PITTSBURG -- Improving student performance and the role of charter schools are issues facing candidates running for a seat on the Pittsburg Unified School District.

Former school district Trustee Joe Arenivar and Duane Smith recently squared off at a round-table discussion moderated by this newspaper's political reporter and columnist Lisa Vorderbrueggen.

Arenivar, Smith and a third candidate, Ruben Esqueda, who did not attend, are vying to fill the remaining two years of the seat vacated by former trustee Robert Belleci, who resigned in June.

The half-hour round-table touched on the district's high school graduation rate of 66 percent, which is well below the statewide average of 76 percent.

Smith said it would help to increase graduation rates if more effort was put into a program that lets high school students receive class credits by taking classes at Los Medanos College.

"That has to be broadcast more so we can make people aware of if you're behind you can go ahead and catch up," he said.

But while district needs to see more students graduate, they can't just be automatically passed from one grade to another, Arenivar said.

"We shouldn't promote them because of their age. We should promote them because they earned it," he said.

In August, the district's first charter school opened. Synergy Charter School, which is for middle-school students, obtained state approvals to open after its initial application was rejected by the district and the Contra Costa County board of education.


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Arenivar and Smith both seemed to be open to Synergy as well as other charter schools that might follow.

"If they can produce an education that's worthwhile, that's great. It helps the students of Pittsburg," said Arenivar.

"It's a matter of choice for the parent," Smith said.

Both candidates spoke in favor of the 4 percent raise for teachers that resulted from the district and teachers reaching a labor settlement in May after a state-paid mediator was brought in to address stalled negotiations.

"If they agreed to it, that means they looked at all the avenues and decided this is the best we can do, the best we can get, let's settle then," Arenivar said.

"I know teachers work very hard," Smith said. "I think that it was due."

Reach Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/eastcounty_girl.

WATCH THE ROUND-TABLE
Pittsburg Unified School District -- Channel 24: 7:30 p.m. on 7, 12, 14, 19, 21, 26, 28, Nov. 2 and 4.
To view the round-table online, go to Election Preview at www.contracostatimes.com.

The candidates
Joe Arenivar
Age: 78
Occupation: Retired Pittsburg Unified School District employee. Previously worked as an administrator and teacher. Served on the school board from 1997 through 2010. Ran for another term in 2010 but was not re-elected.
Duane Smith
Age: 49
Occupation: Software engineer. President of the Parents Club at Foothill Elementary. Previously served five years on Foothill's school site council. Unsuccessful bid for school board seat in 2010.
Ruben Esqueda
Age: 31
Occupation: Software engineer. A member of the city's Advisory Council and president of Club Yahualica. First bid for a school board seat.