Twice Lea Darrah has attempted to go the route of appointment, back in 2018 as well as this year. But now she will enter as a candidate for what might be an open school board position. Alan Fernandes currently holds the seat and told the Vanguard on Tuesday that he would announce whether he will seek another term at the school board meeting on Thursday.
At this point, she is the only declared candidate for the seat.
Lea Darrah cites her skills and experience with education policy and legislative knowledge statewide at the capitol that she thinks could really help our schools navigate pretty uncertain times.
“We know right now in the COVID environment things are pretty uncertain, conditions are charging rapidly,” she said. “I’m also aware of the financial pressure that we’re going to face in the coming year and the next couple of years.”
She said, “I have experience working with budgets and budgeting.”
Darrah has lived in the district for over 20 years and has seen the highs and lows. She saw the last time with the Great Recession, what that did to the district in terms of cuts.
“I feel like I can offer that perspective,” she said.
Darrah has been a long time volunteer in the schools, starting when her oldest daughter was at Valley Oak. She has also served on the PTA and Site Council. She has also done community work, working for Sacramento County Public Health as well as the Yolo County Neighborhood Court Program.
For Darrah the biggest challenge, judging from social media: “The impending school year is the biggest challenge, how that looks and clarity about the delivery. There are things that are not completely clear as to how they will look.”
Parents definitely, in her view, value certainty.
Whereas, right now, she said, “I believe there is a lot of uncertainty.” Moreover, they had perhaps less than ideal experiences last spring with distance learning.
Longer term, she has concerns about school safety and staff safety, “whether it’s COVID or other issues, that’s a concern that I think we need to focus on,” she said.
Another big concern is funding.
“Our current projects from the Legislative Analysts Office—all the fiscal information that they’re giving us right now, numbers are quite down, and we haven’t seen any kind of significant recovery financially for the state of California and that directly impacts educational funding.”
She added, “We have the opportunity to be sure that we’re responding to the many voices in our community and that we definitely interact in a transparent way. And really embrace the voices in our community to be sure that the schools meet the needs of our families.
“I see this an opportunity,” she said. “But it’s an issue that we can choose to address and continue down the path to improving that, but I think this is a real opportunity for the school district.”
She called the appointment process an interesting process and a learning process. The Zoom feed was breaking up as she went as the first speaker and she had to adjust.
“I think getting a chance to hear all of the answers that people submitted gave you a sense of the number of people in our community who are invested in the district—education is good in Davis, schools are good here in town,” she said.
In terms of the outcome, “no one can go back in time and for us it should be a learning experience. We need to engage our community in decision making.”
She said, “There were concerns from people whose voices maybe that weren’t heard and needs to be addressed. This is the opportunity to learn from it and move forward.”
From her perspective the board was “within their rights to do an appointment” and “the community was within their rights to submit a petition.”
She felt like it was too much of a “Monday Morning Quarterback” thing to go back over the decision and second guess it. But she emphasized that “the community definitely didn’t feel heard.” They had a mechanism to go to an election and she believes that they had the things in place to handle a decision that wasn’t agreed with. “I support the democratic process,” she said.
On the petition itself, she noted she wasn’t directly involved in the process, “I come from a background that really involves supporting community engagement and parent involvement, and to me it was an example of community involvement.”
She saw it as a positive: “It’s easy to complain, or disagree about something and then not do anything to solve it. I always commend people who … really try to solve the problem as opposed to complaining.”
The future is up in the air. If Alan Fernandes decides to run again, the filing period ends on Friday. But if he decides not to then the filing period would extend to next week, August 14.
“The heart of my campaign is about family and community engagement,” she said. “I really think that we can learn so much by listening.” She added, “We have a lot of great wealth of knowledge, lived experience… I just hope we have an opportunity to tap into them.
“What Davis has that’s special is this community,” she said.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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