The three candidates for two seats on the Mount Shasta Union Elementary School District board of trustees answered questions from the audience and explained their visions for the future of the District’s two schools during a candidate’s night at Sisson Elementary last week.
John Duncan, Paul Schwartz, and Jean Nels are on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Perhaps the most interesting of all the questions asked was, “Besides the budget, what, in your opinion, are the most critical issues facing the district today?”
Incumbent John Duncan, who is completing his third term on the board, replied that the huge role of parents in the quality of education their children receive is a big concern for him. “Most parents send their kids to school prepared... ready and eager to learn, but many don’t.” The lack of parental support is harmful to the achievement of all students, he said.
Nels, a recently retired teacher who taught in the MSUSD for 27 years, replied first that the lack of a true partnership between parents, teachers, children, principals, and the administration is a concern for her. “We could achieve more if we worked as a team... [the community] needs to feel they have a voice; a role in the decision-making process,” she said.
Nels also pointed to behavior issues within the schools. “Discipline is what tires out both teachers and parents,” she said. She believes that the Peaceful Playground Program and the school-wide approach to discipline such as the definitions of levels of behavior at Mount Shasta Elementary have helped with discipline issues.  These features could be expanded to the entire district, so that all students have the same general rules and expectations for behavior throughout their school career, allowing them to become more self-responsible for their behavior.
Current board president Paul Schwartz said that the state of California is the biggest obstacle to the district. He said that state funding represents about two-thirds of the district budget, and there has been a local loss of control at our schools. He feels that the community would do a better job of setting standards and curriculum than those in Sacramento. “We know the best fits for our community,” he said.
When the candidates were asked what strengths they would bring as a member of the board, each had specific thoughts about what their special strengths are.
Schwartz, who is finishing his first term on the board, explained his view that “education is the greatest gift you can give.” Schwartz is the parent of two elementary school-aged children. He said he’s an advocate of life-long learning, and said during his term he has spent at least 500 hours volunteering in the community. He said he’s organized, creative, open-minded, empathetic, and patient. “I try to make the right decisions, even when it’s difficult... I challenge the status quo, and I’m not afraid to ask ‘unpopular’ questions.”
Schwartz also pointed to his fiscally conservative record during his term on the board.
Duncan called attention to his 12 years of experience on the board. “I’ve seen a lot of things happen; a lot of improvement in the district... I’m always learning as things arise.” Duncan explained that the current board is very balanced with a mix of businessmen, a parent, and two retired teachers. He enjoys participating as a team member to contribute to the improvement of local schools. “I’m passionate about public education.”
Nels said her special strength is her wide range of teaching experience.“I know what works in the classroom, and what doesn’t... I’m a good listener, an independent thinker, and a negotiator... I'm energetic and am passionate about educating our children.”
A question regarding how the budget should be developed opened the door for animated discussion.
Duncan explained that the board must establish budget priorities which reflect and reinforce community goals. “It’s the board’s responsibility to monitor [the budget] and support its implementation... [the board] must be held accountable to the community.” Duncan said the board looks at the budget in the long term, in 1, 3, 5, and 10 year increments. “We don’t want to leave a financial can of worms for future boards to deal with.”
Nels said she is in support of “budget workshops,” during which the community would have their input. She stressed that her idea of a budget workshop is much different than those that already exist. “They would have more of a workshop atmosphere, with discussion rather than a dispensing of information. Money is the power... we need to create a true partnership.”
Schwartz explained that  balancing the budget is complex. “There are very few constants [in budgeting]... management is a never-ending process.” Schwartz added that he takes pride in the board’s budget and feels that they fulfill their obligations well considering the difficulty of yearly financial changes.
Each candidate had three minutes in which to make closing statements.
Duncan called attention to “three realities.” Number one: there are three candidates for two positions. “We campaign as individuals, but will serve as a team... no matter which of us is elected,” he said. Two: individual board members have have no authority by themselves, but must work together as a team to make actions. And three: success as a board member is tied to the board as a whole, and to student achievement. “No matter what the outcome [of the election] is, you will still have a great board,” Duncan said.
Schwartz thanked all who put on the candidate’s night. He said he is honored to serve on the board, and highlighted a few of the accomplishments made during his term, including the development of a vision and mission statement for the district, the continual improvement of student API scores, the recognition of MSE as a California Distinguished School last year, and the high rates of transfers into MSUSD. Schwartz said the district has a terrific staff, a professional board, and a strong, solid district budget. “The state of our district is very good. But good is the enemy of great.  Our governance team has a vision to be great and we are clearly moving in that direction.” said Schwartz.
Nels asked for votes on Nov. 4, saying that she would bring a new perspective to the board as a recently retired teacher who knows what goes on in local schools today.
“I have a ‘can-do’ attitude to set the tone  for a positive board” as well as perseverance and a great passion for education. “I have the experience, the time, and the energy for research... I’m the kind of person you can trust to make good decisions,” Nels said.