November 3, 2006

Declining enrollment, a major issue in the South Bay Union race

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Without a doubt, declining enrollments has affected the South Bay Union School District for the past few years.

This is due, in part, to the increasing cost of housing in the Imperial Beach area.

There are five candidates running for the district board of trustees.

They are Elvia Aguilar, business owner and preschool director; incumbent Chris Brown; Jan Gardner, human resources manager; incumbent Althea Jones; and Beth Saldana, school bus driver.

The three candidates who receive the most votes will serve on the board.

The district has a Latino population of more than 75 percent.

La Prensa San Diego requested information from the five candidates but only Brown and Gardner responded to the invitation.

Aguilar, who served on the board for 13 years but lost in the November, 2004 elections, said in her candidate statement that “all children can learn and must receive challenging instruction, providing the skills for life and success.”

She added that she “will continue to work with state and federal legislators to insure that our schools and children are provided the resources they deserve.”

Brown, who’s the current board president, said that during her tenure on the board, her priority has been to overcome the challenges the district faces due to declining enrollment.

“I think that overall, I have done a very good job. I have tried to be fair to all. I have always been willing to listen to everyone,” she said.

After working for over sixteen years in the Special Education Department of the South Bay Union School District as a teacher’s assistant and a secretary in the Pupil Personnel Department, Brown retired from the South Bay Union School District in 2002.

She has been on the board for four years.

Gardner said she feels that educational quality is a top priority, even in times when the district is facing major budget cuts.

“We need to keep student achievement high. The district also needs to attract and maintain the highest quality teachers, staff and administrators. These are difficult issues in the face of declining enrollment and reduced funding,” she said.

Gardner added that she doesn’t judge for decisions it has made recently, but she said her fresh perspective would add something new to the decision-making process.

“The board has faced complex decisions in an environment where resources are diminishing. I believe the current board members are capable and caring individuals. However, I do not agree with every decision the board has made. The recent negotiations with the teachers union is an example. That issue could have been handled differently. Having said that, wanting to offer a new perspective does not automatically mean I am critical of the decisions of the board. In truth, putting the decisions of the current board under a microscope doesn’t get the district any closer to higher student performance standards, or any closer to increasing the overall district budget. Clear focus, listening to the concerns of students, parents, teachers, employees and the community along with unity of purpose are necessary for the district to reach its goals,” Gardner said.

Jones didn’t respond to La Prensa San Diego’s request and the Registrar of Voters didn’t have her candidate statement.

Saldana, in her candidate statement, said that good financial management is a priority. “I am running for the South Bay School Board, because I believe in the system of Education, I want to help make it stronger for the children of Imperial Beach and the South San Diego area. I think that they all deserve the very best Education that money can buy. I don’t feel that the lay offs that have been occurring in this district are giving our students the chance that they deserve. I have heard all of the excuses that have been given for the layoffs, however, I do believe that there is money in the District but that it is being spent unwisely,” she said.

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