Seven of the nine candidates running for Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District Board of Education appeared in a public forum Monday to discuss how their campaigns would address issues within the district.
The candidates were asked a mix of questions relating to the current and future outlook of education in Livermore. School board contenders addressed crucial topics such as the presence of police officers in schools, teacher retention and their stances on the district's $450 million General Obligation Facility Bond that the current board placed on the ballot.
The candidates are competing for three at-large seats on the school board in the upcoming Nov. 8 general election.
The three incumbents seeking re-election -- Craig Bueno, Emily Prusso and Anne White -- participated in the forum along with four of the new challengers including Steven Drouin, Hayden Sidun, Kristina Mazaika and Deena Kaplanis.
Not present at the forum were Alexandria Izarraraz, who declined to attend, and John Kupski who was out of town.
Hosted by Livermore Vine and Livermore Indivisible, the forum was held in person at the LVJUSD boardroom and live-streamed via Zoom. Livermore Vine publisher Gina Channell Wilcox and editor Cierra Bailey moderated the discussion.
With funding for programs, infrastructure and other needed projects at the front of voters’ minds, the General Obligation Bond -- headed to the ballot as Measure G -- was the first topic addressed.
All seven candidates expressed support for the measure and the funding it would provide.
“This is about modernizing our schools and giving our students the best possible campuses,” Sidun said. “I support any measure that will replace old infrastructures and give our students a good, modern state of the art place to learn.”
New infrastructure that positively impacts learning, such as sewage and other facilities, is greatly needed, said Drouin. A long-time educator and professor, Drouin referred to Measure G as a “win-win” for students and staff.
White and Bueno spoke on the contingency plan for school funding in the event that Measure G does not pass.
“If the bond does not pass we will figure out why it didn't pass, fix it, and put it out again. There is really no option,” White said. “The money we get from the state is primarily for programs, not for facilities. The bond is for facilities.”
A priority of the school board is student safety and addressing related concerns that may harm or negatively affect students. Candidates were asked how they would maintain the security of LVJUSD, as well as their stance on having school resource officers on campuses.
“The primary responsibility of our school board is to ensure the safety of our students and staff and that starts with working with other entities to ensure that safety,” Sidun said.
In response to the pressing campus safety issues and how to address them, Sidun drew attention to national mass shootings and expressed a need for student safety plans, “I believe we need to keep guns out of our schools, we need to keep students safe and I will work hard to address that.”
Drouin said “schools are places for learning (and) creating a culture of learning.” He feels it is important to address any special needs of students, in both emotional and physical capacity for safety.
Kaplanis, who has a background in sports medicine and is also a small business owner, is in support of having police on campus.
“It’s important to have someone around that the students know who to go to feel safe, whether it be someone in uniform or a therapist but that needs to be known to the child where to go for safety,” Kaplanis said.
Candidates Bueno, Prusso and White all shared similar sentiments that the current climate of school policing is fair and community-based. Bueno showed enthusiasm for having officers in schools, citing the previous work he and other board members have done.
“I support our police officers in our schools, to the extent that we worked to increase it by 50% with oversight,” Bueno said. “It’s inherently important.”
He expanded on the larger question at hand, noting the complex nature of the issue, “It’s not a unilateral statement in terms of ‘does it work.’ It depends on the community. It's a big issue, it's a very multifaceted thing that the community has to trust in it and that takes a community-based policing ideal.”
Another issue present in the district and larger education community is learning loss during the years impacted by COVID-19. The candidates discussed how they would address the phenomenon in Livermore, and also shared stances on the current student achievement gap.
“One size does not fit all, and that's how we meet the gaps. We figure out where kids are socially and emotionally and meet them there,” Mazaika said. Mazaika, who moved to the area in 2017, has served in many leadership roles in education, including her current position as director of growth and development at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin.
Drouin expressed disagreement with achievement tracking. He explained that the “you’re smart, you're not smart” approach does not encourage students to succeed, but rather targeted support and options do.
“Variety of programming is essential,” Drouin said. “When their student has programming that speaks to them they're going to be motivated and want to succeed.”
White also supported targeted learning and teaching various learning topics differently based on grade rather than time elapsed. “You don't need to redo all of third grade, just the bits and pieces that help you do fourth grade,” White said as an example.
In her response, Kaplanis highlighted that the achievement gap could be due in part to social economics and lack of basic needs for students and their families.
She told audience members that her plan would be to, “work with the federal funding we get and any government programs to allocate access to any resources that the children and their families might need.”
Addressing challenges students are facing and making sure they have the resources they need is imperative to learning, according to Kaplanis.
Given the national teacher staffing issues, candidates were asked how the district should approach retaining current teachers and recruiting new ones.
“Thinking about recruiting -- housing is absolutely essential,” said Drouin. “We also need to provide targeted help to new teachers, we need to provide them with professional learning that meets them where they are and helps them move into the profession.”
On the side of retaining teachers, Drouin said, “also importantly, is professionalism. When they have high-quality buildings, when they are treated like a professional they feel like they belong."
Prusso, who has served on the school board for four years and is vying for a second term, suggested potential new ideas for this complex matter that the district could implement for its educators. Subsidized housing opportunities, subsidized daycare and credential tuition aid, were all listed in her response as ways the district could be proactive in retaining and recruiting teachers.
“Teacher retention and recruitment is a problem across the whole country, it is definitely something we need to be focused on as a district. I also know that salary is historically a problem,” Prusso said. She also emphasized how important continuing the culture of support would be.
Sidun agreed with Prusso and Drouin on providing housing, as well as finding ways to bring in more funding and pay teachers accordingly.