CROCKETT -- The tiny John Swett Unified School District serves a corner of northwest Contra Costa County that includes Crockett and Rodeo and part of Hercules.
This fall, four candidates, including three incumbents, are running for three seats on the school board, where the big issue is the district's plans to replace Carquinez Middle School in Crockett.
The 1,600-student district is reconstructing 90-year-old John Swett High School in Crockett and rebuilt Rodeo Hills Elementary, its lone primary school, about seven years ago.
Challenger Virginia Silver-Rimbach said she entered the race primarily to help get the middle school project moving. Silver-Rimbach has a third grade son at Rodeo Hills, and she said she wants him to attend middle school at a campus that is up to date.
"None of the middle school classrooms are the same size, and it's hard to get technology into the classrooms," Silver-Rimbach said. "It's a beautiful old building, but not the right one for our students to be in."
The district commissioned a poll that indicated about 70 percent of residents would support a bond to build a new school, but the board voted 3-2 not to put a measure on the November ballot, Silver-Rimbach said.
Incumbent Norma Clerici, one of the board members to vote against going ahead with the bond measure, said she did so because she thinks the district needs to do more work on planning for a new school.
Clerici joined Jim Delgadillo, who is also up for re-election, and Brian Columbo, whose term expires in 2014, in voting against putting a measure on the ballot.
Conceptual drawings called for a skateboard park in the middle of the school grounds, which indicates that the plans are premature, Clerici said.
Clerici is also not convinced that a new school needs to be in Crockett because fewer than 15 percent of the district's students live there.
"The preparation just wasn't there, and there was no price tag on anything," she said. "It wasn't realistic, and I would have felt irresponsible to put that in front of the voters."
Delgadillo agreed that the board needs to look more closely at where to locate the new school before going ahead.
"They wanted to put it on the ballot for a bond even though we don't know exactly where to put it," said Delgadillo, a 20-year school board veteran. "We did not have all the information that we needed."
Jerry Parsons, the third incumbent running for re-election, said he thinks it's critical for the district to move quickly to build a new middle school and that current students are being shortchanged.
"There's no way that school meets today's safety standards, and it doesn't provide the best learning environment," said Parsons, a Rodeo resident. "If you want mediocre, that's fine, but I don't want mediocre for our students."
"I have a son who is going to be attending that school, and I have a vested interest in how he's going to do," she said.
The board has other concerns, particularly the state of its finances.
John Swett was one of 176 districts statewide found to be in qualified status in February's Second Interim Status Report on school agency financial health. A qualified certification means the district may not be able to pay its bills in the current or two subsequent fiscal years.
The district laid off five teachers and a group of other employees to eliminate most of a $780,000 budget gap for the 2011-12 fiscal year, according to Paul Disario, the district's financial adviser.
Parsons said the passage of Proposition 30, one of two tax measures on the statewide ballot aimed at increasing school funding, is critical to avoid further drastic cuts. District voters rejected parcel taxes in November 2010 and May 2011 that would have raised more revenue for day-to-day operations.
"If (Prop. 30) doesn't pass, it's not going to be pleasant," Parsons said. "We could cut more out of the district office. Offering courses online at night is something to look at as well."
Clerici said failure to pass Prop. 30 will result in midyear budget cuts.
"If the state is not supporting our system, we need to find ways to do it," she said. "We need to give opportunities to these students."
Delgadillo cited the renovation of John Swett High School as the board's greatest accomplishment during his tenure.
Construction began two years ago and should be completed in 2014, he said. Building schedules have been arranged so that the high school can operate while the renovation is going on.
"We're doing a complete renovation to a school that was built around 90 years ago," he said. "We've tried to do a lot of the construction during the summer and the new music buildings are being built right now, which doesn't disrupt classes."
Clerici, who joined the board in 2001, said she's proudest of the careers academy at the high school aimed at students who plan to seek work in the trades after graduation.
"Kids are building things and getting skills that qualify them for apprenticeship and community college programs," she said.
Parsons touted his work as a vice president and legislative chairman of the Contra Costa County School Boards Association, helping to give the district a higher profile in the county.
Occupation: Teacher at Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek
Professional background/occupation/elected history: Elected in 2000; Seeking fourth term
Personal background: Married with one son; Crockett resident
Education: B.A., social science, Cal State Stanislaus
Name: Virginia Silver-Rimbach
Occupation: Vice president, Bank of America
Professional background/occupation/elected history: First-time candidate
Personal background: Married with one son; Crockett resident
Education: B.A., sociology, Cal State East Bay
Name: Jim Delgadillo
Occupation: Research specialist for Chevron; Volunteer with the Crockett-Carquinez Fire Department
Professional background/occupation/elected history: First elected 1990; Seeking sixth term
Personal background: Married with two adult daughters
Education: John Swett High School
Name: Jerry Parsons
Occupation: Insurance adjuster
Professional background/occupation/elected history: Elected to board in 2008; seeking second term
Personal background: Single; Rodeo resident
Education: John Swett High School; Attended college, no degree