With rising enrollment, a balanced budget, rising test scores, a thriving International Baccalaureate program, strong charter schools and the highest graduation rate in Sacramento County, it seems like eons ago that Natomas Unified School District was nearly insolvent and teetering on the edge of disaster.
In reality, that was less than a decade ago, and without an ongoing commitment to leaders who can navigate the new challenges of rapid growth — from burgeoning class sizes to overstretched facilities — the district could lose some its newfound momentum.
To that end, of the five candidates running for two open seats on the Board of Trustees in the Nov. 6 election, we recommend voting for incumbent Lisa Kaplan and newcomer Jag Bains.
Kaplan, an attorney with a specialty in school construction who advises school districts on education policy, has been on the board since 2002.
During her tenure, Natomas Unified has grown to nearly 15,000 students, while also expanding access to before- and after-school programs, implementing full-day kindergarten across the district, and building its first campuses in years with the Star Academy and Westlake charter schools.
Going forward, Kaplan has promised to bring more technology into classrooms, make the district more transparent and responsive to families, and expand college and career opportunities in science, engineering and robotics.
She has been endorsed by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna and City Councilmen Steve Hansen, Jeff Harris and Eric Guerra, as well as her fellow trustees Scott Dosick and Sue Heredia.
Like Kaplan, who has a kindergartener who attends at Paso Verde School, Bains has a stake in the district as a parent. His daughter attends Star Academy.
A Republican and an immigrant from India, he ran for the Natomas Unified board in 2014, too. But he lost to incumbent Teri Burns, who has spent years both as a senior director at the California School Boards Association and on the Natomas Unified school board, where she been a trustee since 1985. She is running again.
It’s time for some fresh ideas for a changing district.
Bains is running on a platform of reducing class sizes, promoting equity with extra support for low-income students, cutting administrative costs, supporting teachers so they don’t leave for other districts, and implementing alternative disciplinary policies. He also wants to the district to take the obvious step of live-streaming its school board meetings.
Others vying for the two open seats include retired teacher Cynthia Connell and business owner and parent Gabriell Garcia.
With the Natomas Unified’s finances solidly in the black and enrollment growing at a steady clip, voters should approve this bond issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.
If approved by 55 percent of voters, the annual 0.6 percent real estate tax hike would pay for bonds for 32 years starting in 2019. It would raise $11 million a year to pay for $172 million in bonds to finance upgrades to school facilities, new construction and better technology for students.
Measure L is a wise investment in the future.