Fiscal stability, experience and student performance are key themes in the race for Woodland Joint Unified School District trustees.
Woodland area schools, working under a $73.4 million plan for the 2011-2012 term, have absorbed millions of dollars in budget cuts since the economic downturn and are preparing for more pain in 2012-2013.
The district's fiscal health dominated a recent candidates' forum at Woodland Senior Center.
Trustee Area 3 candidate Warren Berg called for salary and other cuts for upper-level administrators and other district employees; emphasized vocational training to give district students an alternative to college; and proposed converting the district's continuation campus into a trade school.
"We have bureaucrats who say every kid needs to go to college," Berg said. Instead, he said, "They need a career path."
Berg said Woodland Joint Unified will have to make tough budget choices regardless of whether Proposition 30 the tax initiative to provide funding for K-12 schools and community colleges passes.
"No matter what happens to Prop. 30, we have to make budget. We need trustees with backbone to stand up to the unions," said Berg, 55. "We can live within our means and still give students the best education money can buy."
Berg's Area 3 rival, retired Sacramento State professor and Yolo County Board of Education member Cirenio Rodriguez, said he has the education and experience for the work ahead and plans to work with parents and the community to improve the district.
Rodriguez, 66, said he would work to preserve school days, student activities and campus supervisors while reducing class sizes, telling the forum audience, "I challenge any one of you to teach a class with 35 kids."
He said Proposition 30's passage is vital to the district: "If 30 doesn't pass, we're in trouble," he said, pledging to "engage schools school-by-school, block-by-block" to "protect the programs that are closest to students."
Controversy visited the race in July when school board officials forced Berg to vacate his seat in rural Area 1 after he moved from Zamora to Woodland's Area 3 before the end of his term in December. Berg had held the rural seat since 2000. Berg said the ouster was politically motivated. Officials denied the charge.
The Area 1 seat will remain vacant until after the Nov. 6 election.
Trustee Area 5 has incumbent Rosario Ruiz-Dark, Yolo County sheriff's chief of finance; Sam Blanco III, director of the UC Davis Educational Talent Search, a program that helps low-income, first-generation high school students finish school and prepare for college; and late write-in candidate and Woodland tire shop assistant manager Matthew "Red" Brinegar.
Brinegar, 30, who joined the school board race in mid-September, has said his candidacy was born of his frustration with the district's dropout rates and its schools' preparation of students for the work world.
Brinegar called for less administration; he said he would "stop wasteful spending" and restore more local control to the district's schools.
"We deserve better, we deserve more" from the district's schools, Brinegar said.
Brinegar said he would use social media to make the board more accessible to residents and would use Proposition 30 funds to focus on vocational education.
"Let's teach (students) the skills to make a good living," Brinegar said. "We need to step up. (Teaching) marketable skills is where we need to be."
For Blanco, 43, it's "students first it's about how we're going to support these students so they become successful," he said, adding that navigating budget issues and working with district parents and students is key to supporting the district's students.
"We can't guarantee the future, but we have to understand the budget. As board members, we'll have decisions to make. We want to make sure we hear from parents, students and administrators," Blanco said. "Bottom line, we need money to help students succeed in school."
Ruiz-Dark pointed to her experience in the sheriff's office and on a school board that has imposed deep cuts about $14 million, Ruiz-Dark said in her five years on the board, while trying to maintain services.
"I want to make decisions that will affect the children in this district," said Ruiz-Dark, 40, who has two children attending Woodland schools. "I know how budgets are run. For me, it comes naturally," she said.
If Proposition 30 passes, Ruiz-Dark said, she wants to spend money on infrastructure to shore up the district's schools and would consider general obligation bonds to help fund the effort.
"We have things that are falling apart, roofs that are leaking," Ruiz-Dark said. "We can't educate children if there is no place to house them. We have to look at facilities."
But she also bluntly described a Woodland Joint Unified School District without Proposition 30 funding.
Ruiz-Dark said the district has socked away reserve funds, but "if (Proposition 30) fails, it will be very difficult," she said, suggesting more cuts would be in the offing. "We've already cut the fat, meat and bones. Now, we'll have to cut limbs."
District 4 candidates social worker Elaine Lytle, 61, and student Jennifer R. Archer-Cox, 36, did not appear at the Oct. 4 forum.
Lytle, of Knights Landing, is a Yolo County employment and social services program supervisor, and a former Woodland Joint Unified School District board trustee.
"I believe public education creates a level playing field for our youth, who will become adults giving back to their community, state and nation," Lytle said in her campaign statement.
Lytle was unavailable, but in a recent interview with the Woodland Daily Democrat, the former trustee said she wants to return to the board, citing her long ties to the community, and wants to reopen a now-closed counseling center at Woodland's Douglass Middle School.
Archer-Cox, a Woodland Community College student, member of a campus agriculture leadership program and a parent of two children in Woodland schools, labels herself "pro-student, pro-teacher."
"I see teachers, I see the struggles they go through and I want to change that," she told The Bee. "I want to look at issues level-headedly. There are things that can be done in a smarter way."
Archer-Cox said that includes attacking obesity by emphasizing physical fitness in the district's schools, boosting high school vocational education and improving infrastructure.
"There's a lot of maintenance that needs to go into the schools all of our schools are 25 years old or older and they're cutting maintenance? That makes no sense to me."
Archer-Cox entered the trustees' race in August after some prodding from friends.
"It took a little nudge, but the opportunity arose," she said. "I want to see if I can make a change and it's the right time in my life to do it."