Natomas Unified School District has turned a corner in recent years from teetering on the edge of insolvency with dismal test scores, declining enrollment and a destructive internal culture.
For that, the north Sacramento County district of 12,300 students can thank the leadership of the Board of Education and Superintendent Chris Evans. Today, the budget is balanced, enrollment is growing again and test scores are way up from last year.
Thing are looking bright, but there are still tough issues facing the district, including implementing the Common Core curriculum, improving the dropout rate and making sure that resources are spread equitably around the district. On top of that, the building moratorium is expected to be lifted soon, which will mean another school building boom.
Making sure the improvements continue means having the right leadership at the top.
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Four people are competing for two at-large seats on the Natomas Unified Board of Education on Nov. 4 – two longtime incumbents and two challengers. We are recommending voters choose one of each by re-electing Lisa Kaplan and supporting a fresh face, Jag Bains, a civil engineer for Sacramento County.
Kaplan, an education attorney, joined the board in 2002 and has seen the district through the financial roller coaster of the last decade. During her tenure the board has made some poor decisions, but clearly some wise ones as well that are now paying off. As an added bonus, Kaplan’s career advising state school districts on education law and policy is invaluable to the board. And, as a mother of a toddler, she’ll be making decisions about local education from the view of a parent.
That’s the case for Bains as well. As the parent of a 4-year-old boy who will start kindergarten next year, he’s got more than political interest in sitting on the board. The knock on Bains is that he only recently started attending school board meetings. While that’s true, he’s already educated himself quite deeply on important issues. His experience in construction management would aid the board as it embarks on building new schools.
Bains, a Republican and immigrant from India, would also help diversify a school board that doesn’t reflect its district well.
None of this is to cast any aspersions on Teri Burns, who has sat on the board since 1985. But what makes this decision easier is knowing that, no matter the election result, Burns will continue to use her considerable education knowledge for the good of Natomas. Burns is senior director of policy and programs for the California School Boards Association.
But voters ought to be wary of the second challenger, Sachiko Konatsu, active in the PTA and the mother of four. A letter sent to her by the school district late last year accused Konatsu of several incidents of verbal abuse against school staff and teachers. The letter quoted her as using language so offensive and profane that we can’t repeat it in the newspaper.
Konatsu refuses to address the accusations, let alone deny them. She declined an invitation for an endorsement interview by the editorial board and has been similarly closemouthed to reporters.
Local government bodies work best when they have a mixture of long-term experience and new ideas and thinking. That’s why voters should pick Kaplan and Bains.