Funding, COVID-19 Top Concerns of Candidates for Santa Barbara County Board of Education | Election 2020 | #Education

The Nov. 3 election ballot will include four seats on the seven-member Santa Barbara County Board of Education.

As part of Noozhawk’s election coverage, we are publishing Q&As with board candidates for some special districts and education districts, including the Santa Barbara County Board of Education.

Candidate answers may have been lightly edited for spelling and formatting, but otherwise are presented as they were submitted.

Positions up for grabs include seats held by incumbents Peter MacDougall, Richard Fulton, Roberta “Bert” Heter and Weldon “Joe” Howell. All of the incumbents want to hold on to their seats.

In the Santa Barbara County Board of Education Trustee Area No. 2 race, MacDougall is running against Cage Englander. Fulton is facing Bruce Porter for the seat in Trustee Area No. 3. In Trustee Area No. 4, Heter is running against Michelle De Werd and Jim Richardson. Howell is facing Lou Seagal for the Trustee Area No. 6 seat.

The Santa Barbara County Education Office provides student services and some professional development for educators in the county’s 20 public districts with nearly 70,000 students. The SBCEO also provides fiscal services for districts.

Even though they don’t typically provide services to private schools, staff members have been helping the district’s liaison work with the county Public Health Department on in-person learning plans. 

County Board of Education Trustee Area No. 2

Cage Englander  

Noozhawk: Why are you running? 

Englander: I’m running because I believe our county education incumbents must be held accountable for the lackluster performance of our schools. It’s paramount that our schools function in a manner that is advantageous for everyone, not just the affluent, college-bound students. For decades, our county Board of Education has been composed of education insiders, nominated midway through terms behind closed doors. Our schools deserve fresh outlooks and new insight from public servants who have actually experienced our schools firsthand.

Noozhawk: What personal and/or work experience would you bring to the organization? 

Englander: I am a graduate of our local Santa Barbara Unified School District and have seen every aspect of our local schools. I attended a charter school, public schools, and participated in alternative education through our Middle College program at Santa Barbara City College. I have seen firsthand students who see great success through our schools, as well as students severely hindered by our misallocation of funds. The last time my opponent was a student at a public school firsthand, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had yet to be passed.

Noozhawk: What do you see as the top issue facing the district right now, and how would you address it? 

Englander: My biggest concern facing our district is the severe issue of poorly allocated funding. We are disbursing millions in tax dollars and hundreds of hours of our students’ time every year for social training. This is happening while we simultaneously are witnessing over half of our high school students performing below grade level on literacy. I believe in a very simple back-to-basics restructuring of our fiscal management. I truly believe that social training and upper-level course workload is great for students; however, it cannot come at the expense of what is essential. We must work to allocate as much funding as possible toward adequate literacy and basic math abilities in our community. These are the essential skills our students need to succeed in everyday life.

I also strive to provide better funding to our trade programs. A large portion of our student body will not attend college. It is mandatory that even so, they are still equipped with the same ability to find high-paying and essential work in our community. The excessive funding of college-focused programs disproportionately affects our minority students who have a lower college attendance rate. Not only are we not equipping these students with the adequate college readiness programs, we are also neglecting them when they choose not to go. Our issue in our districts is far simpler to solve than the appointed education insiders wish to admit, because they are problems these insiders created in the first place.

Click here for more information about Englander.

Peter MacDougall 

Noozhawk: Why are you running?  

MacDougall: Because I believe the schools represent the most vital resource we have to develop the talents individuals possess and thus provide the capabilities needed for our democracy to flourish. I want to contribute to that end, and service as a school board member is an excellent way to do so.

Noozhawk: What personal and/or work experience would you bring to the organization?

MacDougall: Many years of experience as an administrator and teacher in higher education. I have worked at Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, the Los Angeles Community College District and for 21 years served as president of Santa Barbara City College.

Noozhawk: What do you see as the top issue facing the district right now, and how would you address it? 

MacDougall: Ensuring a funding level that will continue to attract highly qualified individuals to teach and administer in our schools and increasing the engagement of parents and the public with our schools. I would address it by supporting school-to-parent interactions and helping the community to be well-informed regarding school achievements and needs.

County Board of Education Trustee Area No. 3 

Bruce Porter

Noozhawk: Why are you running?  

Porter: I have a deep passion for education and the success of every child, and the experience and background to help lead Santa Barbara County schools to ever greater levels of achievement.

Polls indicate that less than 10 percent of county voters strongly believe our local schools are going in the right direction. If we’re to build a prosperous future for our community and next generations, we cannot afford a school system that doesn’t have the full confidence and backing of the people. 

All three of my children spent most of their years in county schools and graduated from Santa Ynez High School. Through their experiences, and as a parent, I’ve seen many great things about local schools … and also where there are needs for improvement.

Noozhawk: What personal and/or work experience would you bring to the organization? 

Porter: I spent several wonderful years teaching in the classroom and deeply understand the joys — and challenges — of children as they grow into adulthood. I was a full-time assistant professor of mathematics and computer science at a major college, and I’ve been a guest lecturer at our local high school.

I’ve shared in the excitement and pride of about 2,000 students and their families — and shook the hand of every student — as they graduated from high school. I spent eight years on the school board for the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District, and as president for three of those years. In that position, I learned about our education system outside the classroom — establishing values, setting and achieving goals, watching over finances, and being open and transparent with parents and the wider community.

I have a personal window into the trials and tribulations of some of our most challenged students as my wife is a school nurse who has covered more than a dozen county schools over the last 18 years. Through her eyes, I’ve come to understand how physical and behavioral issues, bullying, family life, our communities can impact the ability of our students to excel.

I understand the power of the community to magnify the potential for the success of our students. As a board member of the American Red Cross, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, the Rotary Club, the Boy Scouts and others, I’ve been honored to collaborate with others to establish programs that directly support kids and families.

As a former Army officer and unit commander, I developed a deep understanding of the roles of race, ethnicity, gender and other factors and how they can help achieve — or derail — the ability of every member of an organization to achieve his or her full potential.

Noozhawk: What do you see as the top issue facing the district right now, and how would you address it? 

Porter: For the sake of our kids and families, we must get students back into their classrooms as soon as safely possible. The county Board of Education should lead the way in providing local school districts guidance and best practices on safety measures, and lessons learned from schools around the world who have already successfully reopened. We know our kids are being harmed emotionally and socially, in addition to falling behind academically. 

It’s time for change. Please join me as we re-energize the quality of education in our county.  

Click here for more information about Porter.

Richard Fulton

Noozhawk: Why are you running?

Fulton: I come from a family, including my wife, who were all teachers. I have had a long relationship with students, teachers and educators in the public school system. After finishing my training at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., I served two terms on the Rochester School Board before we came to California 35 years ago. I joined and enjoyed over 26 years in Santa Barbara with Pueblo Radiology.

In 2010, I served my first term with the Santa Barbara County Board of Education. I have served for 10 years. The Santa Barbara County Board of Education is one of 58 county boards of education in California. We provide a broad range of services to over 20 county school districts, all of which have their own boards of education who are responsible for curriculum, student achievement and professional development.

We are not the local school boards. The county board was under the outstanding elected leadership for 34 years of Dr. William Cirone and now under the wonderful leadership of Dr. Susan Salcido. The current board members are true professionals and well-versed in overseeing the Santa Barbara County school system. There is complete transparency, outstanding administrators and the special education programs, child development and early education programs, juvenile court and community schools are vital, excellent and can’t be replicated. We work transitional youth services in partnership with schools, districts and community agencies throughout the county to remove barriers for academic achievement to students who are in need.

The county school board is elected, not appointed.

Noozhawk: What personal and/or work experience would you bring to the organization?

Fulton: Rochester School Board. President and on the board of the Santa Barbara chapter of AHA. President and on the board of the national AHA, California affiliate. Trustee of the Goleta Valley Community Hospital board for 10 years. Santa Barbara County Board of Education the last 10 years. Served as vice president and president. Many professional organizations, local, state and national, including the California Radiologic Society.

Noozhawk: What do you see as the top issue facing the district right now, and how would you address it? 

Fulton: The top issue in this terrible time of the pandemic is to safely and as quickly as possible return our students to the in-school atmosphere where they can best learn. Many school programs for early childhood development have been successfully restarted.

As a physician, I am very aware of all the safety measures that need to be observed. Our administrators are working hard with the public health department to return our students to their in-house learning experience.

I look forward to returning to the county Board of Education and continuing to provide the services for which we are responsible.

Click here for more information about Fulton.

County Board of Education Trustee Area No. 4

Michelle de Werd

Noozhawk: Why are you running?  

de Werd: I am running for two reasons. First, to address the absence of accountability at the county school Board of Education, which oversees 20 school districts, 70,000 students with a $58 million budget. What do the incumbents have to show for a $58 million budget? What has the county school board done for your local public school?

Second, to focus on the reversal of the precipitous academic decline without interruption, where less than 50 percent of county students are proficient in English and math. These fundamentals are the foundation for a productive life.

Not every student goes to college. Our local schools have lost programs that provide hands-on learning to develop workplace skills.

My highest priority is fiscal responsibility, accountability, transparency, a meticulous review of the budget, and take action. I will not accept any compensation, nor health and welfare benefits that are currently afforded to the incumbents. This public money should go to the students. Since 2016, the incumbents have received benefits totaling over $500,000.

Noozhawk: What personal and/or work experience would you bring to the organization? 

de Werd: President Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I am a 21-year Los Olivos resident, married for 29 years, and mother of two children. Both daughters graduated from college and are productive in their careers. Most of our family members are beneficiaries of a public-school system. I regularly volunteered in our local schools, including Santa Ynez High School, where my daughter and niece attended. I attended the sparsely attended school board meetings. The more I learned about the budget, and how they operated, the more I felt compelled to participate. After observing numerous inconsistencies and a lack of transparency, I hired a videographer to videotape all meetings. I posted these videos to YouTube and a Facebook group called the Santa Ynez High School Administration/School Board Transparency Project.

I earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics from UCLA and was a Division 2 NCAA All-American swimmer at CSU-Northridge. I spent my career after college working in investment management specializing in municipal bond finance and asset management. Currently, my husband and I are agriculture business owners, and we grow grapes. We recently completed construction of a Los Olivos winery in 2018.  

Presently, I am the chair of the Santa Ynez High School Bond Measure K 2016 Citizens Oversight Committee, a designated member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Our committee monitors expenditures for school bond projects, ensuring public funds are used as intended by the voters. I also co-founded and serve as president of the nonprofit Academic Booster Club (ABC+), providing financial assistance to enhance academic achievement and fund scholarships. 

Noozhawk: What do you see as the top issue facing the district right now, and how would you address it? 

de Werd: Safe schools and quality education/programs produce critical and creative thinkers and cultivate dignity, civility and confidence in our students. It will be a challenge to reverse the downward academic trend, which is the top issue facing county schools. The pandemic will only make matters worse. I am particularly concerned with the students who are vulnerable, at-risk, lower socio-economic and special education. Each day they do not receive in-person instruction, they fall further behind. I will foster greater transparency in budgeting and spending to sustain the solvency of county school districts, to provide support and resources for classrooms, to raise urgency for school safety and mental health. It will never be perfect, but I have the energy and passion to focus on new solutions without abandoning the fundamentals. I humbly ask for your vote.

Click here for more information about de Werd.

Jim Richardson

Noozhawk: Why are you running?  

Richardson: Because I believe I can bring a new perspective to the board. Boards, and I’ve served on many, tend to get too comfortable with each other, and staff, whose decisions may benefit the bureaucracy and not the stakeholders, i.e. the taxpayer. I believe the board member is responsible to their constituents and no other board members.

Noozhawk: What personal and/or work experience would you bring to the organization?

Richardson: I’ve retired from the computer industry, where I served in many capacities from the field to administrative to management. I entered public service in Solvang as a board member on two city commissions and was elected to the City Council for 13 years, serving 10 years as an elected mayor. I served on several Santa Barbara County boards. I was chair of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and the Air Pollution Control District chair. I was a Santa Barbara LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) board member for five years. I’ve also served on several sub-committees of those boards.

Noozhawk: What do you see as the top issue facing the district right now, and how would you address it? 

Richardson: The Santa Barbara County Education Office, of which the board oversees, has many functions, from wide-ranging instructional programs for special education, programs for youth at risk and instruction in juvenile detention facilities to professional development for educators and fiscal services for school districts. SBCEO provides services that are unaffordable to smaller school districts, such as staff development and training programs.

Top issues are student test scores, particularly where SBCEO has direct control, namely the juvenile student population in detention, and budgets. The need for technical and vocational education to better prepare students for successful careers, careers that don’t require a college diploma.

Click here for more information about Richardson.

Roberta (Bert) Heter

Noozhawk: Why are you running?  

Heter: Education has always been an integral and important part of my life. I believe all students deserve the access and opportunities that public education provides, and that we in public education need to work diligently to ensure that every student succeeds. As an adult, all of my employment was in the field of education; as a volunteer in nonprofit organizations I helped provide support to students and to education in Santa Barbara County. I am deeply committed to continuing to serve students, teachers and families by sharing my experience and skills, and by making decisions that make a lasting and positive impact on students and teachers.

Noozhawk: What personal and/or work experience would you bring to the organization?

Heter: While my husband completed his engineering degree, I worked in the Comptroller’s Office and in the Counseling Center at Kansas State University as clerical staff. After moving to Texas and then locating in Lompoc, I returned to school and completed an associate’s degree, a bachelor of science and a master’s degree while working toward a teaching credential. My husband, Tom, who worked at Vandenberg Air Force Base and was in the business of launching rockets, was a tremendous support during those years. We were raising four children, who all attended local schools, and juggling our schedules wasn’t always easy.

I was employed by the Lompoc Unified School District as a substitute teacher and then full time at the high school level as a resource specialist, administrative dean, assistant principal and principal.

In addition to youth sports organizations during the years when our children were young, my community involvements included serving on the boards of the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Family Service Agency and Region 13 of the Association of California School Administrators as well as being a member of the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County, the North County Advisory of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara and the Advisory Council of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Noozhawk: What do you see as the top issue facing the district right now, and how would you address it?

Heter: As a county Board of Education, we focus on all schools throughout Santa Barbara County. A safe and healthy reopening of schools to in-person teaching and learning is foremost on our minds at this time. The county Office of Education and public schools work closely together to ensure that all necessary health and safety guidelines are met. Equity metrics and COVID-19 data throughout the county are taken into consideration while schools solidify their plans for in-person instruction.

We recognize that the pandemic has impacted children, teachers and families, and it is important to reopen schools and communities and to do it well. As we move into the reopening of schools, I believe it is critical to address individual student academic, social and mental needs. It is important to recognize the tremendous amount of adapting that has been done by teachers, school support staff, parents, community partners and students during this time.

In addition to the critical COVID-19 matters being addressed, the Santa Barbara County Office of Education continues to provide direct support for students in special education and support for transitional youth (foster youth and homeless youth) who face unique challenges while also developing online professional development opportunities for staff and school volunteers, increasing career training for students and providing budget developments and fiscal support for districts. Additional support for students, educators and districts has also been made available.

As a county Board of Education trustee, I believe we need to focus on the urgent need of schools which have been intensified by the pandemic. We also need to keep looking towards the future to anticipate and adapt to meet the needs of all children throughout Santa Barbara County.

County Board of Education Trustee Area No. 6

Lou Seagal

Noozhawk: Why are you running?  

Seagal: To be honest, the last thing I ever thought I would want to do is run for the Santa Barbara County Board of Education. Although I have been writing and speaking about the educational crisis in our public school for years, I was not sure I could be effective on this board. The reason for this is because this agency has no line authority over any school in our county. It spends a prodigious amount of money on questionable programs, most of it unrelated to school performance. My passion is figuring out how (to) make schools work for all students. It’s unacceptable to me that any student is left behind because we failed them educationally.

After being urged to run by many concerned parents, I scrutinized all the statutory functions of this agency and found that the superintendent has substantial oversight powers to improve academic performance and student achievement. Sadly, these powers have not been used. When it became clear to me that I could actually make a difference, I decided to run.

Noozhawk: What personal and/or work experience would you bring to the organization? 

Seagal: I have lived in Santa Barbara for 32 years, and sent my child to the local K-12 public schools. My interest in public education runs deep, as I have been thinking and writing for many years (see my website) about school performance. Many of the management and analytical skills I employed to build and run a successful business are transferable to addressing the many organizational problems in our schools. They entail problem-solving skills, as well as qualities like creativity, inventiveness, ingenuity and tenacity. Unfortunately, we see too little of these characteristics exhibited by school board members or administrators.

Noozhawk: What do you see as the top issue facing the district right now, and how would you address it? 

Seagal: My opponent, who has been on this board for 21 years, will tell you about the wonderful things he has done while on the board. However, during his tenure, we have seen a sharp decline in school performance in our county. A look at the data shows that test scores are down significantly, particularly in our elementary schools. In fact, in almost every major school district in the county, the majority of the students are failing math and English. Of the 175 students the county directly oversees, zero percent are passing math and 5 percent English.

We need to study school districts with high test scores, particularly successful charter schools with similar demographics to ours, and learn from them. It’s no secret that successful schools share similar characteristics. They have time-tested instructional curriculum, high-performing teachers, proactive and effective leadership, personalized learning to meet individual student needs, a culture of high expectations, frequent monitoring of student progress, a safe and orderly environment, longer school days and year, and effective strategies to enlist parents in their children’s education. We need to implement many of these proven strategies to improve school performance. I suggest we reallocate a portion of the agency’s $58 million budget to accomplish this.

Lastly, I intend to lobby for reopening our schools. I believe it can be done safely without endangering the health of our children, teachers and parents. Closed schools jeopardize our children’s social, emotional and behavioral health, as well as their academic progress. I am also committed to allowing a remote option for parents who wish to keep their children home. 

Click here for more information about Seagal.

Weldon (Joe) Howell 

Noozhawk: Why are you running?  

Howell: Nothing is more important than our kids. For more than 20 years, I have served on the county Board of Education as your representative in Trustee Area No. 6. In that role, I have seen firsthand the miraculous work that teachers, principals and leaders in public education do to support their students … our children. I am seeking re-election to the county Board of Education because there is no other mission more important than educating our county’s students and preparing our nation’s next generation of leaders. 

In light of all the challenges our schools face during this pandemic, I bring renewed energy, seasoned leadership, innovative problem-solving and a tenacious resolve to see our teachers, staff and school administrators safely and fully reopen our county’s schools. 

Noozhawk: What personal and/or work experience would you bring to the organization? 

Howell: I consider myself fortunate to have lived in Santa Barbara for more than 40 years. When my two children first entered our local public schools, I got involved as a volunteer in support of causes and nonprofits that help children and families be successful. I have been honored to serve for decades as a volunteer, leader and champion of some of our community’s most respected programs supporting student success.

As a volunteer board member on nonprofits like Partners in Education, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation and the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, I have helped bridge the digital divide, forged partnerships between businesses and schools, and promoted student athletes who deserve recognition and need additional support in the classroom and on the field of play. I am proud to have served as co-chair of the Partners in Education campaign that raised $4 million for Computers for Families and has now placed more than 13,000 computers in the homes of needy local families.

I genuinely enjoy the important work of the board: advocating for vital services in support of all students, including services for those with special needs, vocational education programs, free and affordable child care for working families, and teacher training, to name just a few. I am committed to ensuring that parents and schools have access to a fair and open process to appeal the decisions of school districts relating to charter schools, expulsions and inter-district transfers.

Noozhawk: What do you see as the top issue facing the district right now, and how would you address it?

Howell: It is no surprise that our biggest issue facing Santa Barbara County’s 20 school districts is finding a way to safely reopen our schools during the pandemic. It is mission critical that we support our elected superintendent and her team as they guide our county into ensuring quality educational outcomes in a safe environment.  

One of the functions of the county board is to review and approve budgets, programs and related administrative functions of the 20 independent school districts. As a seasoned board member, it is my highest aim to support budgets needed to help county schools surmount this COVID-19 crisis. It is my sincere desire to see students, teachers, parents and schools grow in both resilience and creativity so we can emerge from this stronger and smarter than ever!

Click here for more information about Howell.

Click here to read more stories in the Noozhawk Election 2020 section.

— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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