No matter how you look at it, Sacramento City Unified School District is in trouble. Big trouble.
After years of recklessly spending far more money than it has been taking in and allowing elected board members to continually pass the proverbial buck, the bill has finally come due. The collector is the Sacramento County Office of Education, which, for the first time ever, rejected the school district’s budget in August.
Now, Superintendent Jorge Aguilar and the rest of the Sacramento City Unified school board must slash tens millions of dollars from the district’s budget in a matter of weeks — no excuses this time. They’ve already failed once. They can’t afford to fail again.
The dire situation makes what happens in the school board race on Nov. 6 incredibly important. Voters should look to candidates who have the guts to put the district’s 43,000 students first, the expertise to make the hard fiscal choices, and the leadership ability to help teachers and administrators to cope with their new, slimmed-down reality.
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To that end, we recommend Lisa Murawski for Area 1, Leticia Garcia for Area 2 and incumbent Darrel Woo for Area 6.
Murawski, who has two children in the district, has a background in fiscal and health policy — both desperately needed on the school board. The South Land Park resident has spent a decade working as an adviser, currently as a principal consultant with the California Assembly Appropriations Committee and previously for the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office during the Great Recession.
If elected, Murawski said she would work to build a sustainable budget around what students need to be successful, exploring cuts to administrative costs and other efficiencies to focus more on academic achievement, getting long-discussed restorative justice programs off the ground, addressing mental health care and supporting youth sports.
Also running for the Area 1 seat being vacated by board member Jay Hansen is Anna Molander, a lawyer and grassroots organizer on education issues. She is the labor-backed candidate, which is likely to complicate matters when it comes to making the tough fiscal decisions on whether to cut employee compensation or resort to layoffs.
Murawski, who has been endorsed by state Controller Betty Yee, is sure to be a more independent voice.
In Area 2, incumbent Ellen Cochrane, a former teacher, is trying to hang on to her seat. However, she faces a superior candidate in Garcia, whose day job with the Riverside County Office of Education involves work on statewide education and budgetary policy.
If elected, Garcia says she would focus on identifying new sources of revenue from grants and flipping the school district’s top-heavy organizational structure, shifting resources from the administration to classrooms. As a parent, she says she has seen the need for both strategies. Garcia and her husband, Democratic Assembyman Kevin McCarty, have two children in the district.
Another candidate, Cecile L. Nunley, has an impressive resume and, in recent candidate forums, also has rightfully put a spotlight on the school district’s disproportionately high rate of suspensions of black students.
But she left her job as a business officer for Vallejo Unified School District not long before a structural deficit forced a freeze in spending and hiring. And, other than a dust-up in March over using a CalPERS copy machine to scan and email political fundraising documents, Nunley is less of a known quantity in Sacramento than Garcia.
For Area 6, Woo, a longtime adjunct Professor at Lincoln Law School, is the clear choice for re-election. He is serving in his second four year term. His challenger, Jody Johnson, is a substitute teacher who has good ideas about promoting equity in schools, but lacks experience.
Voters can’t afford to elect novices in November.