School Board candidates addressed topics including test scores and budget cuts at a forum hosted by the local Tea Party Patriots on Tuesday night.
The candidates are vying to represent districts 3 and 4 on the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees. They include incumbent Frances Costello, currently School Board president, retired teachers Edna Smith and Judie Cordts, Fort Dick Bible Church Pastor Roger Daley and psychologist Tod Roy.
Costello and Smith are running to represent District 3, which includes Smith River, Hiouchi and Gasquet. Cordts, Daley and Roy hope to represent District 4, which includes Fort Dick and Lake Earl as well as some neighborhoods on the west side of Northcrest Drive and both sides of Lake Earl Drive.
Residents countywide can vote in both races, but the candidates must live in the district they hope to represent.
Each candidate was allotted up to two minutes for an opening statement.
• Edna Smith: Smith said she was born and raised in California’s Central Valley and graduated from Fresno State College before she came to Del Norte County in 1968 with her two young children.
She taught at Redwood, Joe Hamilton and Smith River elementary schools, and was a reading specialist and the district’s Title IV A Indian education coordinator.
Smith said her campaign is focusing on three priorities: putting kids first, parents’ rights and accountability.
“We need to implement ways to keep students in school, (and) find ways to decrease the dropout rate,” said Smith. “If I’m elected one of my priorities is going to be the dropout rate and trying to do things for attendance because our finances come from attendance.”
• Frances Costello: Costello earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Humboldt State University and retired from teaching in 2008 after 30 years as an educator.
As a Board member, “I knew I could promote student learning, provide support for classified and certificated staff and provide a strong voice for the community,” she said. “I do all my homework on every issue. I ask questions. I listen carefully. I answer e-mail and telephone calls all in an effort to help strengthen communication and put a voice to your concerns.”
Costello said she understands the demands put on the School Board to keep schools safe, on teachers to implement curriculum, on students to perform well on standardized tests and on administrators to balance the budget. She added that she will continue to advocate to keep cuts away from students and to find more ways to celebrate the district’s successes.
• Julie Cordts: Cordts, a mother of three, grandmother of five and great-grandmother of three, has lived in Del Norte County for 33 years and has taught for 25 years.
She graduated from San Francisco State University and has volunteered for youth organizations including the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America. Cordts retired from teaching five years ago and said she wants to serve where she has knowledge.
“I feel children are my main focus and they should be the board’s main focus,” she said. “I will not come to the board with an agenda. I will approach tough decisions with a fair and open mind.”
Having been in the school system, Cordts said she understands it and wants to contribute to the betterment of schools for the community’s children and grandchildren.
• Tod Roy: As a licensed clinical psychologist, Roy has practiced publicly and privately for 30 years in California and Arizona. He moved to Del Norte in 1997 when he started working at Pelican Bay State Prison. He said he is semi-retired.
In addition to being a clinical psychologist, Roy has taught at the continuation high school in Santee, Calif., and has taught at the junior college and university level, including at College of the Redwoods. Roy was also a school psychologist for a rural school district in Imperial County.
“Based on my education and work experience I believe I’ll bring a unique perspective to future issues the School Board faces,” he said. “I bring sense and an understanding of clinical analysis and decisiveness based on research and review of past patterns and a commitment to build solid infrastructure to educate our students in Del Norte County.”
• Roger Daley: Daley is the pastor at Fort Dick Bible Church. After canvassing his neighborhood, Daley said most parents felt that the system is broken. He said he believes in fundamental values.
“I believe that character counts and integrity matters when no one is watching and that we will all give an account to God for our actions,” he said. “The fundamental values this country was founded upon shouldn’t be educated out of our children.”
Daley said the School Board should focus on the core disciplines that help young people be equipped for today’s world. He acknowledged the district faces hard issues, possibly including more budget cuts.
Opinions on test scores
• Costello: She acknowledged that scores need to rise throughout California, and said the state consistently ranks from 47th to 50th states when it comes to per-student funding.
She also acknowledged the improvement Del Norte County schools have made.
“Today many classrooms in our district have made outstanding growth in student achievement with proficiency rates from 70 to 98 percent,” Costello said. “I salute the work of our schools to make this happen.”
Costello also brought up the district’s new Del Norte Engaged Learning Model and said the district has launched professional learning communities to improve collaborative work and has placed data coaches at school sites to support teachers in analyzing student achievement.
Smith: She said Del Norte has a long ways to go in improving test scores.
She brought up the Del Norte Engaged Learning Model, but said the new program cannot be a solution for all the problems. Smith pointed out that even though schools like Mary Peacock and Redwood Elementary are doing well, others such as Smith River Elementary aren’t. She added that Smith River’s large migrant population may contribute to its lower test scores.
“Those children need to come to school to learn English and the basics,” Smith said, referring to the difficulty of learning a new language. “Raising the test scores is not just a problem for teachers. Parents need to be involved also.”
• Daley: He said he believes that Del Norte County is far behind the state test score average when he sees up to 20 high school students in his church’s youth group having a difficult time reading a modern translation of the Bible.
Daley acknowledged that there is no easy fix.
“There has to be a way for the local community to be able to say we will demand that you perform,” Daley said. “Because even as our superintendent has said, there are some outstanding teachers in our schools.”
He said some teachers are succeeding even in overcrowded classrooms because they are “performing.”
• Roy: After looking at some of the STAR test results, Roy said he was surprised the focus was on math and reading and not history. He noted that history scores throughout the grades were poor.
“Without an understanding of history it seems to me that the values that we want to be instilled are not going to be there,” he said.
Roy said he doesn’t know what he would do to improve test scores because he doesn’t have access to the information and strategies that have been developed to address the problem. He added that he would study the results and review the sources of the comparative analysis of the students at the state and national level.
• Cordts: To look at the scores altogether is unproductive, Cordts said. The circumstances surrounding when and how the test was taken should also be considered, she said.
“A grueling battery of tests given over more than a week is more than most of us can handle,” Cordts said. “Yet it is expected of our young children.”
“Our high school kids are smart,” she said. “They know it’s not their future but their school’s future on the line. We need to find out from them what incentives will inspire them to do better on these tests.”
The greatest problem in American education is the non-reading child, she said, adding students should be encouraged to read for fun, which would improve test scores across the board.
Prop 30 and budget cuts
• Smith: If proposed tax increases fail in November, the district will be trouble, Smith said, but she added she had not seen the budget and needs more information about expenditures.
“I do know that other school districts have had to take drastic measures, cutting music programs (and) I strongly oppose this,” Smith said. “For some students music is the main reason they come to school. This is where creative thinking should kick in. Where should cuts be made right now? I don’t know, but I plan to find out.”
• Costello: If the governor’s tax measure does not pass the school district is looking at a $1.4 million budget cut in January, Costello said, adding that she hopes Proposition 38 passes if Proposition 30 fails.
Costello said her first priority is to keep cuts away from the classroom and to keep certificated and classified staff employed. She added that she would instruct the superintendent to look at ways of combining job responsibilities to reduce management costs and to look for ways to increase the district’s revenue.
• Roy: Roy said he’s sure the current School Board has considered the possibility and has plans in place if Proposition 30 — Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed tax initiative — fails.
“Without being elected, speculation as to what I would do seems a bit premature,” he said. “But there are ways in which to manage budgets and of course there are ways in which to save jobs.”
He said one possibility would be a job-share program.
• Cordts: She promised to look at all the facts and information and to be open-minded about the budget.
“I know we are facing budget cuts of monumental proportions, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose our head,” she said. “We can find a solution.”
Daley: Daley pointed out that furlough days equates to less time for teachers to spend with students.
He asked if school staff members considered taking less pay, pointing out that the bulk of district costs go to salaries and administration.
“That’s tough,” he said. “You have to look at all of the numbers and all of the items and things and say what do we really need? And that’s where I say fundamental values, your principles, are what you must hold to first.”