By Nicholas von Wettburg
The Davis Vanguard hosted a School Board Candidates Forum at the Community Chambers on Sunday.
Participating in the event were the four candidates, who are running for two open seats on the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) Board of Education.
Two of the candidates are incumbents Susan Lovenburg and Alan Fernandes, while the other two, Jose Granda and Bob Poppenga, are former candidates and current college professors.
Following an outline of the event’s proceedings from Vanguard founder and forum moderator, David Greenwald, candidates were given two minutes for an introduction.
After that, each candidate submitted one question for the other candidates to answer with two-minute responses. Following their answers, the querying candidate responded to his or her own question.
All four were granted two one-minute challenge answers and one 30-second challenge answer.
Granda, a longtime Davis resident and engineering professor at Sacramento State, asked the first question, which was, “What is the evidence of the impact of the parcel taxes on the admission to college of students in the Davis district? Do you know what percentage of students graduating from Davis have been accepted to our local university, UCD, or other universities?”
In her response, Lovenburg gave the graduation rates of Davis students, which is at 96 percent, and guessed that the number of those graduating and attending college is probably at somewhere around 90 percent.
Lovenburg, who has been on the board since 2007, referenced the district’s funding formula to the state, the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which she said is detailed, and filled with valuable community input to determine priorities.
“As we are working on closing the achievement gap our strategies, our goals are there,” Lovenburg said. “Our strategies are there in the progress that we are making towards those goals as well so you’ll be able to see the specific graduation rates that apply to all of our students.”
In regards to whether or not the parcel tax maintains the quality of all schools, which was also asked in the question, Lovenburg said high-quality schools are not necessarily a direct result of the tax, but also the product of a university community like Davis willing to step up and eventually “provide additional programs for our students.”
Lovenburg ended her answer, saying there are no new programs as a result of Measure H, and that the parcel tax only continues the programs already in place.
Candidate Bob Poppenga gave his response to the need for a parcel tax, which, he said is important to “funding librarians, funding science teachers, supporting the World Languages Program. We are very fortunate in Davis to have five language options. The parcel tax helps support counselors, lower the class sizes in first through third grade.”
Poppenga, a professor of veterinary toxicology at UC Davis, said that with the parcel tax funding being 12 percent of the total budget, most of the money ends up paying for “positions.”
He said that he was unable to give any percentages of Davis students and how many are attending local colleges or universities, but he did know that they are going to some of the top schools in the country.
In his response to the parcel tax and its effects, Fernandes said he “sees the evidence on the face of kids that get reading specialists, that go walk into the libraries, I see the evidence on the face of librarians in our schools.”
Fernandes said that he did not know the percentages of Davis graduates and attendance rates for local colleges, but he did know that 10 percent of all Davis students attend UC Davis.
He added that one of the charms of the district is its ability to provide open pathways for its students, whether by attending college or though a career.
Granda is running on the slogan, “Elect a Different Candidate,” and he said that the other candidates did not really answer his question and only made assumptions.
He said that voters are being misled about the latest parcel tax and that the 12 percent reliance is a call for mitigating that need.
“Despite the fact that we passed Proposition 30 and the district receives $10.8 million a year from it they still want to double tax the community,” Granda said. “We need to step up, including myself. I voted for Proposition 30 because I believe in funding the schools. I am just against abusing the taxpayers and I believe Measure H is a total disaster.”
In his 30-second challenge answer, Poppenga said that he is confident the money from the parcel tax is funding the right things, and brought up the Parcel Tax Oversight Committee, which he has been a member of the past two years and is a group of community members that meets with district staff to discuss the measure’s specifics.
Granda challenged Poppenga’s response, pointing out that the Oversight Committee is made up of members appointed by the school board.
Granda said that the committee lacks the authority to determine how and what is spent and, after looking at their reports, he has not seen any sign of improvements.
The next question, from Lovenburg, was about the district and its commitment to the needs of every student, and improving their academic success and social/emotional well-being.
“Where have you seen good progress in this regard and where would you encourage more?” she asked.
Poppenga said he has seen some progress being made in the closing of the achievement gap, but there is much more that needs to be done.
He also said he is a firm believer in investing early, which is why he supports the idea of an increase in sales tax across the county for quality preschool.
At the district information night, Poppenga said he noticed a downward trend in the success rates of English Learners, later on in their education.
Reading programs, like Bridge, are crucial, Poppenga added, bringing up that “if children read at grade level by third grade that is a predictor of long-term success.”
On the board of the Explorit Science Center, Poppenga said that with its experience in hands-on inquiry-based learning for elementary school students, the district should partner up with the center and offer some after-school science classes for at-risk kids.
Fernandes answered the question in two parts.
He first brought up the Later Start policy and the innovation Davis used in getting that going.
The addition of school nursing and counseling in elementary schools is another thing Fernandes said he was proud of achieving.
Granda, in his response, lauded the district for its Spanish Immersion program. He said that his family has been a part of the program since its beginnings, and that he has seen it flourish.
One thing Granda would encourage more is a change in credentialing teachers.
“My suggestion would be to make it a little easier for people who have degrees, not necessarily went to a teacher’s, but that they could be progressively brought into teaching in such a way that would enhance the quality of the schools, would increase the number of jobs and the quality of teachers.”
Answering her own question, Lovenburg highlighted the progress of both the board and its Common Core implementation, and the professional growth of teachers to help them “better differentiate instruction in their classrooms for all students.”
Lovenburg said that last year, 63 percent of district teachers participated in professional learning and differentiated instruction.
The next question, asked by Bob Poppenga, was, “UC Davis is an integral part of the Davis community and a world-class public university the parents of many Davis children are employed by UCD. What have you personally done to help utilize the vast educational resources of UCD for the benefit of the school district? How can the district more effectively partner with UCD to improve school programs and educational opportunities for Davis children?”
Alan Fernandes said it was a great question and talked about partnering the community and university, using the work he did for the Bicycling Hall Of Fame as an example.
Fernandes said there is room for improvement and that he remains “a partner in any endeavor that seeks to leverage all the resources of the university to bring them here locally.”
During Engineering Week a few years ago, Granda said that, along with the UC Davis College of Engineering, they organized an Engineering Merit Badge, in which local Boy Scouts – from Davis schools – participated.
He said, in regard to the second part of the question, his concern remains the amount of Davis graduates that are attending UC Davis.
Granda believes there should be some type of special consideration for Davis residents.
Susan Lovenburg said that, in her nine years on the school board, there have been a number of opportunities to interact with UC Davis.
Lovenburg named her work with the 1,000 Mentor’s Challenge, the Davis Bridge Foundation, setting up internships, the Future Farmers of America, and the Healthy Youth Healthy Yolo project.
Responding to his own question, Poppenga said he believes that the link between the Davis education community and UC Davis would be stronger if there were an institutional goal that guarantees that type of consistent and balanced interaction.
“When I found out the high school was starting a veterinary science course I went to the vet school leadership and the vet school is willing to put in some resources to help support that program,” Poppenga said. “But next summer, if everything works out we would have four paid summer internships for high school students to spend six weeks in the veterinary school paired with a veterinary student doing research.”
Alan Fernandes, who had the final question of the round, asked, “What about your professional background prepares you for the work of a trustee?”
Up first was Granda, who said teaching “has been my life.”
He said the guidance and mentorship of students, particular those who thought school was not for them, is something that serves him well.
“We need to care for the students and I think all of us agree,” Granda said. “And I am well prepared to meet that challenge.”
Susan Lovenburg said that, early in her career, she had been a professional librarian, and some of the skills that translate are being service-oriented and organized.
As a self-described stay-at-home mom, for a decade, Lovenburg said she became a volunteer and has worked at Willitt Elementary, Emerson Junior High and Davis High School.
“I did newsletters at all of the schools, websites, parent information, so really spent my time making sure that parents had the information they needed to feel connected and to be able to support their kid,” Lovenburg said.
For the past five years, Lovenburg has worked for California Forward, where she focuses on government and finance issues, which includes the state’s educational funding system.
A university educator for almost three decades, Poppenga said he has teaching experience in most every learning platform, and can relate to the amount of patience teachers have, and the extra amount of time they put in, both inside and outside the classroom.
The collaboration process is something Poppenga says he is familiar with, and would translate well to working with the other school board members.
“I think we need a scientist on the school board,” he said. “I think we need to have somebody that understands STEM subjects, understands career and technical education and somebody that could sort through to judge whether it’s good data or bad data. Not all data is created equal.”
Fernandes thanked the other candidates for their responses and explained the reason for asking about the work and role of being a trustee, which he said is multi-fold and, at its core, part of a local government.
“And that’s what I bring, that’s my background” he said. “I am a lawyer by practice, specializing in public law and government law. Eighty percent of our money comes from the state government. I’ve spent the last almost 20 years of my career understanding the state budget process.”
The Vanguard prepared three questions for the candidates to answer in the next round, which will be reported in a subsequent article.