unedited Tahoe Mt. News Sept. story
Field of 6 goes after 3 LTUSD seats
By Kathryn Reed
No matter who is elected to the Lake Tahoe Unified School District’s board of education in two months, it will look different than it does now.
When Doug Forte left the board earlier this year Hal Cole was appointed to fill the remainder of the term. He has since resigned so the seat is empty. Four newcomers to the political scene and incumbents Sue Novasel and Barbara Bannar are vying for the three available seats.
The challengers in the Nov. 6 race are Mike Doyle, Larry Green, Lauri Kemper and Jill Sanders.
In alphabetical order, here at the contenders to fill out the five-person board:
“The biggest thing I have to offer over the other candidates is experience and a proven record on the board,” Bannar said. “What we have done in the last four years has been very successful. It’s been good for the children first and foremost and good for the community. I believe what the board has done is a reflection of what the community wants for its children.”
The 44-year-old is finishing her first term. She is married and has two children at the middle school. Although she has an MBA and earned a certificate in masters in governance through the California School Boards Association, her primary job is her children.
She wants to keep the district going in the current direction, pointing to accomplishments that include opening one of two closed elementary schools, stabilizing declining enrollment, increasing test scores and creating a community sports complex at the middle school.
One of her goals in the next four years is to get all school sites performing at an adequate level to meet standards set by No Child Left Behind.
“That’s the biggest goal because we still have issues at Bijou Elementary and we will have issues at the high school unless we do things quickly,” Bannar said.
To avoid another brouhaha like last year’s contract negotiations, Bannar said the staff will be brought into the budget process to make everyone aware of health care costs, what the state is providing, and what salaries can look like based on who is employed.
As for the facilities bond that has been talked about for a 2008 ballot, Bannar said it is in the preliminary discussion stages.
“It’s a matter of education is underfunded. We have buildings that are outdated,” the Meyers resident said. “It’s a dance where we need to look at the needs of our community and the needs of our children. You can’t present a bond that has no relation to what the community wants.”
She points out the skill Superintendent Jim Tarwater has had in finding funding sources and to his leadership.
Bannar believes a vote for her is a vote for keeping the district going in the direction it has been going.
“Compared to the other candidates I definitely have more of a perspective of active parents in the district right now,” Doyle said. “For example, a few years ago when they had to close two elementary schools, it was very crowded at Tahoe Valley where two of my kids were. I don’t want to see things like that happening in our district in the future if that can be avoided.”
The 45-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident remarried this summer. Between them they have six kids in the district – two in elementary, two in middle school, two at the high school. His wife, Madonna Smith, has been active in the Sierra House PTA and Measure L, and his mom was a teacher.
As a pediatrician, Doyle is constantly interacting with parents and children, calling the school board “a natural extension of what I do in my office. I’m very interested in everything that affects children.”
He wants to keep an eye on the 4 x 4 schedule at South Tahoe High to make sure it works for all kids. He is a proponent of class size reduction, keeping preschool and Preppie K programs.
“The big thing that seems to be looming over the district is all the issues with test scores and satisfying the requirements of No Child Left Behind and making sure all the schools’ test scores are improving,” Doyle said, though admitting he is not a fan of the federal mandate. “It seems like there are a lot of corrective measures to make sure that happens.”
He believes his team player approach, working toward a compromise and ability to build consensus are strengths he’d bring to the board.
“I would say that I don’t know a lot of details of how the negotiating went with the teachers and the district. I would be coming to the board as someone separate from all of that,” Doyle said.
Doyle supports a facilities bond.
“Something like that has to be passed to take advantage of the dollars available in the state,” Doyle said. “It sounds pretty clear cut that our district could use some upgrades.”
“I have some experience they may not have. I’ve been with education pretty much all of my life, not just in teaching, but in leadership positions. I have been president of the Faculty Senate (at LTCC),” Green said. “I’ve been in the process. I have been to lots of board meetings and college meetings. I know how boards work.”
The 41-year-old Lake Tahoe Community College math instructor is married with a daughter in eighth grade.
Green is president elect of the California Community College Math Instructors Board. He becomes president at the end of the year.
Although he teaches, he said he would not be a puppet for the teachers. Instead, he believes his knowledge of numbers and having a doctorate in math would be a tremendous asset.
“I understand forecasting and budget forecasting,” Green said. “I’m very optimistic. I’ve looked at the (LTUSD) budget.”
He doesn’t blame either side for the contentious negotiations last school year.
“All sides could have come together to speed up the process. That’s why I am going to try to press for earlier negotiations,” Green said.
Other concerns he has are at the high school.
“I wouldn’t say we have a gang problem, but I want to make sure the efforts we worked on last year are continuing and that we don’t forget that safety is a priority,” Green said.
He admitted not knowing much about the proposed bond for 2008, but added he usually supports school bonds.
“I don’t have a child in the district so I’m an advocate for all students,” Kemper said. “I want to foster an environment where students care for each other and the environment. I believe children are our future and I want to help them achieve the best possible future.”
The 45-year-old engineer with Lahontan Water Quality Control Board lives in Tahoe Paradise with her son and domestic partner.
Kemper believes her 22 years of working with boards and agencies has taught her how to facilitate meetings and collaborate with people. She had to resign as chair of the district’s Family Life Committee last school year because her son graduated in June and the parent rep must have a child in the district.
She believes there is room for improvement when it comes to open dialog among parents, teachers, students and administrators.
“I would like to build on the Green Academy that (Principal) Ivone Larson at the high school and a number of teachers have been talking about,” Kemper said.
Related to that is “teaming some of our resource experts in the basin with students” to educate kids about potential careers and make them aware of their environment here.
When it comes to negotiating with staff she thinks both sides need to sit down sooner to come up with priorities and make decisions together.
Before a bond goes to voters Kemper wants to ensure a prioritized list of needs for facilities is devised.
“I think it’s important to look at opportunities to maximize funding opportunities that are out there,” Kemper said.
“My No. 1 goal is to offer programs that kids and parents want to see in our district. Unfortunately our school system is 100 percent attached to being fiscally sound,” Novasel said. “Declining enrollment is going to cause problems. Some people don’t understand where money comes from and the limitations.”
The 51-year-old mother of two STHS grads lives with her husband in Meyers. She has a bachelor’s from UNR and in the last few years earned a certificate as a computer technician. Much of her time is spent volunteering at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Boys and Girls Club and chairing the Meyers Roundtable.
She was first elected to the board in 2003.
“I think we have done a lot of great things and we are on the right track, but we have a ways to go,” Novasel. “I have been in the community for over 30 years. I feel I have a pulse on what our community wants for our kids.”
She points to the track at the middle school being dedicated this month, the duel-immersion program starting at Bijou this fall, the Independent Learning Academy and opening the magnet school as successes in the last four year.
“I think we have the budget in line and are doing the best we can. We are fiscally conservative. That is keeping the district solvent,” Novasel said.
Although the strife in the district was unsettling, she is proud a three-year contract was obtained with certificated and classified employees.
“As long as we have declining enrollment, it will be difficult to get our employees the pay raises they deserve,” Novasel said. “It’s a constant battle to save programs and pay teachers and staff enough money to stay in Tahoe.”
Because the state does not give enough money to maintain schools, Novasel believes a bond is the solution. She says the money would be a mix to maintain what the district has as well as add facilities that would allow more programs to be offered.
“Even though we closed two schools and reopened one, it takes a lot of money to maintain them,” Novasel said.
“I had some really great education growing up and had amazing teachers. The type where I remember things where they transformed my thought process as a kid,” Sanders said. “I want to give them what I was given as a kid … the path it led me on.”
Sanders, who turns 42 this month, is married with three kids in the district. She works as a Realtor for Century 21 and does Web design for Studio JLM.
She has taught art at the elementary level, but is frustrated by the limited amount of time she has to do so.
“My main focus is the arts – drama, music and PE. All those have been taken from the kids. It is difficult for me to watch,” Sanders said.
She wants higher standards, and questions passing students with 2.0 grade point averages from eighth to ninth grade. She questions why at open house last year a non-satirical essay titled “My Christmas Brake” was graded an A.
Sanders is a proponent of getting parents more involved in their children’s education. She believes the high test scores at the magnet school can be attributed to parental intervention.
“It’s been shown over time that latchkey kids grow up empty. A lot of it is the parenting,” Sanders said. She favors educating parents about what kids need to be happy, thriving individuals.
Sanders admits not knowing much about the bond proposal. She is for modernizing facilities, but wonders if current structures are being used to their maximum capability.
“The magnet school has a fantastic gym. It’s just used for lunch. You have this big space,” Sanders said. “(My daughter) was in portables at the middle school. It didn’t affect her either way. She was just happy learning.”