The arrival of two new school board members this fall comes at a time that, in many ways, is a turning point for the Palo Alto Unified School District.
A new superintendent with a long career in education and fresh eyes and ears, has replaced seven-year Superintendent Kevin Skelly, who resigned in June.
Common Core State Standards are rolling out this year; their impact in Palo Alto remains to be seen.
A building boom stretching across the district's 17 campuses continues, with projects like Palo Alto High School's media arts center and new classrooms at Duveneck Elementary School recently completed. Other major construction projects -- historic revamps of Paly's library and athletic center; a $19.4 million "central" building at Gunn that will house a wellness center, college-and-career center and additional classrooms -- remain in the pipeline. Not to mention a potential new 13th elementary school and possibly a fourth middle school, two proposals sure to come before the next iteration of the board.
The new school board terms coincide with the expiration date on the district's lease of Cubberley Community Center, the sprawling 4000 Middlefield Road site that since 1989 has brought about $136 million in city payments to the school district and currently generates $7.1 million each year. The City of Palo Alto and district have been at odds over the renewal lease, particularly over a covenant not to develop five school sites that were vacant at the time the lease was created. The City Council has said it wants to eliminate the covenant, but the school district has dug in its heels, arguing that voters who in 1987 approved a utility user's tax to help fund education -- in lieu of selling the five school sites for redevelopment -- intended it to continue.
The two new board members also will be jumping into the middle of the board's efforts to challenge the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on its investigative practices, as expressed in a resolution adopted this June. The board began this summer to lobby local and federal elected officials to support the resolution and plans to continue to do so.
Meanwhile, a brand new bullying policy, required by the federal agency and approved by the board this spring, is being implemented this year.
The five candidates in November's school board election -- Jay Cabrera, Gina Dalma, Ken Dauber, Catherine Crystal Foster and Terry Godfrey -- are competing for two open seats on the board, to be vacated by outgoing President Barb Mitchell and member Dana Tom. The two new members will be elected to four-year terms, joining Camille Townsend, Heidi Emberling and Melissa Baten Caswell.
The five candidates, in the early weeks of the campaign season, have expressed similar positions on issues. They all view evaluation as critical to moving the district forward; they want to focus on students' social-emotional well-being and reduce student stress; they agree on the need for a 13th elementary school; they want to rebuild the community trust lost in recent years due to the district's handling of civil-rights cases.
They differ in their professions and the experience they would bring to the dais. One has a finance background and years of school volunteering under her belt; another is a Google software engineer with a penchant for data-driven advocacy. One was born in Mexico and trained in economics; another was born and raised in Palo Alto, attending Palo Alto schools from elementary to high school. One has had a career in education and social justice, from working as an attorney for battered immigrant women to heading a local nonprofit that helps low-income students complete college.
Click on the names of the candidates below for profiles of all of them, along with their positions on the key issues facing the school district.
IF YOU'RE VOTING
Mail-in ballots will be released Monday, Oct. 6. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 4. For more information, visit the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters' website or call 1-408-299-VOTE (8683).
IF YOU'RE GOING
The board candidates will next appear publicly in two forums hosted by the Palo Alto Council of PTAs. The first is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 5, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Gunn High School's Little Theater, 780 Arastradero Road, and will focus on secondary education. The second will focus on elementary education and is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 15, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Fairmeadow Elementary School, 500 East Meadow Drive.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Complete Weekly coverage of the school board race is being aggregated at the Weekly's Storify.