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School board candidates define themselves

Cory Fisher

A clearer picture of the race for two open seats on the Lake Tahoe Unified School District’s Board of Education is now starting to emerge, as the community gets to know the eight hopefuls.

The candidates gathered at South Tahoe Middle School for the first time Wednesday, where, as panelists, they responded to a series of questions put forth by an audience of roughly 160. Candidate Diane McMillan was unable to attend.

A second forum, combined with utility district candidates, is scheduled for Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. at Meyers Elementary School, following a Meyers Round Table meeting at 7 p.m.



“The community must want change,” said Manuel Jimenez, when the panel was asked why there are so many candidates.

“Change is exciting for people,” said Wendy David. “I also think candidates feel they have more of a chance with one open seat.”



After serving on the five-member board for 12 years, Greg Bergner will not seek a fourth term. However, Valerie Rudd – who has been a board member since winning a special mid-term election in 1990 – aspires to return for another four years.

“The community has changed,” said Debi Hamel. “These people have been on the board for a lot of years, but the ideas haven’t (changed).”

However, when asked about the number of terms each candidate would seek, incumbent Rudd stressed the time needed to familiarize oneself with district affairs. “There are some complex issues,” she said. “It takes a long time.”

While all candidates applauded the recent state funded class-size reduction in the first through third grades, some advocated continued implementation in other grades. “Given the funds, I’d like to see CSR in every grade,” said Vikki Seelig.

Rudd, also a CSR advocate, pointed to the challenge in securing state funds for added classrooms and teachers. Wendy David suggested decreasing student-teacher ratios in the higher grades by only five or 10 students if the 20-to-1 ratio is not fiscally feasible.

Stacy Romagnolo and Debi Hamel suggested looking into all indicators of student success, not solely class size.

“I see segregation in our schools,” said Jon Helman, when asked to comment on redrawing elementary school boundaries. “But it seems to me that certain parents can change schools if they know the right people.”

“Kids go to schools in the neighborhood they live in,” said Seelig.

“I believe in neighborhood schools, but maybe (the boundaries) need re-evaluated,” said Jimenez.

“It upsets families to redistrict,” said Romagnolo. “This is a very transient community, and with two parents working, childcare is an issue.

Hamel said redrawing intra district lines could be tough given the need to maintain delicate state-mandated class size reduction ratios.

Helman was the only candidate to oppose the proposed recreational joint-powers agreement with the city, county, college and other possible entities. Given the city’s financial woes, Helman said the agreement would be like “throwing money down a rat hole.”

When asked her views on the recent expansion of Advanced Placement courses at the high school, David said it is important for the staff to not just listen to “vocal parents.”

“There are a lot of students not benefiting from AP,” said David. “We need to make sure we’re challenging all students.”

“There must be equality from the underachiever to the overachiever,” said Helman.

“I think the high school has done of wonderful job of challenging all students with programs like ‘The Company’ and NJROTC,” said Romagnolo.

When asked how to improve or encourage retirement for teachers who aren’t doing well, Helman suggested that there should not be tenure.

“Tenure does not motivate teachers,” said Romagnolo.

David proposed open staff communication, classroom observation and parental involvement. Hamel suggested team-teaching and mentoring. Jimenez said teachers need to continually update their skills.

“We’ve done a lot with team-teaching and in-service training, like the (10-week) CSR (class size reduction) training,” said Rudd. “But not all CSR teachers were retained.”

While several panelists voiced concern over the nutritional value of “fast food” being served in schools, Hamel suggested it might keep high school students on campus at lunchtime. Seelig said, if supplemented with fruits and vegetables, it helps to support local businesses.

When asked to grade the current board’s performance, candidates gave the following marks:

— Stacy Romagnolo- “B+/A-“: “They’re doing a good job, but there’s always room for improvement.”

— Debi Hamel- “C”: “Certain things need to be fixed. We need new vision, new ideas and different objectives.”

— Valerie Rudd (incumbent)- “A”: We’ve worked together as a team with teachers and the community – we’re not afraid to try something new.”

— Vikki Seelig- “B”: I’d like to see the board be more open to the community.”

— Jon Helman- “C”: It’s an average board overall – I think it can be better.”

— Manuel Jimenez- “E” for effort: “They’ve tried very hard – but they need to be open to trying new ideas.”

— Wendy David- “B”: I’m pleased with the district, but would like to see better communication between the board and the community.”


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