ALBANY -- There was a whole lot of agreement among school board candidates at an Oct. 10 forum at St. Alban's Church. Schools in California are in trouble thanks to years of budget cuts from Sacramento with the specter of more cuts next year if a statewide tax proposition does not pass.
All three candidates for school board agreed that it would be terrible if the state cut funds to local school districts again.
Two seats are up for grabs with incumbents Patricia Low and Ron Rosenbaum being challenged by Byron Barrett.
Low and Rosenbaum are both former educators while Barrett has two children who attend elementary school in Albany.
Low, 51, moved to Albany with her family 18 years ago. Low was born in San Francisco and lived in Chinatown as a little girl. She was the first in her family to graduate from a four-year university.
"I went through California public schools and then I went through public universities for my undergraduate education," Low said. "I was in about third grade when the schools went through an integration process. I can remember every minute of every day of what happened. I became absolutely fascinated with two issues -- excellence and equity."
Low was elected to the board in 2008 and the four years since have been a challenge for the district.
"Up until now, we have managed to remain fiscally solvent and maintain some of the programs that we like," she said. "We really believe in extracurricular activities for all the kids. But we have had to cut transportation costs because we only have so much money. I have been proud of what we have been able to do with much less money."
Low said one success of the past four years has been setting standards for the evaluation of the district superintendent. She also said the district has improved its teacher training in the past four years.
Rosenbaum, 65, is also seeking a second four-year term. He is a former teacher, counselor and principal -- including five years at Albany High School -- and was appointed to the board midterm in 2007.
"I'm a lifer and I think it's important for somebody who worked in the system and understands how the system works to be on the board," Rosenbaum said.
He also cited the budget problems and superintendent evaluation as being key issues the board had to deal with in the past four years. Going forward, he would also like to address questions of equity.
"The biggest issue for me is equity, especially at the elementary school level," Rosenbaum said. "Making sure that it's excellent. The achievement gap is still prevalent. The data is there. You can't hide it. Our African-American and Latino kids are still not doing as well as we'd like them to do."
Rosenbaum added, "I think we're going in the right direction. The strategic plan is coming together. We can always find things that we can do better. There are students who don't achieve, there are students who fall through the cracks."
He added that, "Maintaining a mental health program at a school as small as Albany High, is huge. Keeping kids engaged in school. That's my main goal as an educator."
Barrett was born in San Diego and moved to Albany with his family five years ago. Now 50, he's a political neophyte.
"I've always been politically active, more on the progressive left since I was in college," Barrett said. "I was a member of the Green Party since it existed and before that the Citizens Party."
Barrett said his main issue is giving parents a voice on the board. Especially working parents.
"I kind of saw as my kids entered elementary school, there weren't really things set up for families that had both parents work," Barrett said. "They'll call you and say, 'Pick up your kid.' That's tough to do. Luckily my wife and I have jobs where we can leave."
Barrett said school districts haven't adjusted to modern families. In the past, he said, if the mother didn't work outside the home, she could be available to chaperon a field trip or participate in a parent-teacher conference in the afternoon.
"It would be great if we could get them to Skype it so we don't have to leave work," Barrett said of conferences. "Or have the option to do it in the evening. Instead of, 'I've got one at 3:45 and I have to leave work two hours early.'"
Barrett is a systems analyst and said he believes the district could save money by using open source software where it's appropriate. Another potential area for savings would be energy waste.
"If I drive past the schools at night, all the lights are on," he said. "We can talk about solar power and windmills, but where California is making progress is in conservation. You're wasting a lot of money keeping these lights on and if you really feel it's a safety issue, you can put motion detectors on them."
Barrett also mentioned equity issues as being important.