ENCINITAS — On Oct. 23, about 50 people filled the patio of Leucadia Pizzeria in Encinitas to talk about the future of education in their district. The public forum featured nearly 20 Board of Education candidates across several local districts discussing their platforms and meeting with the constituency.
The San Dieguito Union High School District race took the spotlight, with candidates Kristin Gibson and Lea Wolf for Area No. 5, Amy Flicker and incumbent Maureen “Mo” Muir for Area No. 1 and Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart from Area No. 3 all in attendance for the forum. Dr. Cheryl James-Ward was unable to attend due to a prior engagement.
Also in attendance were Jee Manghani of Rancho Santa Fe School District; Katherine Fitzpatrick, Libby Hellmann, Gee Wah Mok, Doug Rafner and Chris Tyler of Del Mar Union School District; Christian Adams, Emily Andrade, Amy Glancy, Gregg Sonken and Marla Strich of Encinitas Union School District; and Gaylin Allbaugh, Vicki King and Debra H. Schade of Solana Beach School District.
A Q&A session for the SDHSD candidates was open to all attendees, and raised questions about STEM versus STEAM (the “A” stands for arts), social and emotional learning and, most notably, balancing the budget.
“The budget talks about where your priorities are,” Muir said. “The things that are most important, we’re going to make sure we’re watching that and make sure that happens.”
While Muir spoke to her experience working with the new superintendent hired during her time on the board, her opponent, Flicker, a newcomer to the elections and parent of two kids in the district, said they needed fresh financial evaluation.
“We’re going to have to look at different models and different ways we can streamline and figure out efficiencies, and look at our infrastructure and how we are actually doing the business of the district,” Flicker said.
Candidates in the other areas also echoed the need for clearer financial priorities. Kristin Gibson, candidate for Area No. 5, has served two terms on the Del Mar Union School District board, and said this approach worked for them.
“You have to pick the things that are the very most important to you — let’s say it’s class size or STEM ” Gibson said. “ You need a limited number of high priorities that you dedicate your resources to.”
The event saw more candidates and their supporters than undecided constituents in attendance. Still, Jim Merrill, the forum organizer and president of the main sponsoring business, Encinitas Charities Consulting Group, said the goal of the event was to inform voters during an overwhelming election season.
“They’ll go vote and they’ll do their thing, but hopefully with an event like this, they’ll come out and meet some people, and it’ll cut through the clutter,” Merrill said.
Karen Brunett was an undecided voter who came to learn more about the candidates. She moved to Encinitas two years ago from a strong school district in Santa Clarita County and wanted to see how candidates here approach the district.
“I want to be more informed about who I’m voting for,” Brunett said. “Not blindly or mindlessly picking people when you don’t really know who they are.”
The elementary school board elections also had a presence at the forum. The races in Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe each had their own table for constituents to meet with candidates. Cardiff representatives were unable to attend.
Fourth-grade teacher Melissa Scharbarth took her spot at the Encinitas Union School District table. She teaches and serves as a union representative at Park Dale Lane Elementary School. The union had already endorsed incumbents Emily Andrade, Marla Strich and Gregg Sonken — Scharbarth attended to learn about the challengers, Amy Glancy and Christian Adams.
“I wanted to put some effort behind where they’re coming from, even though I have a strong connection with who I’m voting for,” Scharbarth said.
As candidates from all districts shared their priorities, the event not only informed the voters, but also allowed candidates to synergize. SDHSD Area No. 5 candidate Kristin Gibson said she appreciated this element.
“When I hear my opponents speak, I take notes, and it’s not necessarily to respond to them, but it’s because they have some good ideas,” Gibson said. “Eventually we all want to come together, however things end up, and support the kids.”
North County residents will hit the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 6, to choose which candidates will make it to the Board of Education in their home districts.
Transparency note: The Coast News was one of the sponsors for this forum. Other sponsors included Encinitas Charities Consulting Group, Leucadia Pizzeria, Solomon Wealth Management and Yardley Enterprises.