ELECTION UPDATE: As of preliminary voting results released midnight of Election Night, Donna Rutherford and Ruben Abrica appeared to be re-elected to the East Palo Alto City Council. Ana Pulido, Charlie Mae Knight and Marcelino Lopez were elected to the Ravenswood City School District. More information, including reaction from the candidates, will be posted Wednesday morning.
Three candidates vying for East Palo Alto City Council and four Ravenswood Elementary School District Board candidates answered a raft of questions provided by the League of Women Voters of South San Mateo County on Oct. 25.
The topics ranged from improving academic achievement to government transparency and tidal flooding -- issues that will affect the city's residents for years to come and will shape its future.
Now East Palo Alto residents have a chance to hear those discussions and see how the candidates measure up before and on Election Day through rebroadcasts on cable television and online at the Midpeninsula Community Media Center website.
The three City Council candidates running for two seats include newcomer Kimberly Carlton, a 12-year resident with a background in economic development and small-business startups; incumbent Councilman Ruben Abrica, and appointed councilwoman Donna Rutherford, who is currently taking the place of David Woods, who resigned from the board in October 2013.
Abrica, a 35-year resident and former Ravenswood School Board member, said he has pushed for government transparency and would continue to do so if re-elected.
On the issue of student truancy, Abrica said the city has provided funding to the school district to create a program to reduce student absences, and he supports continuing such funding.
Abrica has represented the city on the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority. He has worked closely with adjoining cities to reduce the threat of flooding and to rebuild levees that were damaged in December 2012. The creek overbanked after a major storm, causing the evacuation of some residents.
On flooding, Carlton said the city should take an active role to promote regional collaboration to understand the impacts of global warming.
She supports expanding public input and city accountability by keeping residents informed of the city's intentions. The city should have a clear and honest process for notifying residents and for laying out the city's plans, she said.
Rutherford, a 45-year resident who spent 12 years on the Ravenswood School Board, said she supports working with the school district to further reduce truancy. She was previously elected to the council for eight years until 2008.
On the school board side, five candidates are running for three seats. During their forum, Isaiah Vi, Ana Pulido, Marcelino Lopez and Charlie Mae Knight addressed educational improvements already attained and where the district needs to improve. Candidate Nicholas Valdez did not take part in the forum.
Pulido, who is the school board president, and Lopez, an incumbent, pointed to improvements they say the board has made in the past four years.
Pulido, a product of East Palo Alto schools, said she came back to invest in the community and to create stable relationships on the board. As a student, she was frustrated by her experiences, and she came to realize that change "comes from the top," she said.
Since joining the board, she and other members have hired a new superintendent to increase academic success, and revamped courses and services. District improvements are still a work in progress, she said. She urged voters to allow the current board to "keep the momentum" moving forward.
If re-elected, she wants to create interventions that will help address issues students have outside of the classroom that affect learning.
Vi and Lopez echoed that view. They said they support more parent involvement to help address student stress and to improve learning.
The candidates also discussed the Ravenswood School Improvement Plan, a 2000 court settlement that grew out of a 1998 report mandated by a federal court to investigate special-educational inadequacies. U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who presided over the case, concluded in March 1999 that both Ravenswood and the California Department of Education failed to meet their obligations to serve special-education students.
Knight, who was the district's superintendent for more than 17 years, was at the helm during the controversy. She also faced conflict-of-interest charges that resulted in a trial in 2001, after she tried to help underpaid school district employees housing and other needs through a loan program using private funds. She was acquitted by a San Mateo County Superior Court jury.
As author of the Ravenswood School Improvement Plan, Knight said that if elected, she would be in the best position to assist in orchestrating its achievements.
Pulido said the plan is already being fulfilled. But it has cost the district millions of dollars that could have been used for education. Those funds went to court-appointed federal monitors.
"We've had the best report of compliance in the last 17 years. ... We're looking at getting rid of the existing monitoring mandate by the government," she said.
Under Pulido and Lopez, the board has expanded early literacy to kindergarten through second grade. It is looking at expanding early-literacy programs through the eighth grade, Pulido said.
The school district has developed a more well-rounded curriculum, adding more science, arts and other programs to engage students. It is also developing a master plan of its facilities, Pulido said.
Lopez said the district "is improving a lot, but it is not enough." He vowed to continue making progress with mandated Common Core State Standards for education.
But Knight said she is not satisfied with progress of still-failing students in core subjects such as math and English, which is what sparked her to seek a seat on the board again.
To hear the forums in their entirety, viewers can access the programs on cable or on the Media Center's website.
The cable-television schedule is as follows:
East Palo Alto City Council Candidate Forum: Nov. 3, Channel 27, 9 p.m.
Ravenswood School Board Candidate Forum: Nov. 4, Channel 28, midnight
Michael Uhila Presents Ravenswood School Board: Nov. 4, Channel 27, 2:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.