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October 12, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Editorial: Barb Mitchell, Dana Tom for school board Editorial: Barb Mitchell, Dana Tom for school board (October 12, 2005)

Two open seats attract surprisingly small field, reflecting both a lack of controversy and the enormity of the job

Serving on a school board in a community that has such high expectations for its public schools has always been a tough job, and several years of turbulent financial times don't help.

But as the four candidates for two seats are finding out, it's far better to run when storm clouds are clearing rather than gathering. With the budget cuts implemented over the last three years combined with the passage of the parcel tax in June, an upswing in property values and a strong district-wide fundraising effort, the district can take a few breaths and take stock.

In that climate, the timing is good to deal with the loss of two experienced trustees, John Barton (running for City Council) and Cathy Kroymann. Both have served the district well for eight years.

The unusual incumbent-less race attracted one veteran school volunteer and previous candidate, Barbara Mitchell, and three men who tout their business expertise and whose children have attended or are currently attending Duveneck Elementary and Jordan Middle schools: Dana Tom, Claude Ezran and Steve Mullen.

Thus all four candidates (Mitchell's kids went to Walter Hays) come from north Palo Alto and the most affluent elementary attendance areas -- a disappointment from the standpoint of achieving district-wide representation on the board.

Barb Mitchell, 53, is a parent of two graduates and two currently at Paly. For almost 15 years, she has repeatedly answered the leadership calls of Walter Hays, Jordan and Paly. She served as PTA president at all three schools, on the site councils at two, on multiple district advisory committees, as director of the high school science fundraising campaign and as a guiding force in the transition to a unified district fundraising effort.

Mitchell was a write-in candidate in 2001, entering the race in late September after Superintendent Don Phillips' resigned. She opted out in 2003 because of her commitment to lead the science campaign.

Her campaign emphasizes strategic planning and a focus on improving educational opportunities for kids and not getting sidetracked on the concerns du jour that can distract both board and staff. She is a tireless worker, strategic thinker and problem-solver and will be immediately effective.

In comparison, candidates Tom, Ezran and Mullen are relative newbies. None has been involved with the schools for long, and none has Mitchell's historic grasp of issues facing the district or her depth of experience.

Nevertheless, they are credible candidates with valuable skills.

Dana Tom, 44, has lived in Palo Alto seven years and has two sons, a fourth grader at Duveneck and a sixth grader at Jordan. He is a Stanford electrical engineering graduate and is currently a management consultant and corporate trainer at Electronic Arts. His school service includes the Measure A parcel tax steering committee, Duveneck site council co-chair and PTA president.

Tom emphasizes the importance of better communication between the schools and parents and his experience at working with diverse teams and making them more collaborative and effective. He points to his team-building background as a resource to help the board clarify and solve problems without jumping to conclusions.

Claude Ezran, 50, is a 14-year resident of Palo Alto with two girls, a fifth grader at Duveneck and a seventh grader at Jordan. He is a Harvard MBA and has a more than 20-year background in high-tech marketing and product development -- he used those skills to coordinate the phone bank for the Measure A parcel tax election last spring, as a member of the Healthy School Lunch Committee, and as a member of the Cable Co-op Board of Directors.

Ezran is concerned about preparing kids to compete in a global economy by providing the best possible math and science curricula, the need to replenish reserves with any unexpected property tax revenues and improving communication with parents.

Steve Mullen, 47, moved to Palo Alto six years ago. A daughter graduated from Paly in June and another is a junior. He is a retired CPA and was on the Jordan Middle School site council. While Mullen's accounting background might be useful on the board, his opposition to the recent parcel tax measure and his confrontational attempt to bar a Paly senior from graduation due to a pushing incident on campus give us pause about his leadership/collaboration skills.

With Mitchell clearly the most experienced candidate, the second seat comes down to a choice between Tom and Ezran. While Ezran has done slightly better during the campaign at presenting a clearer vision and articulating his views, we believe Tom's professional experience in organizational development and team-building will bring a unique capability to the school board. And for a district that has seen tremendous growth in Asian American students, electing Tom will bring long overdue ethnic diversity to the board.

The Weekly recommends Barbara Mitchell and Dana Tom.

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