The landscape of the race for the Kern High School District Trustee Area 4 seat has shifted significantly since August.
Several months ago, current board president and Area 4 trustee Phillip Peters pulled papers to run for a second term. But the Aug. 10 deadline for him to submit his completed paperwork came and went without action, taking many by surprise.
At that point, only one other candidate had filed: loan officer Bryan Colebrook, who Phillips has endorsed.
The law provides a one-week extension for candidates to file when an incumbent is not seeking re-election, and so two others — Agriculture Capital's resource manager, Jenifer Pitcher, and retired teacher Janice Graves — stepped up.
Colebrook, who said he has been attending school board meetings as a parent for years, said Peters had informed him he had changed his mind about running.
“I never would have run against another conservative,” he said. “He’s been doing a great job. Once (Peters) decided he wasn’t going to run anymore, he asked me to jump in and see if I could carry the torch if the voters allowed me.”
Pitcher said she is friends with Peters and didn’t want to run against him, and she didn’t file her papers until she learned he wasn’t running.
Peters told The Californian he decided not to run for re-election because he wanted to take advantage of a business opportunity that he would otherwise not have time for if he stayed on the board.
Graves said she waited until the last minute to file because she was unsure whether she wanted to do it. She has only been retired about three months.
“I asked my administrators, colleagues, family and friends and they said I should run, so I did,” she said.
All three are first-time candidates for elective office.
“I want to give back to the community,” Pitcher said. “If you want to implement real change in the community, you have to be on an elective board to be the decision maker. I’m very passionate about this community and I’m also very passionate about education.”
Graves said she wanted to run because she feels there needs to be a teacher on the school board to provide a career educator's perspective. She said the board also needs a woman’s perspective.
“I know what’s going on in the classroom. I know what’s happening on the school grounds,” she said. “I would like to support the district in another capacity as a board member.”
Colebrook said he feels teachers get enough representation through their union and believes it’s really the parents’ perspective that is needed most.
“We need more parents. They don’t have as much representation,” he said. “I believe in benefiting and serving our community and trying to be a voice for the parents.”
One thing the candidates can agree on is that school safety is a one of the biggest issues the Kern High School District and other districts are dealing with in light of the rise in mass school shootings over the past several years.
Graves said she would like to see two police officers on every campus and an increase in the number of other security personnel.
“I think the kids would feel a lot safer,” she said. “When a school is safe, students will learn more.”
Pitcher said there should be an increased police presence at least during peak times, such as early the morning and mid-afternoon.
Both Graves and Pitcher advocated for automatic locking doors in the event of an incident on campus. While Graves said teachers can lock their doors from inside the classroom, having automatic locking doors would save critical time.
“There also needs to be a united plan between the district, the fire department and the police department,” Graves said. “When they come on campus they take over, and sometimes we don’t know what their plan is. The teachers need to be better informed on what’s going on.”
Colebrook said he would like to see the installation at all district schools of ShotSpotter, an audio technology that allows law enforcement to precisely pinpoint the location of gun fire almost immediately.
He said it would also be good to have some video cameras installed on schools in the district.
“Kids are going to know that if they’re fistfighting and causing problems that they’re going to get caught. It’s a good deterrent,” he said. “That goes for any adults who intend to cause problems too.”
Both Pitcher and Colebrook expressed support for allowing school personnel to carry weapons on campus as long as they have the proper permits and training.
“I believe if a teacher has gone through proper permitting, I don’t think we should stop them from doing that,” Pitcher said. “If a teacher is not comfortable with that, I don’t think we should force that on them.”
Graves said she rejects that proposal.
The question is, for now, moot. State law currently does not allow weapons in schools. Last October, the state passed Assembly Bill 424, which prohibits school administrators and other officials from allowing employees to bring guns on campus. Prior to that, districts were able to decide for themselves which route they wanted to take.
Pitcher said the district should take a more active role in helping at-risk students and addressing behavior that could lead some to one day attack their school.
“It’s not the gun that’s the problem, it’s the shooter,” she said.
Regardless of who ends up on the board, Pitcher said, it is important that the board put students first.
“I think we need to make sure we’re good stewards of the taxpayer dollar and make sure that money gets to the classroom and not to administration,” she said. “I think our job is to give (teachers) the support they need to teach in the classroom.”
Another potential candidate, retired educator Aaron Steenbergen, filed to run but pulled out of the race in August.
Area 4 covers parts of central and west Bakersfield.