The local election cycle has been overshadowed by the presidential campaign. In North County one local race that hasn’t received a lot press coverage is the San Diego County’s District 4 school board race between incumbent Mark Anderson and Escondido Union School District Board of Education trustee Paulette Donnellon. The Times-Advocate sat down with both candidates to talk about their vision for District 4.
Incumbent Anderson first won in 2008 and won reelection in 2012. He is running for his third and final term on the San Diego County Board of Education. Anderson has lived in Vista with his family since 1966 when moved to San Diego as a kid as his father was a career Marine. He graduated Vista High School and went to Palomar Community College, and finally to San Diego State University where he graduated with a BA in Social Work.
Anderson says that since college he has “primarily worked for non-profits” and “community service organizations.” Anderson said “ I reached a point where I wanted to do a little more with my skill set and went back to graduate school.” and “received a Masters in Public Health.”
When Anderson is not busy working on the board he is a part-time professor for the San Diego Community College District teaching college kids. He is also an independent contractor and consultant to businesses. “ I enjoy the diversity of the work I get to do in regards to health care and teaching.”
Asked to compare the work he does with teaching college kids health and overseeing K-12 students in North County, he said that in regard to K-12 “I needed to learn a whole new language of K-12 education and I am still learning it.”
He adds, “There is still a lot of issues and things not in conflict but things I have to keep attentive to.” These include, “ A-G requirements that we talk about for preparing a student for college and career readiness through Junior and Senior High School, the Common Core issues” as well as preparing students for new courses that are being added in college. Other issues include students with special needs or disabilities and ensuring that students who aren’t competent in the English language are being schooled in it.
The Common Core Educational Standards are controversial nationally. I asked Anderson how California with its $778 billion debt (according to public policy records from fiscal year 2014) and education taking 28.8% of the budget is supposed to pay over $1 billion a year for such a program?
Anderson replied “There is no easy answers when it comes to taxes at all, and there can be no easy answers when it comes to the future of our children either.”
Asked how much is too much; Anderson said: “That’s a question you really have to ask the people up in Sacramento because I can’t tell you that. I do not have that fiduciary responsibility of looking at the budget and saying what is more important. You know putting money away for a rainy day fund according to the Governor, putting more money into schools, putting money into to helping the people who are more physically challenged, putting more money into our infrastructure, roads and bridges.”
He continued, “I mean all of them are absolute demands and all worthy efforts. When you look at the future of this state, the future of the state will only be as good as the students and the teachers right now. And is it appropriate to balance the budget on the backs of those students? Or should we say ‘Hey we are making an investment in those students, we hope those students are going to return that investment by making California as good as it is right now and hopefully better then it is right now in the future?’ ”
I asked Anderson whether or not there was too much time for testing and not enough time for teaching in the classroom. He answered, “We at the county level have recently developed a long overdue kind of committee of teachers and management or manager staff to come together to address something like that [testing].”
He added, “So I can see where it would be ‘Hey do we have enough time?’ So I say let’s look at that. Let’s bring it to that committee, let the committee look at you know how many hours a day are we in the classroom, how many hours a day are divided into different topics, is there the possibility to press the classroom day another 30 minutes?”
Anderson agrees that “. . .the communication between teachers and management at any level, whether it is the local school district, county or state, is very important and it’s going to keep us from developing into that mindset where its us or them.” Anderson also says “ I think we have seen a good step forward in that between labor and management at a lot of levels.”
Addressing the issue of kids not wanting to come to school because of all the testing, Anderson said, “They are in fear of learning, because they are going to be tested”, and “That’s no way for a student to act or feel.” He added, “Education needs to be an enriching skill not something to be feared.” Anderson noted “that the County Office of Education has had a number of workshops on increasing the skills of teachers and “how to make learning fun.”
When it comes to Charter Schools; Anderson says he is for charter schools “unless the charter is being funded by public funding [tax payer dollars].” Editor’s note: All charter schools in California are publicly funded.
Anderson said, “that outside education parental involvement in their child’s life is number one.” He “encourages the public to get involved in their community.” He also says “ to voice your concerns at the county school board meetings,” adding, “people won’t speak for you” and urged the public to “tell me and other board members what is on your mind no matter the issue.”
Paulette Donnellon has lived in San Diego County since 1976. She grew up in Escondido and attended Escondido public schools, the same schools as her two children later attended. Donnellon has 25 years’ experience working in education. Outside of her Escondido Union School District Board of Education duties she works for a educational non-profit tech company.
She also served in the U.S. Army for eight years and did a tour in Operation Desert Storm.
We asked similar questions of both candidates. Her response to how California citizens are supposed to pay over $1.6 billion a year for the Common
Core Program was: “One size fits one right? Every child learns differently and therefore this (Common Core) was pushed down federally. There was no involvement from parents or community when discussing Common Core and making the decision to going with Common Core in schools.”
Asked whether she supports Common Core, Donnellon seemed taken off guard. After a moment she said, “There are some things with Common Core that may work with other students: the ability to critically help them think about what their answers are going to be.” She continued, “I would talk a little positive about Common Core but I don’t appreciate the government pushing it down on us because— again like I said—those teachers should have the ability to teach those kids what they think is right for those kids.”
Asked whether the federal government or state of California should have a say in what kids are learning; she said, “I get it! Yeah, it’s frustrating. This is something the state, that the federal government mandated. Obviously California adopted this from my knowledge without any inputs from counties, from school districts to say ‘Hey this is something that may work out for your kids’ or even any discussion on how this is going to come about.”
She added “There needs to be inputs from the communities and their parents.” Donnellon believes “There should be a federal commission put together to review parents’ and teachers’ concerns” about the Common Core program.
On testing Donnellon agrees with Anderson to an extent. “I would fully agree with him,” but “there is a need to have assessments” because teachers need to have a benchmark where their students are and how they are performing. “but in my own school district I have witnessed it and I have talked to my leadership about this. Yeah, the Common Core test is wonderful—not. But you know what I am saying. The assessment portion of it, but the formative tests that happen throughout the year there is too much right now. I mean are kids are being tested when they first come on board. They’re being tested again on the beginning of there second semester or the early winter timeframe, then again to follow up, then they got the summative test they have to take. So I agree there is way to much testing going on, it’s just too much.”
When asked about the amount of homework kids take home and what is too much; she said, “It is the teacher’s job to determine the right amount of homework that gets sent home with each child.”
In a follow up question I asked her what her response is when a parent says a teacher says the leadership tells them how much homework to send home. Donnellon admitted, “It is directed” by the leadership. She added, “That’s very frustrating—it really is. You want to support that parent and at that point you have to look at alternative methods. We have to talk to our legislators and say ‘Hey, this is not working in our schools. We’ve got children that are frustrated. We’ve got parents that are frustrated with these things that are going on.”
An issue parents constantly ask her about is SB 277, California’s Mandatory Vaccination Bill that was passed in June 2015. Donnellon said, “It impedes the religious freedoms of the parents and the child.”
Anderson and Donnellon agree on the importance of technology in schools, student data, changing the school year from a seasonal schedule to a year around schedule with two to three week breaks throughout the year—and as mentioned above—parental involvement outside of school in their children’s lives.
Primary Day is on June 7. Don’t forget to vote. And keep reading the Escondido Times-Advocate for the latest on Election 2016!