In the upcoming election on November 8, 2016, three of the five seats on the Vista Unified School District Board of Education are being contested. In Trustee Area 1, incumbent Elizabeth Jaka faces challenger Rosemary Smithfield. In Trustee Area 4 incumbent Angela Chunka is running against challengers Heather Emaus and Cipriano Vargas. In Trustee Area 5 the race features incumbent Richard Alderson and challenger Roland “Bud” Balmer. New-comers Smithfield and Emaus have garnered endorsement from the Vista Teachers Association (VTA) and Balmer has been endorsed by the San Diego Republican Party.
The Vista Unified School District was the 47th-largest school district in the state of California for the 2013–2014 school year and served 25,670 students during that time period. The current student population for 2016 is down slightly and is estimated to be around 22,000 children. The current annual budget for VUSD is just under $250,000,000.00. By comparison, the estimated population of Vista jumped 1.4 % in 2015 to a whopping 98,896 as of Jan. 1 2016 and the annual budget for the City of Vista is only $72,766,364.00. This means that the School Board Trustees in Vista are responsible for the education of approximately 22% of the population of Vista and are overseeing a budget that is a little over three times as large as the city’s annual budget.
With 29 schools serving more than 22,000 students from preschool to 12th grade, Vista Unified School District is one of northern San Diego County’s largest educational agencies. The district stretches 39 square miles across most of Vista, a large portion of eastern Oceanside, some unincorporated areas and small slivers of Carlsbad and San Marcos. In addition to the many campuses district administrators oversee, the territory also includes one of the county’s largest adult-education programs with about 20,000 enrolled each year and another 3,000 students in four charter schools sponsored by the district. Vista Schools include: fifteen elementary schools, five middle schools, three comprehensive high schools, two alternative high schools, two schools for students with special needs, one K thru 8 school, one home-school/independent-study school, and one adult school.
The District statistics point to an ever increasing performance by students and faculty under the sparkling leadership of District Superintendent, Dr. Devin Vodicka. High School Graduation rates in VUSD are steadily going up from 81% that was recorded in 2012. By 2013-14 the rate was 82.6% and in 1014-15 it reached 84%. The 2015-16 graduation rates are on track to achieve 88%.
Attendance rates are steady and drop-out rates are down. The 2012 attendance rate was a not-too-bad 95.9 % and remains about the same today. The drop-out rate has declined from 9% and is approaching 8.1 %. STEAM participation (Science, Technology, Engineering, Visual & Performing Arts, and Math) is up significantly across the district. Jenny Anderson from Casita Center for Technology, Science, and Math (VSUD) was named as one of the five 2016-17 San Diego County Teachers of the Year.
There have been significant salary increases since 2013-14 for the district’s certificated staff. In 2014 they received a 3.28% increase. In 2015 it was an impressive 6.26% and again on 7/1/15, another 6.00%. The total since 2013-14 is 15.54% as well as Health & Welfare Increases of $500 to a total cap of $11,100. However, teachers have not fared as well. After the recession hit in 2008 and the school district along with the City of Vista had to make cutbacks, the teachers went 6 years without a raise. Last July they received a 9.56 % increase that is spread over three years.
Maybe now you can see why the title of this story includes the words “Very Important Election”. The Trustees for the VUSD Board of Education have a great deal of responsibility. Education of our children and our grandchildren has to be the most important task in the entire City of Vista. Fiscal responsibility for $250,000,000.00 of taxpayer provided funds is also very important. So, shouldn’t we take care to make good decisions based on good information when we elect people to assume the duties of a member of the Vista Board of Education? Shouldn’t the Trustees we select have the best qualification and be of the best character?
To get on the ballot, school board candidates had to register with the county elections office by August 12, 2016. If incumbents did not file by that deadline, the filing deadline was extended for non-incumbent candidates until August 17, 2016. In order to qualify as candidates, they had to be at least 18 years old, citizens of California, residents of the school district, registered voters, and “not legally disqualified from holding civil office”. According to the bylaws of the Vista Unified Board of Education, once they have taken office, school board members cannot be employed by the school district.
The election for City Council has attracted a lot of attention while almost nothing has been heard about the election for the School Board. Last month I covered the Candidate Forum presented at the Civic Center by the Vista Chamber of Commerce and our staff videoed taped the event so our hard working readers could see the candidates in action when they were off work and the kids were in bed. In response to my article on the forum, I was queried as to whether or not there would be any coverage for the School Board election. I had to honestly reply that I wasn’t even aware that there were open seats on the school board. It’s been a long time since we had any children in school so I guess I just wasn’t paying attention. But now I am and I have been on a mission to get the information to our readers before Oct. 10 so they can have some basis for their selection when they submit their absentee ballots.
I do miss the old days when we all walked down to the nearby school to cast our votes in person. Sometimes we would meet our neighbors on the way or see them in line at the polling booths. One year I left an anniversary card at our polling location for my lovely wife who was sleeping in late. The poll workers all cheerfully gave her the card when she appeared and they made her blush when they all applauded. I guess it won’t be long before polling booths are a thing of the past like rotary dial phones. Absentee voting has become very popular. In 2014 over 60% of the votes in California elections were cast by absentee voters. Any registered voter may vote using a vote-by-mail ballot instead of going to the polls on Election Day. California law also allows any registered voter to become a permanent vote-by-mail voter. Whatever method you use, please, just vote!
I have searched on some of the school board candidate’s web sites for information and I am providing links to their sites for your convenience. Below you will find some excerpts from the candidate’s statements. Later this week Part II of this story will post. In Part II I will reveal the information about the candidates that I gained by conducting face-to-face interviews with each of the candidates. I will also share the results of my interview with Vista Teacher’s Association (VTA) President, Tod Critchlow.
RICH ALDERSON – is the current President of the school board. He has served as principal at Rancho Buena Vista from 1999 to 2006. He retired in 2008 after nearly 40 years in education. Since then, he has worked as an advocate for families with children with special needs. His son graduated from Rancho Buena Vista and he has two grandchildren enrolled in district schools. “I have a real interest in what happens with them and with the Vista Unified School District”. His priorities as a trustee are to ensure that the programs being used are helping all students excel and that the district is spending money conservatively.
ANGELA CHUNKA – has served as the board’s vice president in 2013 and was elected board president in 2014. She has been a member of the panel since 2008. Before that, she spent more than a decade as a parent volunteer on various committees and councils, including a year as president of the districtwide Del Norte Parent-Teacher Association. Her four children have gone through district schools. Three graduated from Rancho Buena Vista High School and the fourth is now attending there. She says, “ I want to focus on preparing students to excel with new academic standards that will include more problem-solving and technology in the classroom”.
ELIZABETH JAKA – Jaka has served as the board President from 2012 – 2013. She has been a trustee since 2008. Before that, she spent about eight years as a volunteer on several committees and advisory gro
ups for the district. Two of her children graduated from Vista High School. She said her top priority as a trustee is, to ensure that all of the children in the district become proficient readers”. “We have the obligation to give them the best start that they can possibly have,” she said. “We need to make sure that they’re getting really good, quality instruction.”
HEATHER EMAUS – I am a graduate of the University of Michigan with Bachelors in Education. I taught in Vista schools for 6 years as a Kindergarten teacher at Grapevine and as a guest teacher and other elementary and middle schools in the area. I decided to stay home with my first child in 2014 and have since had my second child in 2016. I will use my unique perspective as a mother and former teacher to listen to and address your concerns. Ultimately my mission is to put our district’s students first.
ROSEMARY SMITHFIELD – I am about our students. I will always advocate for what is the best for every student. Our job is to educate the “whole child” and that is where the resources should go. My unique perspective as a classroom teacher for 30 years, with 23 in Vista, are very valuable in many ways and that is why the teachers trust and support me to provide students the skills they need for the 21st century. They know that I believe parents must be a valued partner in their children’s education. I believe in students taking responsibility for their behaviors and learning while at school. I believe in high expectations for both teachers and students. I believe the district must make students and teachers a number one budget priority – not the expansion of the district administration office.
BUD BALMER – As a father of an elementary age child I want to see test scores improve, the best teachers earn higher salaries, and our students achieve success at every level. Just like every family must live within a household budget, the school district should also live within its means; this is why I strongly support fiscal discipline and no new taxes. I am not an experienced politician and will always put our children first. My values are; family comes first, Integrity matters, Justice should prevail, Service above self, Honesty is a given, Humility is a gift, and Bipartisanship is a must.
CIPRIANO VARGAS – As a student growing up in Vista, I saw firsthand the challenges of our classrooms but more importantly the opportunities that led me to become the first one in my family to attend a four year university. I graduated from Cal State San Marcos, and moved on to teach Kindergarten students in the urban core of San Antonio, Texas. As a teacher, every day was filled with opportunities to teach a lesson and to help shape our future leaders. I am running for the VUSD School Board to continue to serve the community that has provided me with a backbone of success. I truly believe that we can be a model of excellence for California through meaningful teacher development, strong curriculum and authentic relationships. I want our district to not only prepare our students for a spot at a university or career, but to also be life-long productive members of society.
Part II of this article will give you even more insight to these candidates.