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Our View: Four choices for a reshaped School Board

The five-member School Board that oversees public education in Del Norte County is about to change. At least two new members will be elected Nov. 2, and it could be as many as four.

When the board is reconstituted after the election, only Frances Costello of District 3 is guaranteed a seat. The former teacher and administrator was elected two years ago.

Fortunately, the pool of candidates is deep and diverse. It includes a retired schoolteacher, a retired sheriff and two parents of children currently enrolled in district schools. There’s also a Yurok Tribal Council member, the owner of a plumbing and heating business, a Realtor and a learning disability specialist. All that, plus the one remaining board veteran, who has served for 12 years.

While the board is divided into geographic districts for the sake of candidate residency, all Del Norte County voters can cast ballots in all four races.

DISTRICT 1

The aforementioned board veteran is Bob Berkowitz, the current board president. The owner of LifeStyles Research Company was elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2002 and 2006. He is being challenged by Donald McArthur, a learning disability specialist for the College of the Redwoods who also has a private counseling and psychology practice.

Berkowitz has been effective. He speaks his mind at board meetings — that’s not true of every member — and he advocates for public education in general and Del Norte schools in particular as a regional representative on the California School Boards Association. In that role, he recently went on a fact-finding trip to China to study the educational system there. He returned with a call for teaching the Mandarin language to better prepare local students for global opportunities.

If he’s re-elected, Berkowitz will provide continuity and institutional knowledge to a School Board of mostly newcomers.

We cannot recommend voting against him, but we can’t recommend voting against his challenger either.

McArthur, who unfortunately did not attend The Triplicate’s School Board candidates forum because of car trouble in San Francisco, is highly knowledgeable about public education issues. Just as importantly, he clearly empathizes with children and the challenges they face growing up.

We are with impressed by his intellect. And we are intrigued with his call for a new type of School Board that moves beyond its overseer role to be more collaborative — not micro-managing administrators, he says, but still interjecting itself more assertively into the community’s education issues.

McArthur has great potential. Berkowitz has proven ability. The Triplicate makes no endorsement in this race — another way to look at that is that we endorse both of them.

DISTRICT 2

With Bill Parker leaving the board, the District 2 position is being sought by Lori Cowan, a parent and Realtor with RE/MAX Coastal Redwoods, and Marjorie Buckskin, vice-chair of the Yurok Tribal Council.

Cowan offers a perspective currently missing from the board — that of a parent of school-age children. She’s been a frequent visitor to classrooms and says she’s ready to become a vocal advocate for schoolchildren.

Buckskin chose not to attend the School Board candidates forum and did not respond to a follow-up request to be interviewed. Her unwillingness to participate is disappointing, since her background would seem to qualify her as someone who would bring more cultural diversity to the board.

Fortunately, voters have the opportunity to fill the District 2 spot with an active, engaged parent of students currently enrolled in the district. The Triplicate endorses Lori Cowan.

DISTRICT 4

When board member Bill Maffet resigned in July, former Del Norte County Sheriff Jim Maready was appointed to the position. Now Maready is seeking a full term on the board. He is opposed by Patrick Hawkins, owner of First Service Plumbing and Heating.

Watch him at board meetings, and it’s clear that Maready is taking his new role seriously. He has become a student, if you will, of the issues facing the board. His background as a former high-level public official seems to have prepared him well for the new challenge of improving — or at least preserving — local schools during tough economic times.

Hawkins is an impressive candidate as well. He speaks passionately about his desire to serve the district and find ways to keep class sizes manageable despite budget cuts. He also stands out for his candor. Hawkins was the only candidate at the forum to mention that if our financial resources continue to sink, we may have to consider closing one or more of our less-utilized schools.

District 4 would be well-represented by either man, but we like the start that Maready has already made since his summer appointment and feel he has earned the right to continue his efforts. The Triplicate endorses Jim Maready.

DISTRICT 5

This started out as a three-person race to replace the retiring Tom Cochran, but Linda Polen has withdrawn her candidacy — an action taken too late to remove her name from the ballot. So voters will choose between Jennifer England, executive director of the Family Resource Center, and California Martin, a retired schoolteacher.

It’s another close call.

When England, a parent of two school-age children, was asked questions at the candidates forum, she started talking almost before she reached the podium about ways to improve or preserve school services in a time of cutbacks. She’s got a lot of positive energy, she already is an effective advocate for children in her day job, and she’s heavily involved in volunteer activities for youths.

Martin is a well-spoken veteran of 23 years in the classroom. As such, she has an insider’s perspective on what goes on in Del Norte schools that not even the most active of classroom volunteers can match. She understands the challenges facing teachers hemmed in by budget cuts and demands for improvement in standardized test scores. And in retirement, she’s been active in myriad community roles.

There’s no wrong choice here. Ultimately, we can’t turn away from the promise of an energetic children’s advocate. The Triplicate endorses Jennifer England.

 

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