Voters look to replace two on S.M. school board

SAN MARCOS — Four years ago, San Marcos voters overwhelmingly supported a $287 million bond measure to upgrade some of the district’s oldest campuses — including the rebuilding of San Marcos High School. They also re-elected two board members who had championed the bond’s passage.

Flash forward to today, and both of those board members — Sharon Jenkins and Beckie Garrett — are gone, and voters will choose their replacements from three hopefuls.

Jenkins has been gone since 2012, when she was elected to the City Council, but Garrett only recently announced she would not seek re-election.

The three people running for the two seats include the person the school board appointed to replace Jenkins — Pam Lindamood — and two members of the district’s bond oversight committee — Stacy Carlson and Jean Diaz.

Each candidate has different views on the major issues facing the district in coming years.

For the appointed incumbent Lindamood, a former longtime music instructor with the district, the foremost issue facing the district is the rollout of the Common Core standards, a national set of standards that most of the states across the country have adopted. This includes ensuring that teachers have the training and resources necessary to implement the standards in the classrooms, as well as helping parents make the transition with their children.

“We need to make sure that teachers have the support they need to do a good job,” Lindamood said. “And we also need to continue to provide assistant to parents so they understand what their kids are doing and why.  This is a new and scary thing to tackle, and nobody likes change, and when parents feel they get to the point they can’t help their kids it is frustrating for them.

Lindamood said another of her priorities would be addressing the remaining facilities needs with the last of the Prop. K dollars, including removing the last of the portable classrooms on district campuses and replacing them with permanent class space.

Looming large on the horizon, she said, is the fallout of a proposed bailout of the state’s teacher retirement fund, which would require school districts statewide to contribute potentially millions of dollars more toward retiree pensions. In the case of San Marcos, the amount starts at $1 million and escalates to $16 million, nearly 10 percent of the district’s $163 million budget.

“It is going to be a big demand,” Lindamood said. “It is something we are taking very seriously and will budget carefully for.”

Diaz, the chairman of the Proposition K Citizens Oversight Committee, has set his platform on four major issues – continued transparency with the district’s bond program, maintained fiscal responsibility and financial stewardship, long-range planning of the district’s future growth and responsible oversight and management of the district’s Common Core rollout.

Diaz said he believes that transparency in all of the district’s dealings is vital.

“It’s extremely important, and the focus that I have brought to the committee,” Diaz said. “We’ve been highlighted for our transparency of our bond program, and I want to make sure that continues as a school board member.”

In terms of the district’s finances, while Diaz believes the financial outlook for the district and other districts has improved, it is important to maintain fiscal discipline and vigilance, but not at the sake of harming academic success.

Academic success is paramount in the final two pieces of Diaz’s platform – Common Core and future growth.

Diaz said that he supports the Common Core standards but believes district officials need to maintain a close eye on the rollout and make “tweaks” in curriculum when necessary.

This close eye also needs to be kept on the rapidly changing classroom technology, Diaz said. Long-term planning of the district’s buildout needs to include flexibility within the classrooms to accommodate advances in technology.

For Carlson, the final candidate, she questions the rosy academic picture painted by the district’s improving standardized test scores and its recent academic accolades.

“You keep hearing from the other two candidates that we are doing a good job, but for me, I believe a lot needs to be addressed,” Carlson said.

The disconnect, Carlson said, exists when students graduate from San Marcos and head to local colleges. There, she said, 60 percent of the district’s students need to take remediation courses in English and math.  This will become an even bigger issue, Carlson said, as community colleges are capping the amount of units students can take while still receiving financial aid.

Students taking more remediation courses mean that they will have to pay more for their general education or degree coursework.

“All of the sudden, students are going to have to start paying for these other classes out of pocket, and they won’t be able to go to college, it will be way too expensive, even at the community college level,” Carlson said.  “So, yeah, you’ve graduated, but you are not ready for college.”

Carlson said she is campaigning for more rigorous curriculum in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), to better prepare students for college and beyond.

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