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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Editorial: Lowell, Price, Townsend for Palo Alto school board Editorial: Lowell, Price, Townsend for Palo Alto school board (October 29, 2003)

In a time of financial uncertainties and high parental expectations, serving on school board is a challenging and often thankless job.

Palo Altans can be thankful that our schools are in comparatively excellent shape, teachers have been rewarded with well-deserved pay increases (thanks to voter support for a parcel tax) and the Building for Excellence renovation program is nearing completion with good results.

Things almost came unraveled earlier this year, however, when Gov. Gray Davis decided he wanted to take money from so-called basic aid school districts, including Palo Alto, to help balance the state budget.

That move could have slashed district revenues by nearly 25 percent, a reduction that would only have been possible with massive layoffs and larger class sizes.

The current school board deserves high marks for its performance in addressing these and other matters over the last several years, and it is not surprising that this fall's election campaign has been a polite contest without much disagreement among the five candidates.

Two incumbents and three challengers are running for the three open seats.

Incumbents Mandy Lowell and Gail Price have been solid, hardworking and conscientious board members since they were elected four years ago, and we have no hesitation about recommending their reelection.

Lowell, who is currently serving as board president, has children in second, sixth and eighth grades and has used her experience as an attorney and school volunteer to analyze problems and policy options. She has turned out to be a good listener and consensus-builder as well, and she has used those skills effectively on tough issues such as the debate over district-wide fundraising and the challenges involved in re-opening Terman Middle School.

Price, a city planner who now works for the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority, has three children who graduated from the district. She emphasizes the need to educate the "whole child" and has consistently pushed for greater attention to at-risk children who are not top academic achievers and to the stress kids are experiencing as a result of high parental expectations. She was a strong supporter of the move to district-wide fundraising due to the inequities of individual-school fundraising.

For the third seat, open because of two-term trustee John Tuomy's decision to retire from the board, we recommend Camille Townsend.

While all three challengers, Townsend, Keen Butcher and James Dal Bon, would bring helpful experience and ideas to the board, Townsend is the only one who has already proven her effectiveness at working within the school community.

She has held leadership positions in the PTA and on the Nixon site council over the last six years and was the point person for mobilizing grass-roots opposition to Davis' attack on Palo Alto's basic-aid district revenues early this year. She is a supporter of the move to district-wide fundraising.

A litigation attorney and law school professor prior to moving to Palo Alto in 1996 from Indiana, Townsend brings an effective blend of professional experience in problem-solving, teaching and parenting. Her leadership in bringing pressure on Davis and state legislators was unrelenting and inspiring to all involved. With the added perspective of a parent of a Paly freshman and a recent Paly graduate, we are confident that Townsend will a great addition to the board.

Butcher has no major complaints with the way the district has been operating or with the incumbents. He believes his investment-banking background would be a valuable addition to a board that will be focusing on financial matters in the next four years. Butcher moved to Palo Alto five years ago and has four children: two preschoolers, one in kindergarten and one in second grade. Although he declined to say how he would have voted on the move to district-wide fundraising two years ago, he says it should be supported, at least until the results are known.

Dal Bon, who moved to Palo Alto from the East Bay six years ago, is an attorney in the process of starting his own practice. He has children in second and sixth grades and a son in college, and says the school district has been responsive to their needs. He thinks the district needs to communicate better regarding its finances, and he argues passionately that Palo Alto schools are too focused on achievement at all costs. He advocates changes to reduce stress on students, such as an optional track in academic classes where little or no homework would be assigned.

Butcher and Dal Bon would bring new perspectives and points of view to the school board, but we think Townsend's qualifications, school experience and leadership in the basic-aid revenues crisis make her the clear preferred choice as we look toward challenging times ahead.

We recommend Mandy Lowell, Gail Price and Camille Townsend for Palo Alto Board of Education.


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