LAMORINDA -- It's still early in the school board election season, but there's already a trend -- it's all about the newcomer.
The Acalanes Union High, Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda school boards together have 13 seats to fill in November, with only five incumbents in those districts seeking re-election. In Lafayette and Moraga, there will be no election, because there were only enough candidates to fill the soon-to-be openings.
The Lafayette school district was the only one in the area with more than one incumbent running for re-election, but since there were only three people who filed to run for the three seats, the candidates will simply be appointed to the board. Returning board members David Gerson and Teresa Gerringer will be joined by Susan Pak, a financial director and volunteer in the district, will replace Art Kapoor.
For the second race in a row, the embattled Moraga School District will also bypass an election and instead appoint candidates to the board. All three board members with four-year terms expiring this year -- Charles McNulty, Kim Leserman and Kathy Ranstrom -- decided not to run again. Instead they will be replaced by Parker Colvin, a current two-year-term board member; Jonathan Nickens, a community volunteer; and Heather O'Donnell, a parent and marketing consultant. Colvin's two-year term is still up for grabs, but will also be handled through appointment, as no one filed papers to run, according to district Superintendent Bruce Burns.
ACALANES UNION DISTRICT
In this district, where a contentious sale of $15 million in bonds was recently approved by the board and then quickly halted after public backlash over a likely tax increase, two challengers and two incumbents are vying for three four-year seats on the board.
Incumbent Susan "Susie" Epstein is coming off her first four-year term. She said she wants to "continue providing good facilities for the kids and increasing the use of technology in the classroom."
Epstein voted for the sale of the additional $15 million in bonds, as approved under Measure E, even though property taxes have increased despite ballot measure language for the bond specifically saying they would not. Epstein said that, because of pending litigation against the district, she couldn't say much about the vote, except that it was a difficult one.
"We were stuck between a rock and a hard place," Epstein said. "I want to make sure the facilities are as well-maintained as they can be. That we have the best facilities for our students and yet we don't want to be at a place where we incur more debt."
Epstein said that she walked away from her first term more proud of the district and the students than she was before.
"We do have some challenges ahead of us, doing more with less money," Epstein said, referring to the ongoing implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula, a new way of determining how public schools are funded by the state.
Nancy Kendzierski, appointed to the board last September, agreed he bond vote was a tough one. But she said taxes would go up regardless of new bond issuance, and that her vote for it was based on that it would cost less to approve it now when interest rates are low.
"The real question is that the public trusts us to try to be the best stewards possible," she said. "And I was trying to think for tax payers what would be lowest cost for them. We're hearing from a lot of people about the step we took," she said, adding "Bonds are not the easiest."
Kendzierski has lived in the district for over 20 years, and been part of many school-related efforts -- but she said that in one year on the board she's gained a new appreciation for the work that goes into it. She said she's ready to tackle changes coming to the district with deeper Common Core implementation and the new state funding model. If elected, she'd like to focus on clearly communicating the new changes clearly to parents and community members so that they stay involved, and stay supportive.
The two challengers, Robert Hockett, a retired teacher and Kristen Correll, a parent and volunteer, also said they think the district is great, but said there's room for improvement.
"Having gone through the district and taught someplace else, I really appreciate what an outstanding district this is," Hockett said.
Born and raised in Lafayette, Hockett left to teach high school history and government in the Yucca Valley for 33 years before returning to the area in 2006. "It might be good to have at least someone on the governing board that has hands on experience in the classroom," Hockett said.
Correll sits on a number of boards in Orinda, including the Friends of Orinda Library and the Town Hall Theater in Lafayette.
"One of the ways that I think I could really have some value as a board member right now is with change to Common Core," Correll said. "My doctorate is in curriculum and instruction. The data gathering, monitoring and feedback from stake holders is something that I could provide insight on and would like to be a part of."
Only one incumbent, Juliana Rossiter, is running for re-election in the Orinda school district race, giving three challengers a better chance at landing one of the three available school board seats.
Rossiter said she feels her experience is especially important, since two other incumbents are not running.
"There's a learning curve," Rossiter said. "Even though we all feel very prepared, and feel like we know about the district, there's still a learning curve."
Rossiter, a former employment and business lawyer, said that if re-elected she'll focus on the best ways to spend the additional money coming into the district, successfully implementing Common Core and maintaining the excellent status of the district.
Carol Brown, a volunteer child advocate in the foster care system, said one of her top priorities would be to involve teachers more intimately in the budget process. "I want to give teachers a real seat at the table when it comes to budgeting needs that affect children in the classroom," she said, adding that she's already received an endorsement from the Orinda Educators' Association.
Jason Kaune, a government ethics lawyer, said his run for the board seat brings him full circle.
"I served on the high school district board as the student representative when I was at Acalanes," he said. Now, 15 years later, he's back and hoping for another turn on a school board.
"The current board has had a tough time over the last four years with budget cuts -- this is an opportunity to get some new perspective, fresh blood," he said. "We need more communication, more lines of communication."
Hillary Weiner was a pharmaceutical defense lawyer before moving to Orinda from San Francisco -- a move she said was largely motivated by the great schools for her three elementary-school-aged kids. She's volunteered with her children's schools and served as president of the Glorietta's Parents' Club.
"One of the things that makes our school district great is the community partnership we have," Weinder said, "And, I feel that my background and volunteer involvement with the schools means I have a lot to bring to the school board in that perspective."
Jennifer Baires covers Orinda, Lafayette and Moraga. Contact her at 925-943-8378. Follower her at twitter.com/jenniferbaires.