Hollister district candidates talk budget, libraries, charter school

Kindergartner Sarah Reyes, 5, works on a language arts computer program as she rotates through four stations during class in February at the Gilroy Prep School.

There are nine candidates facing off in the Hollister School District to gain four of five open seats on the board of trustees.

The following are stances provided by the candidates on why they ran, goals, approaches to finances and charter schools.

Michael Keith

Michael Keith, a small business owner, decided to run after he discovered the district was shutting down libraries and computer labs. Keith has two children in the district and said not every family has access to modern technology.

“I believe we need to have a certain amount of vocational opportunities for students,” he said. “Not all of them are going to college.”

He said the district should have a “balanced” approach to reductions instead of cutting libraries. He said he supports use of more volunteers.

He said he would like to see schools reexamine their zero-tolerance policies and disciplinary procedures. He also mentioned that with differing education levels among students, perhaps the district could categorize students to match them with learners at the same levels.

As for the charter petition before the board, he said he’s not opposed to charter schools.

“It does provide choice,” he said. “It does give additional classroom space and it gives additional teachers.”

Ben Flores

Ben Flores, a groundskeeper and bus driver, works for a district in San Jose. He has been a resident for nearly 10 years and has seven children.

“Dealing with the district and dealing with what’s happening in our schools, it’s moved me to want to get more involved,” he said.

His biggest issue is the loss of computer labs.

“If we get behind, our kids are going to fall behind even more,” he said, adding that it’s caused a problems for a lot of families.

As for finances, he said the district should reduce administrative costs. He noted how the district has paid a consultant to watch over the finance director’s work.

“If they hired somebody to do the job, I think they need to do the job,” he said of the finance director.

Flores does not support charter schools.

“It’s an all-star program,” he said. “They pick and choose who can walk into their schools.”

One of his goals is unification for some of the 11 districts here.

“That is going to be one of my main goals, to unify the school district,” he said.

Judi Johnson

Judi Johnson, a retired teacher appointed to her seat last May, is running because she “promised them I’d do it.”

“They need continuity,” she said. “I have expertise.”

One of her big goals is stabilization of funding while working with legislators and others – along with reduction of classroom sizes.

She noted that 37 percent of families do not have Internet access and said she wants to see the county library “utilized to the fullest” if the school libraries are closed.

To get more volunteers in schools and in their libraries, she said it would require talks with unions.

“Sit down at a table and let’s work this out,” she said. “These are our kids we are talking about.”

As for a charter school, she said there have been alternative schools “since forever.”

“It’s public money,” she said. “It’s not private money. I think we need to think of the effect on every taxpayer.”

Dee Brown

Dee Brown, a real estate broker finishing her third term on the board, said the district is “in the midst of some real big challenges and we need some experience on the board.”

Her main goals are reducing classroom sizes, reviving canceled programs and upgrading technology. Her overriding concern is to keep the district under local control, which it lost from the state and regained in recent years after financial problems.

“The tagline of my campaign is keeping children at the heart of decisions,” she said.

Regarding needed concessions from unions, she said she understands as a real estate broker that people are struggling.

“I wish in my heart we could pay people what they want, but the money is not there,” she said.

She said she favors charter schools “if they come from within the community,” a reference to the Gilroy-based school petitioning for a campus here.

“This particular charter school, I am opposed to,” she said. “Philosophically, I don’t agree with their methods.”

Lupe Navarro

Lupe Navarro, a retired fiscal manager from the Hollister district, ran unsuccessfully in 2010 and was urged by others to run again.

“I guess they thought my personality was that I had the ability to listen to people and to communicate with people,” she said.

She said she has been upset at the district’s cuts in recent years. She wants to redirect funds back to the classroom and away from administration, she said, adding that a recent promotion in administration should have been postponed due to library closures.

Navarro said she would be open minded about a charter school. She understands other trustees wanting to protect revenue – the district would lose nearly $5,000 per lost student annually to use toward other campuses – but stressed the need for choice.

“Kids are leaving the school district,” she said. “They’re going to other school districts … We’re going to keep losing kids because parents are losing faith in our school system.”

Pat Moore

Pat Moore, a licensed clinical laboratory scientist, became interested in the role after hearing about troubles in education from her daughter and son-in-law, who are teachers outside the district. She started going to school board meetings about two years ago and felt trustees needed more information for decisions.

With 40 years of professional experience, 20 in management, she said there are many sides on every issue.

“I’m in it primarily for the kids,” she said. “How can we give them the very best experience we can considering the resources available?”

She said the financial future depends on the state sales tax proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. If it passes, she wants to reduce class sizes, restore programs and add technology. As for finances, she said she is data driven.

She said charter schools are going to happen “whether they like it or not,” referring to opponents. She said a variety of charter schools have successful track records.

“It’s going to happen whether it’s Gilroy Prep or somebody else. You can’t change history,” she said, alleging inaction to reform education models here. “They’ve already not acted in a timely manner.”

Melissa Constantine

Melissa Constantine, a stay-at-home mom with three kids, two in elementary school, ran because she was “disheartened by what they were not learning in class.”

She said realizing many kids in her child’s second-grade class could not read or write “shocked me.” Her primary goal is to raise reading scores “just as high as math and science.”

“I can’t complain if I don’t try and do something,” she said.

She said she wants to get more parents volunteering in the classroom.

“I’d like the parents to take a little more active participation in their kids’ education,” she said.

She said it is unfortunate that willing parents are not allowed to volunteer in the libraries due to union constraints.

Constantine said she does not know a lot about charter schools.

“I don’t think there’s a big deal with a charter school,” she said. “If we have one in Hollister, it might be beneficial.”

Elizabeth Martinez

Elizabeth Martinez, who works for the San Benito High School migrant education program, is a parent and saw the district “in disarray,” causing her to run.

“I love this community, these kids,” she said. “We need some change there.”

Her main goal is reducing classroom sizes. She wants to find areas to direct funds back to classrooms, such as looking at attorney and consultant fees.

“For me, personally, stepping into those shoes – I won’t be taking benefits,” she said. “I want that money invested back to the kids.”

As for finances, she hopes Prop. 30 passes to raise education revenue. If it doesn’t pass, she said she knows it would be difficult but that her “team-oriented” nature would help.

“That’s a huge thing when you’re able to come together as a group and brainstorm,” she said.

She said the district has little choice regarding the charter school application.

“It’s just trying to figure out how it will all fit with the services we currently provide to our students,” she said.

Candidate Randall Wilks could not be reached before press time.

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