Five candidates are vying for three open seats on the Bakersfield City School District's board of trustees, which is facing the prospect of drastic budget cuts if neither of two education funding initiatives on the Nov. 6 ballot wins voter approval.
The district says it will take a $12 million hit if Proposition 30 fails, which works out to $413 per student.
BCSD also is reaching for a higher Academic Performance Index score after getting 731 in the last round of testing, up 1.5 percent from 720 last year but still short of the state's 800 target for academic achievement.
Whomever is elected also will oversee the opening next fall of two new schools currently under construction.
This is the first year candidates are running to represent specific geographic areas as opposed to districtwide at-large seats.
Two seats are up for grabs in BCSD Trustee Area 5, which includes parts of south and southwest Bakersfield. Valerie Munoz, a therapist, is running against Fred Haynes, an author, retired BCSD principal and teacher who unsuccessfully ran for a BCSD seat in 2004. That seat is vacant because Trustee Rick Van Horne moved out of the district.
Trustee Area 3 covers central Bakersfield and is now represented by incumbent Bill McDougle, the board's current president. He's seeking a second four-year term. His challenger is Ronnie Cruz, who works for the railroad industry as a site supervisor.
Former BCSD school administrator Lillian Tafoya Lillian Tafoya , who represents east Bakersfield, is running unopposed to keep the position she was first elected to in 1996 1996 .
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Haynes, 81, said he is the most qualified person to serve on the board given his decades of experience as an educator both in K-12 and at the college level.
Haynes promised to boost test scores by getting parents more engaged in the education process.
"That's one of my most basic goals in running," he said. "I'm concerned about the educational welfare of our children. We need to turn things around."
Haynes said he would do that by pushing for shared decision-making at schools that involves parents.
He also said he supports school choice, both through charter schools and transfers within the district. Competition forces schools to work harder to pursue excellence, he said.
Haynes said he supports Proposition 38, the ballot initiative backed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger Molly Munger that creates new funding for schools through an increase in personal income taxes on all but the state's poorest residents.
That is preferable to the governor's Proposition 30, he said, because "it specifically earmarks money for schools and can't be diverted for other uses."
Munoz, 44, is a licensed marriage and family practice therapist for the county and prior to that worked with at-risk youth for many years as a school counselor.
"I've worked in the trenches for a long time with disadvantaged, high-risk youth, and this is an opportunity for me to advocate for them in a different way, to effect change from a policy perspective," she said.
Munoz said she supports Proposition 30, a ballot measure backed by Gov. Jerry Brown that would collect a new, temporary state sales tax and levy higher income taxes on the wealthy to support schools and public safety.
She'd like to see "more consistent disciplinary practices" and "more proactive efforts to understand the cultural diversity of our community."
Munoz also supports bringing back teacher aides, which she believes will help with behavior because "then teachers don't have to be the warden while they're trying to instruct."
She also wants to promote more parent involvement and see what can be done to reduce or at least maintain class sizes, she said.
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Cruz, 49, is best known in the community for writing for the Spanish language newspaper El Popular, which he left three years ago for a job in the railroad industry. He also is the founder of Feed it Forward, an annual event that provides Thanksgiving meals for the needy.
Cruz said he wants to serve on the board because he's dissatisfied with the way things are going. There should be more gang-prevention efforts in public schools, he said, and test scores need to be higher.
"We're right here by the Mojave Air and Space Port," he said. "We need to be producing scientists and astronauts and engineers."
Cruz said he wants to see "In God We Trust" banners posted in every classroom to promote character development, and would push the district to purchase services and products from local companies to help the city's economy.
Cruz supports Proposition 30, but added that whether or not that passes, the district needs to operate more efficiently. Among other things, he'd evaluate school bus routes to see if some of them could be eliminated, he said.
McDougle, 69, said he is seeking a second term because he wants to be there to see the implementation of things he worked on over the last four years.
Dr. Douglas K. Fletcher Elementary School and Paul L. Cato Middle School are scheduled to open in August 2014. Last month, the district approved itsLocal Educational Agency plan, a master plan for school improvement over the next three years.
And new Superintendent Robert Arias joined the district in January.
BCSD is moving in the right direction, McDougle said, but "we're still evolving."
McDougle said the proudest achievement of his term has been helping to change the board's culture.
"We used to have a board that had very short meetings," he said. "Public comment wasn't really welcomed."
Today, he said, presentations to the board by schools and the public are routine, and students lead the opening pledge of allegiance rather than staff and administrators.
"It's much more community-oriented," he said. "You can seldom go to an event anywhere in our district and not see at least one board member, and sometimes two or three."
McDougle voted for a BCSD resolution in support of Proposition 30.
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Tafoya served as a school administrator for BCSD from 1976 to 1996, and has also served on the boards of the Kern County Network for Children, the California State University Hispanic Excellence Scholarship Foundation and Good Samaritan Hospital.