On this edition, a special presentation of the Candidates' Night, Part 2: The School Board Races. We hear from all the candidates in the upcoming election, many of whom are unknown to the public.
Recorded and Produced by Radio Elk Grove
Election season in Elk Grove Mayoral, School District Candidates Debate Summary
By Michael Monasky
With the general election only 44 days away, local media including Elk Grove News,Elk Grove Patch, ACCESS Sacramento and the Sacramento Bee held a candidates' debate at the Holiday Inn Express on Monday night. The event was divided into two sessions: the first for the six mayoral opponents, and the second for the eight Elk Grove Unified School District contestants for three seats in Area one, six, and seven.
This is the first mayoral election for Elk Grove since the electorate voted in 2010 to have a mayor chosen by the people. Greg Higley was not able to attend, as the five remaining candidates proceeded to answer questions from the panel of journalists.
Sophia Scherman is an incumbent council member since the inception of the city in 2000 and a 40 year resident. She supports no new taxes, local control, and public safety (police). She said that she hopes “to lead Elk Grove to the next level” with a focus on jobs. She said that she cannot support the expansion of the city's Sphere Of Influence (SOI) “in its present form.” Sherman said that the citizens should vote for any city council vacancy caused by the election. She could not find further efficiencies in the city budget, but opined that the city does not need more sports fields over improvements to resources for seniors and veterans. She said that she'd like to see a veteran's hall built in the city “to show our appreciation.” In regards to the city's disaster preparedness, she said that the city council's chamber converts to a disaster center, adding “we are ready.”
Lynn Wheat is a Sacramento County school nurse who helps kids with very special medical needs. A 25 year resident, Wheat has limited her mayoral campaign to $1,000 while vowing to set the city on a path to “campaign finance reform” while serving “all residents.” She opposes the SOI, saying that the city has already committed $1.5M to the expansion of the city's boundaries. The South East Planning Area (SEPA) is unplanned and unzoned, and should be used as a crucible for the public will. Wheat said that this is a “different economy,” so that the city should drop the SOI proposal and let Elk Grove get “better, not bigger.” Wheat said that the plan for charter city status was less important than other city priorities, and to “leave the city as is.”
About the failed city effort to build a regional mall, Wheat said that there are no remaining interested tenants. She also called upon the economic development director as “expert” to engage the new owner, Howard Hughes Corporation, to find feasible projects from which the people could choose. Wheat claimed that she has attended every city council meeting and can be seen in the public comment section. She said that the 2003 general plan for the city has been amended 25 times, leading to a piecemeal deterioration of the document. She complained that the city meets separately with landowners in the SEPA negotiations, and feels that the process requires transparency. SEPA is supposed to attract jobs, but the plan so far is really more housing. With the “sixth worst ozone levels” in the country, Wheat said she promoted light rail public transit alternatives to the current sprawl, “which makes this worse.”
Gary Davis is also an incumbent council member. He said he ran for election in 2006 to map a new direction in the city's priorities: jobs, safety, and to make Elk Grove a “cultural destination.” Davis said that he will collaborate with council colleagues when making city appointments. He claimed pride in bringing 1500 state corrections jobs to Elk Grove recently. Davis declared that he originally endorsed the plan to charter the city based upon illegal street racing; it was so bad due to gang activities in Stockton and South Sacramento that impinge upon Elk Grove. According to Davis, SEPA is the answer to the “jobs-housing imbalance.” Zoning changes are not enough, he said: the city must reduce fees. Davis maintained that the Sacramento Business Journal once said that Elk Groves fees were too high, and that the “mayor has to go out to sell the community.” He said that he had just received the endorsement of the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce. The Howard Hughes Corporation won't sell the failed Promenade Mall, but the city should push the company “to make the mall a priority” while offering “reasonable incentives.” Davis imagined for a moment: “a private university?...a corporate campus?...an 18 to 20 thousand seat theater?” He concluded that the city needs a “broad, economic strategy.”
Lawanna Montgomery runs an education company. She said her priorities include jobs, housing, sports, and education. Montgomery wants to make City Hall a “one-stop shop.” She said her experience with schools proves she is a “team player”. She said that the city needs about 45,000 jobs. Montgomery claimed that old Elk Grove should be the subject of more redevelopment, and that the city of Emeryville “shone” as an example of those moneys put to good use. In response to a question about the South East Planning Area, she repeated the need for a “one-stop shop” to create a “business-friendly environment,” maintaining more incentives are needed. Montgomery also opposed Proposition 32, which seeks to control corporate campaign contributions, saying that there should be “no limits on spending.” She lamented that she “could not attend city council meetings” due to a fibula fracture.
Jerry Braxmeyer is a businessman who says he was born and raised in Elk Grove. He stated that “city hall needs new blood” and it needs to attract business. “Are you better off ?” he asked, alleging that the city cut police services to grant subsidies to allow California Corrections to locate in Elk Grove. The city needs to “create jobs and shed burdensome regulations.” When asked about creating efficiencies in city governance, Braxmeyer said that more should be spent on police (>60%) and that “public safety is equivalent to business friendly.” He said he thinks that Proposition 32 is alright so that contributions by government contractors to politicians would be limited/banned. Braxmeyer said that he has five children and attends city council meetings as he can.
The mayoral debate ended with a lightning round question: what is the city doing to create youth activities and diversions to reduce the high cost of access for youth to have fun? Sherman said “put 'em to work” in parks, bowling alleys, and allow skateboarding and trail walks. Wheat said that the city has a youth commission. She admonished the city to work with the community services district and schools to collaborate with kids and these agencies. Davis pointed to the Morse Community Playground, the Elk Grove Sports Foundation, libraries, teen center, and the plan to build more cultural amenities. Montgomery said that she has been working since age 14, and that peer tutors such as those at her learning center, can help kids engage in on-campus activities. Braxmeyer suggested expanding the teen center, putting “people before politics.”
School District Race
There are eight candidates for three seats in the Elk Grove Unified School District. The District 1 seat has three candidates: Susan Parvis, James Letoa, and Tony Perez. District 6 has Jake Rambo vying against Steve Ly. And District 7 pits Al Rowlett, Carmine Forcina, and Theresa Beals.
Parvis, a resident since 1990, has volunteered for 15 years and has a degree in finance. She supports Proposition 30, saying its failure would be “catastrophic.” Parvis said “I'm not running for stipends” and other controversial benefits for school board members. She said that the board must honor the contract it signs with its superintendent, but that the pay is high.
Letoa said he is chairman of an English language learner community who is not a special interest. Due to the fact that foreclosure rates are high, Proposition 30 must pass to avoid more deficits in the school budget. He said that the taxpayers should decide whether the board members should have a stipend, declaring, “I can do it for free.” Furthermore, he questioned whether board members should have health care benefits for life, repeating that “stakeholders should weigh in.”
Perez said he is a “product of hard work” with a BA from San Francisco State, having taught K-12 before moving to the State Department of Health Services. He said he has a child with special needs. Perez declared that “Proposition 30 must pass” and cited the Davis School District that passed its own tax. He said that he enjoys a PERS and STRS retirement package and “I support these benefits” for teachers. “Teachers worry about pinkslips-- I support teachers,” he said. Perez remarked that there should be absolutely no increase in wages and benefits to the superintendent.
Rambo is an attorney and was appointed to the District 1 seat by the board. He said he has 18 years experience as a volunteer and wants to put kids before politics. Rambo said that schools are lagging behind in technology, but should allow kids to “bring your own device” to enhance digital learning. He cited the example of kids who learned ice cream making techniques and got jobs at the newest local creamery. Rambo said that he has talked with labor representatives to improve labor management relations and avoid conflict, and participated in “interest-based” training. He said that he is opposed to teacher evaluations based upon test scores and stated that “social and environmental stressors invalidate standardized testing.” He said that his wife, a teacher, complained that she spent 27 school days in test preparation with her class.
Ly said that he is a product of the public schools. His wife is a teacher, and he works at the Sacramento County Office of Education with foster youth. He noted that “poor folks cannot afford devices” and the transition through the digital divide is the biggest problem facing the role of technology in the schools. Ly said that he enjoys the endorsement of the California School Employees Association. Ly said “the board is disconnected,” “you see protests in the streets.” The common interest between labor and management is with children, Ly said, and that when the biggest achievement for some abused and neglected schoolchildren is their attendance, tests should be used to determine the students' needs, not to punish them or their teachers.
Al Rowlett is the incumbent board member in District 7. He is a licensed clinical social worker and says that he has “expert” experience as a member of the board, and that employees do not have to be at odds with management. Rowlett supports Proposition 30 and this direct message to the public: if the taxes don't pass, maintain morale and unity. Solvency is essential, he said, and focus groups could be formed to elicit community input for the cuts should they become necessary. Rowlett said that a consensus must be reached between management and labor to ensure affordability in the health care package that is offered to staff. He supports online agendas and streamed meetings in the future, and students could record meetings for now. Rowlett does not support teacher evaluations based upon test scores, saying that “the most important relationship is between teacher and student.”
Forcina has a history of teaching in the Regional Occupational Program, Head Start, and community schools. He feels that there are “lost opportunities to have meetings with stakeholders.” In the face of real cuts, the board must ask: “How does this impact the classroom?” he said. Forcina addressed Rowlett directly regarding board transparency and online access to agendas and documents. “Why haven't you done it?” he inquired. After all, parents obtain their kids' grades online, and this “ease of access to information” is missing, he asserted. Forcina opposes teacher evaluations based upon student test scores. “How well does the teacher meet the individual needs of the child?” he asked.
Beals said she is a concerned parent who “fights for the children and classrooms.” Should “trigger cuts” be imposed upon the failure of Proposition 30, Beals proposed the question, “Does your job improve kids' lives?” There are three deputy superintendents of elementary education: “Why?” she queried. Regarding board transparency, Beals complained that parents with kids need agendas. Beals opposed teacher evaluations based upon test scores. She closed the debate, saying that “teachers do all they can”: “they are our first line” for our kids and our schools.
The Elk Grove mayoral and school district debates can be seen in their entirety on ACCESS Sacramento Cable Channel 17 at 5PM Sunday, September 30, 2012.