There are 11 of us running for a position on the Santa Ynez Valley High School board. We have a fine school, but I believe it could be better.

There are several issues which need attention — better partnering with teachers in salary negotiations, higher vigilance in utilization of precious Measure K money, encouragement of more parental volunteerism.

However, one issue should take absolute priority — improved student and faculty safety.

We all love an open-air campus, but the nature of such a design presents challenges for protecting children from the threat of an active shooter. Having attended nearly all board meetings for the past two years, I am aware of no discussion to spend Measure K money making such improvements. Local law-enforcement's recommendations have been largely ignored.

The monthly ritual of having freshmen phys ed students run three miles from campus to a service station and back, an exercise called “the gasser,” is putting students at risk. Much of the path is out of sight below Highway 246, hidden by forest and alongside board fences. Parents report homeless individuals frequent the path. Students unable to keep fast trail fall behind as stragglers — easy prey. My repeated request that parental volunteer monitors be recruited has been ignored.

The drug problem on campus is significant. In conversations with local law enforcement, it is estimated that at any given time, 35 students are using hard drugs, and seven are dealing. Students tell me use of marijuana in the locker rooms and vaping in the restrooms make many uncomfortable using the facilities. Off campus, rave parties in the woods continue to occur.

The district has in the past employed a school resource sheriff's deputy. For budgetary reasons, this was terminated. Though students are told they can freely and anonymously report illicit activities, they are reluctant, due to a perceived fear of peer reprisal. But law enforcement relates that students historically are comfortable in reporting this to a uniformed resource officer. Further, the presence of an officer on campus is proven to dramatically reduce drug, alcohol and other illicit activity. When other area schools, in more dire financial distress, can afford a resource officer, SYVUHS must do likewise.

In 2015, Carina Velazquez was killed crossing busy Highway 246 in front of the high school. I have proposed a solution for this traffic congestion to County Supervisor Joan Hartmann. As a board member, I would seek the support of community patrons and parents to pursue this plan.

Anyone walking to a Friday night football game knows how dark and unsafe the parking lots are. The lack of proper lighting creates danger for families on game night, and for our teachers working late at other times.

My safety concerns are seemingly not shared by the other candidates. In fact, one candidate recently publicly mocked me when he said our community is very safe. I wonder if he would be bold enough to tell the mothers of Stoneman Douglas High, Columbine High or Sandy Hook Elementary, they needn't have such fears? The facts are, our wonderful community is woefully under-protected. During the day, Buellton, Solvang and Santa Ynez are each served by only one sheriff's deputy. That simply does not allow timely and effective protection for our school children.

As parents and patrons we should be proactive, not reactive, to these critical issues of student and teacher safety. Outside of the family, nobody is in a better position to protect our youth and help them develop into fine men and women than the schools — and the school board.

John Baeke, M.D. is a candidate for Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District board. Contact him at www.DrBaekeForSchoolBoard.org

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