Santa Paula Times

Six candidates vying for five seats on unified district board

October 26, 2012
Santa Paula News

If voters approve Measure M on the November 6 ballot, a new school board will be seated to oversee the combined districts. There are six candidates running for the five-member board.

The top three vote earners would serve a four-year term and the remaining two would serve a two-year term to stagger the elections. 

The voting area is the Santa Paula Union High School District, which encompasses the Santa Paula Elementary School District and the three smaller independent school districts. The three outlying districts are not included in the unification. If the voters approve the new unified district, the school district would begin operations on July 1, 2013.

Christina “Tina” Urias

Christina “Tina” Urias has been a Santa Paula resident since 1971. She is a graduate of Santa Paula High School and a graduate of California State University Northridge. She is married with one son who is 24 years old. Both her husband and son are also graduates of Santa Paula High School. She is employed by the state of California as a workers compensation consultant. __

Urias said she is running for the unified school board because she feels the 10 years she has served on the high school board have prepared her for the daunting task of implementing a brand new school district for Santa Paula. “A school board should be reflective of the community it serves so that all perspectives are heard, honored and implemented into sound policy,” she said. “I believe I can be a bridge connecting the community to the unified school district.”__

She supports unification for the following reasons: 

A. There will be one school schedule for our families to coordinate. Their kids, whether they are in high school middle school, or elementary school will all be on the same vacation schedule. Classes will start on the same date and classes will end on the same date._ 

B. The curriculum will be articulated. By that she means communication about students’ progress will be easier to do and it will be ongoing because all teachers will be under one district. When a student goes from middle school to high school, he or she will be more than just a file filled with information and that will be because of the consistent communication that will have taken place. _ 

C. Unification will result in savings. There will only be one superintendent and one chief business officer. __

She said the board can deal with a shrinking budget by working collaboratively with unions to keep as many reductions as possible away from the classroom. She added, “We need to continue fostering relationships with business, non-profit organizations, and community groups such as Santa Paula Latino Town Hall, Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimists, etc.”

What ideas does she bring to the board? “One idea I have is to quickly address the concerns I’ve heard from the community regarding school employees’ salaries, benefits, jobs, and classroom sizes,” she said. “We need to assure employees and the community the resources we have are spent wisely and equitably. The sooner we address these issues and allay employees’ anxieties the sooner we can concentrate on classroom learning for our students. Another idea will be to hire the strongest superintendent we can. We need a superintendent who can hit the ground running with implementation of a newly created district and who is also a good fit for our community.”_

She said the biggest challenge facing the district will be its transition to a unified district. She added that the board will need to be collaborative with the unions. “We will need to ensure the curriculum is articulated to meet the needs of all students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Another challenge is to see through the construction of the new science and technology building at the high school.”

Kelsey Stewart

Kelsey Stewart is 42 years old and has lived in Santa Paula for 13 years. In 1995 she moved from Missouri to California when her company relocated her to Ventura to manage the Sam Goody store at the Buenaventura Mall. She left retail management to pursue a graphic design career in 1998 and in 2003 she left the work force to stay at home with her children. Since then she has written a children’s book and has volunteered for everything from Boy Scouts of America to the Santa Paula Little League. 

“Many people know me as Book Fair Betty as I have been the chairman of Scholastic Book Fairs at both Bedell and Isbell Schools for the last three years,” she added. “I have been married to my husband Bruce for 13 years and we are raising our two boys, ages 9 and 12, both of which attend schools in the Santa Paula School District.”

Why is she running for the unified board? “I would like to be a Santa Paula Unified Trustee because I do spend many hours in our schools and know that there are programs that are working, and some that are not,” Stewart said. “I have spent time with teachers, as well as administrators, and am convinced that with proper communication our district can be improved. I know that our children are Santa Paula’s future and believe that every student in our district has the right to receive the best education our community can give them. Our students, teachers and parents need to be heard, and I will advocate for making SPUSD one of the best districts in Ventura County.”

She supports unification of the two districts. “I realize that unification may be difficult at first with all the new policies and procedures such a merger can bring,” she said. “But isn’t everything challenging at first? Rome was not built in a day, and it will take time for our schools and new SPUSD Board to adjust. I believe that unification will better prepare our students for transitions from elementary to middle to high school, and eventually on to higher education.”  

How would she deal with a shrinking budget? Stewart said shrinking budgets are becoming the norm in today’s economy, but that does not mean Santa Paula cannot give students a quality education. “There are many areas that I am sure can be looked into and evaluated to see if there are ways SPUSD can cut spending,” she added. “Having been in management for many years, I have experience in working with budgets while finding creative and logical ways to stretch the dollars that are available.”  

What ideas does she bring to a unified board? She said that she would like to look into solar energy for the schools as it has been successful in other districts in Ventura County, sometimes reversing the bills to produce extra income for sites. She would also like to implement a parent volunteer program to engage more parents to get involved with their schools because, she said, “Education should be a parent’s number one priority when it comes to their child’s success.” 

Aside from funding problems, what does she see as the biggest challenges facing the district? “I believe that our parents have a lot of power and influence on our students and would like to see programs in place to help improve their involvement in our District,” she noted. “I have heard that it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe it takes a community to better a school district. As I stated above, I am a huge proponent of communication and I know that there are parents out there that would give an arm and a leg to help their kids, eventually helping their future.” 

Chris Wilson

Chris Wilson is currently a member of the Santa Paula Union High School District Board of Trustees. He was born in Santa Paula in 1958. He is married to Yvonne Flores. They both graduated from Santa Paula High in 1977. They have two children: Juliet is in her second year at UC Berkeley and Ian is in his second year at SPHS.

He has been a part of the Ventura County Sheriffs Department Search and Rescue unit for 24 years, and has been the treasurer of the Santa Paula Education Foundation for about 10 years. This year they will give about $35,000 in scholarships.

Why is he running for the unified board? “I am a proponent of public education and want to see our local schools be as successful as possible,” Wilson said. He noted he supports unification. He believes that it will enhance education in Santa Paula.

How does he propose to deal with a shrinking budget? “By careful consideration of cost saving measures and judicious application of those measures,” he said.

As for ideas he would bring to the new unified board, Wilson said he brings his positive attitude and the belief that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a new school district.

Aside from funding problems, what does he see as the biggest challenges facing the district? “I see negative misperceptions as a major obstacle to the well being of the district,” Wilson said. “The reality is that the two districts are doing good things (MESA national champions, HS academies, etc.) but the public is often unaware or ensnared by negative publicity. Another challenge that we face is a lack of parental involvement. Perhaps due to cultural differences, we do not get large amounts of parental involvement. Increasing this would help students and the district overall.”

Tim Hicks

Tim Hicks has lived in Santa Paula for over 30 years with his wife Cathy and daughter Erin. He is a member of the Santa Paula Elementary School District Board. He noted that Erin is a product of Santa Paula school system and is presently enrolled in law school. 

He has a Bachelors Degree in Soil Science and a Masters in General Agriculture, both from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo. “After graduating with my BA in Soil Science I served in the Peace Corp in Thailand for three years,” he said. “After returning from Thailand I re-entered college and completed my Masters. I have been involved in Plant Operations and Maintenance in the field of agriculture for over 40 years. My experiences have provided me with a vast knowledge of business and budgets.” He is an active member of the Santa Paula Optimist Club, Knights of Columbus, and Guadalupe Church.

Hicks said he is running for the unified board because he said the economic future of the community of Santa Paula and its residents depends on quality schools. “The challenges facing our students are greater now than ever before, and without the proper educational foundation we are failing our children,” he said. “Unless all of our schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade, are aggressively advancing in program offerings, producing competitive test scores, and developing students to be college ready and/or career prepared in a global society an educated work force industry will not come to Santa Paula, nor will our students be capable of competing in the world market.” 

Hicks supports unification Measure M. “The time has come to consolidate and have a seamless educational program from kindergarten through 12th grade in Santa Paula,” he said. “Unification will build a fiscally smart and responsible school community from kindergarten through the 12th grade that will ensure all students receive the best education possible. We need to support our parents and the business community to work in partnership with the teachers and other school personnel to contribute to the educational programs.” 

How does he propose to deal with a shrinking budget? He said, “My goal is to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. Unification will bring more dollars to the district through funding allocations.” He added that another option the district has is to take a proactive approach to recapture lost revenue due to student unexcused absences, implementing an ADA recovery program across all grades levels such as the one used by Ventura Unified School District. 

“Unfortunately, there is going to be a funding problem until the state finds the money for education; this is a State Legislature problem that has trickled down to our local educational system,” Hicks said. “We have cut about all we can do here in Santa Paula next to cutting the number of school days; cutting school days is balancing a budget off of the backs of our students, which is unfair! Cutting our school days will not produce students to be college ready and/or career prepared in a global society, nor will it draw industry to Santa Paula. Reducing staff any more is not the answer to the budget problems either.”

As for ideas he brings to the board, Hicks said, “I have worked in industry (management) for over 40 years and have personally experienced the highs and lows. I have worked with startup business from the ground up; I know what has to be done to make a system work. I understand that there is more to education than simply producing a product or service. We are affecting people’s lives and futures, and we are affecting the future of this community. I will be there to see that all groups are treated equally.”

What other challenges does he see facing the district? He said one of the biggest issues is going to be changing longstanding “mindsets.” “It will no longer be ‘This is the way we used to do it,’” he said. “This is where my expertise in business and company mergers comes into play. It is no longer the elementary district or the high school district; it is the unified district in which all have to work together for the good of the students and staff; to make sure the new district continues to improve on all test scores, advance program offerings, educating our students to be college ready and/or career prepared in a global society and to hire a superintend that can continue to lead the new unified district.”

Michelle Kolbeck

Michelle Kolbeck now serves on the SPESD Board. She is the parent of nine children, all of whom have attended public schools in Santa Paula beginning in 1985. She has a bachelors degree in mathematics and economics and has completed the Masters in Governance for school board members. 

“As a parent I was involved in every aspect of the schools - from room mother, parent groups, booster clubs, fundraisers, school site council, district advisory committees, and finally a board member,” she noted. “In the community I have volunteered in youth sports and youth ministry.”

She said that she is running for the unified school board because she has 14 years experience in the elementary school district and is dedicated to helping all students in Santa Paula receive a quality education. “If Measure M for unification passes, I feel I will be an asset to the new board in completing the many tasks that are required for making a smooth transition to a unified district,” she said. “I have the knowledge of years of closed session items that cannot be divulged publicly about employees, workmen compensation cases, and lawsuits. I have always put the interest of students first, and have served the elementary board during my 14 years without taking any benefits, which has resulted in a savings of over $148,000 to the elementary district.”

Kolbeck said she is not against unification, but is against Measure M at this time. “I am concerned with the state economic uncertainties funding education,” she added. “I am concerned with the unknown upfront costs associated with unifying. I am concerned that with unification the current $32 million designated for the elementary may no longer be solely spent on the elementary students especially in their formative years with the needs of 2/3 of the elementary children designated as English Language Learners, and 14% of elementary students with special needs.”

How does she propose to deal with a shrinking budget? “As always, we need to make sure everyone has a buy in and understands what sort of budget and challenges the new unified district will be facing,” she said. “This must include taking a hard look at the expenses of setting up the new district along with long term costs. However, no matter what, every aspect of how the new district does business must be based first on the educational needs of the students.”

What ideas do she bring to a unified board? “I will continue to push for the best possible education for all students.... Districts are in the business of educating students and that must be the first and foremost goal in the new board’s mind. I feel that I am able to bring to the board a wide range of ideas from being a parent, my involvement with education, and being active in the community.”

Kolbeck also said, “I believe the challenge of meeting state test scores will continue to be a challenge as many of our schools reach the 800 mark. I also think that overcrowded classrooms, aging facilities and equipment, the inability to buy new textbooks, how to stay current with technology, and being able to provide extra-curricular activities will be some of the major challenges for the new district.”

Diana Ponce-Gomez

Diana Ponce-Gomez is a member of the SPUHSD Board. She was born and raised in Santa Paula and attended public schools here. After graduating from Santa Paula Union High School in 1988, she obtained a B.A. from UCLA (1992) and a law degree from UCLA School of Law (1996).

“I have been married to my high school sweetheart, Ed, for 20 years,” she said. “We returned to Santa Paula in 1998 to raise a family. We have three children - Carlos, Gabriela and Marcos. Carlos is a 7th grader at Isbell Middle School, Gabriela is a 5th grader at McKevett Elementary School and Marcos is a 3rd grader at McKevett. Ed teaches at Santa Paula Union High School. I work for a law firm in Thousand Oaks where I practice civil litigation and commercial real estate secured transactions. One motivation for me returning to Santa Paula was to give something back to the community I am so proud to be part of.” 

Why is she running for the unified board? “I am running for the unified board because I care deeply about the education Santa Paula students receive,” Ponce-Gomez said. “I want our students to attend safe schools, be challenged academically, and have a wide range of courses, electives and activities to choose from. I also value art and music programs in our schools and believe that technology in the classroom is essential. I want the unified board’s budgetary decisions to reflect this. Ultimately, I want Santa Paula’s students to be prepared to lead a successful life in whatever path they choose following graduation - college, trade school, career path, etc. I have a vested interest in the success of the unified school district because my children attend schools in the proposed district, and will continue to do so for the next decade.” 

She said she thinks that, in the long-term, unification can be a positive thing for our small community. “A major benefit of unification is having a common focus,” she added. “Instead of having a school district and school board focusing on K-8 and another focusing on 9-12, Santa Paula could have one district and school board focusing and creating policy for K-12. It is beneficial to have the focus and vision on the child from the time the child enters kindergarten through high school graduation - instead of broken up into K-8 and 9-12.” 

She noted she will address the state budget crisis utilizing the same principles she currently follows as a member of the SPUHS School Board. “I believe the unified board should be fiscally responsible using a collaborative approach - avoid deficit spending as much as possible by discussing proposed cuts with staff; finding areas to either streamline or cut and coming up with creative ideas and approaches - all with the idea of keeping cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.”

What ideas does she bring to a unified board? “Significantly, I bring several perspectives to the unified board: that of an involved parent; SPUHS Board member; product of Santa Paula public schools; daughter and wife of educators; and attorney,” she noted. “Since the unified board is responsible for building a new district, my ideas initially concern the formation of that district.”  

Aside from funding problems, what does she see as the biggest challenges facing the district? She said it is difficult to separate funding problems because they are infused with so many of the other challenges the unified board will face. “However, funding (and developing a budget) aside, the unified board has a challenging task,” she added. “Creating a new school district is no easy feat. Before the unified school district opens its doors, the unified board must create the organization of the district, hire a superintendent and management staff, develop policies and procedures, develop grade level organization and education programs and develop a master facilities plan.”