Facilities expertise propels candidate

GILROY
– David McRae wants to become part of a team, even if its
players have major obstacles to conquer over the next four
years.
GILROY – David McRae wants to become part of a team, even if its players have major obstacles to conquer over the next four years.

If McRae can best at least two out of six school board hopefuls in the Nov. 5 election, he’ll join the seven-member team known as the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Trustees. Over the next four years, he says his team’s goals should include improving student performance and enhancing school facilities.

He’s realistic enough to know that an obstacle to those goals will be the state’s budget crunch. And although he’s never sat on a school board before, McRae says he’s plenty ready to meet the challenge of accomplishing academic and facilities goals while enduring financial obstacles.

“My mother was a school teacher (in Morgan Hill). My grandfather was a superintendent (in Minnesota), so I have a background in education. I have a background in facilities,” McRae, a supervisor in Stanford University’s facilities and operations department, said.

Facilities

McRae is supporting Measure I, the school district’s $69 million bond that will fund construction of a second high school and renovation of several other campuses. He likes that the bond measure calls for a citizens oversight committee and addresses school safety and security needs.

McRae called the measure’s list of projects “balanced” in its attempt to address a variety of educational concerns.

“There are projects (in Measure I) that support music programs and the arts. If you have a world that’s just math and engineering, it’s a little gray. I think we need the arts,” McRae said.

If the bond measure fails, McRae does not anticipate a dramatic impact on the day- to- day operations of the district. However, he says revisiting the district’s 10-year master plan would be necessary.

“Perhaps we’ll need to re-prioritize and cut back to the most critical projects based on the goals that the district and the board set forth,” McRae said. “Ultimately there will have to be facilities upgrades in the district,” something that could trigger another bond effort in 2004.

McRae, an ex-maintenance employee of the district, says the district has cut too many of its maintenance positions over the last 10 years in the effort to save costs. He said a loss of skilled workers has lead to the maintenance troubles the GUSD is experiencing now.

“That was penny wise and pound foolish,” McRae asserted. “Now, to a certain extent, we’re paying a price for that.”

Finances

A key issue for McRae is how the district plans to manage itself in these budget-lean times anticipated in California for at least another two school years. If elected, McRae says he will do a careful study of the district’s budget and capture inefficiencies in its operations and organization.

“We need to save money in ways that don’t affect teacher training and students in the classroom,” McRae said.

McRae says he will address all budget concerns in a way that still allows district goals to be met.

Curriculum

McRae knows what made him decide to run for office.

“The board meeting where the honors program was discussed was probably the moment I decided to run. The fact that there even was a debate about having an honors program made me very surprised,” McRae said. “I fully support honors programs.”

McRae said he believes in challenging students to meet the highest level possible and wants to celebrate the talents of Gilroy students.

“We probably have national level-scholar students in Gilroy, but the district risks losing those to private schools because the curriculum is more challenging,” McRae said.

The 20-year Gilroyan doesn’t see honors programs as discriminatory, but does see a need to have bilingual students evaluated differently.

“Students who can come in and become fluent in two languages should be treated like honors students,” McRae said. “English learner students are often portrayed as a drag on the system. I don’t see it that way in most cases. These are students that are being challenged in a way beyond normal students and they should be treated like honors students, because they are.”

Measuring student performance via standardized tests is something McRae calls “a good thing,” and he supports the use of a high school exit exam students must pass before receiving a diploma in California, starting in 2004.

McRae says schools must be careful not to teach to the test as it could potentially harm performance.

“If the world becomes only about the test, what kind of motivation as a student do I have to learn every day? As a measuring stick, (standardized) tests are fantastic, but to make it the focus of your curriculum is a mistake,” McRae said.

Education is supposed to round out a student as a person, McRae says.

“What about the student that’s not great at math and not destined to be a writer, but may be the most famous painter to ever come out of Gilroy?” McRae says.

Communication

McRae sees room for improvement not only for Gilroy school children and facilities, but for district-wide communication, too. He said he wants to see re-broadcasts of board meetings done in Spanish and wants to increase the opportunities for citizens to address the board.

Currently, citizens get time at the beginning of the bi-monthly school board meetings to speak to the board on any subject, but the state’s open meeting laws limit how trustees can respond when topics that are not posted on the agenda are brought up.

“I also think it’s critical that any board member and district staff respond within one business day to any phone call or e-mail, even if it’s just to say ‘I don’t have an answer, but I’m researching this …'” McRae said.

“One of the cornerstones of my campaign is that citizens need easier access to the board members and staff. And I certainly believe they need more oversight into some of these major decisions about the future of the district,” said McRae.

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