on social media.
Andrade said he would like to see an officer assigned to the campus who would walk around and talk to students.
Yacoub said the district should hire security professionals to provide advice on how to deal with such things as an active shooter. She also said the district must be equitable in administering discipline.
Johnson said current safety policies are adequate, noting three staff members are on patrol and in constant communication with each other.
“More guns on campus will not make it safer,” he said, but he also advocated better lighting in the parking lot, addressing traffic at the dangerous corner of Highway 246 and Refugio Road and hiring a mental health professional to moderate disputes and help students with the transition in their lives.
“We don’t need to be worried about boogeymen jumping out and attacking students,” Sprague said. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn't be prepared.”
He said the district needs to constantly review and revise its security plan.
Clevenger said she feels “relatively safe” and it’s “probably highly unlikely anything would happen here,” adding the school has a caring staff, a great student support system and a good parent motivation system, but the school could do a better job enforcing antibullying rules.
“We need a mental health professional to help families that are really struggling,” she said.
Academics vs. careers
Asked what proportion of the district's resources should be spent on career technical education compared to traditional academic and arts classes, candidates couldn’t pin down a ratio.
But Johnson noted that nationally, a third of students will not go to college, pointing out the cost is $100,000 for a degree from a state university and $150,000 for a private institution.
He said the question is whether college is right for everyone or whether courses can be offered that provide graduates with a niche for success in the community.
Preston said students must meet graduation requirements, so both rigorous academic and career training are essential. She said the school can provide career and technical training options that will allow students to succeed.
Yacoub said she couldn’t say what the exact proportions should be, but she said technical careers are replacing many traditional jobs, and the school must find the best place for each student.
Andrade also didn’t have percentages, but he said looking back at his years in school they had home economics, wood shop and art classes, and some classmates have gone into construction companies and others into the arts.
“I think (career technical education) classes are tremendously important to have,” he said.
“Children are not created equal,” Baeke said, adding that to help students achieve their dreams, the curriculum must be flexible.
He also recommended surveying alumni from the past 10 to 15 years to see if their education at the high school prepared them for their careers.
Sprague said the school should produce well-rounded graduates.
“I feel like the arts are being lost in all this,” he said, and while the school can’t create classes for every passion, it can reach out to fill holes in the curriculum.
Clevenger said she is the parent of two men who would attribute their success to the background they got in career technical education.
“Children learn differently; they have different needs,” she said. “Some kids come to school solely for their (career technical education) classes.”