The Sacramento City Unified school board has a tough decision in appointing a member to replace departing Area 1 member Ellyne Bell on Thursday. The seat has drawn a pool of six well-qualified, public-spirited candidates.
The board should not let this decision fall into a 3-3 deadlock, which would be a major disservice to the residents of Area 1. In a tie, a costly special election would be held in June with the new member not taking office until December leaving that area unacceptably without representation for a year.
While all the candidates have strengths, Bina Lefkowitz is the full package. She has been involved in schools at all levels. In her long public service career, she worked on affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization, coordinating family supports, founding the Youth Development Network and engaging young people on the city's youth commission. She has been a city budget analyst.
With Sacramento ACT, she has been involved in the Ceasefire anti-gang program and bus service for students. She volunteers at the American Legion continuation high school, working with the most challenging students.
As she told the school board, she sees herself as "a connector, highly inclusive in my style and good at helping bring people together to find common ground." To that end, on the contentious issue of teacher evaluation she supports the "peer assistance and review" model, where expert teachers mentor and evaluate their peers, over approaches that rely on test scores. Her reasoning is persuasive. "Given current conflict with the union and the complexity of outcome data, test scores are not the best place to start."
Some object that Lefkowitz's husband, Jay Schenirer, serves on the Sacramento City Council. But it's offensive for some to suggest she is a tool of her husband's. She is clearly independent and her impressive career of service stands on its own.
Jay Hansen, who worked for a decade in the Legislature, serves on the Sacramento Parks & Recreation Commission and has been active in his neighborhood association and community gardening. He has been active in the American Legion's Boys' State program for 20 years. He is focused on career-tech education and health. Hansen's weakness is that he hasn't spent much time in district schools.
Anna Molander, an attorney, serves on the Sacramento Planning & Design Commission and volunteered as a mentor for two years to sixth-grade girls at Leataata Floyd elementary school. She has been active in politics, serving as chair of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County. Her biggest weakness is that she would not have renewed Superintendent Jonathan Raymond's contract in November, saying, "It didn't need to be renewed right now."
The other applicants are valuable community members and the community is better off for their service.
Kathryn Tobias, an attorney, has been active in PTSA, site councils, Band Boosters and currently is McClatchy High School's representative to the superintendent's parent advisory group.
Gwynnae Byrd, an attorney, worked in the Legislature for nearly two decades. She has served on a school site council, as a Big Sister to a teenager and has worked with at-risk kids on law issues.
David Ross, owner of a ski and snowboard trip business, ran for the Area 1 seat in 2010. He has served on site and districtwide councils. He helps parents and staff learn how to read budgets. He does not like the way the district has implemented "priority schools," a bold effort to turn around the district's most struggling schools.
Lefkowitz is the most focused, knowledgeable and experienced applicant on the issues currently facing our schools.
In a strong pool, we urge the board to appoint Lefkowitz.