Trustees opt for familiar face
By Blair Tellers
By Blair Tellers
It boiled down to a roll call vote around 7 p.m. Thursday between former GUSD trustee Pat Midtgaard, 68 - a veteran educator who worked for 28 years in Gilroy as a teacher and principal - and James Pace, 39, Director of Land Development for Pembrook Development in Morgan Hill who later admitted he "was a little shocked" when GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores announced his name as a finalist.
With trustee Dom Payne casting the lone vote for Pace, the school board appointed Midtgaard, a former GUSD board member who served from 2004 to 2008, as its newest member with a 5-1 vote.
"I was really surprised," said Midtgaard, a retiree who lightheartedly offered in her closing statement, "If you want someone who can hit the ground maybe not running - but walking really fast - I'll do the job for you."
When asked if any other candidates stood out to her as strong front-runners, Midtgaard echoed six GUSD trustees who highlighted the difficulty of choosing from an eclectic group with diverse skill sets and varying foundations of knowledge.
It all foreshadows the possible faces of who could return for the upcoming school board election in 2012, when the four-year seats of GUSD trustees Rhoda Bress, Mark Good and Fred Tovar will open up for re-election. As Dominguez's term would have lasted until 2014, his seat will turn into an elected seat. Mitgaard may opt to run for the remaining two years, or run for one of the four-year seats.
All eight candidates said they would consider throwing their hats in the ring in 2012; although Midtgaard's stance was decidedly on the fence.
"Well, you never know," she said. "I'm just focusing on helping you in the interim."
If more is merrier, the group certainly brought spunk to the public interviews Thursday night.
When asked what her understanding of a union is, Rebeca Armendariz, 37, the Lead Worksite Organizer for Services Employment International Union, Local 521, answered, "A federally protected right for a group of workers who agree to be represented to negotiate for wages, benefits and conditions of a working unit."
Pausing briefly before giving his answer to the same question, candidate Guy La'Mont Hadnot, 53, a Group Executive with AAA Insurance Company, leaned into the microphone and quipped, "ditto."
The response ignited an eruption of hearty laughter from an audience of about 25 filling the meeting room at district offices on Arroyo Circle.
"How do you follow that?" ceded Hadnot. "That's Webster."
The vacancy was left by Francisco Dominguez, the embattled former GUSD trustee and sole proprietor of a local consulting company who is facing two separate investigations into alleged embezzlement and grand theft by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. Dominguez submitted his official letter of resignation Nov. 9.
On Thursday, Dec. 8, roundtable question-and-answer sessions were peppered with intermittent chuckles over mispronounced names, anecdotal stories about candidates' children, along with poignant, researched responses from eight hopefuls who did their homework ahead of time.
The group was presented with a barrage of questions during the three-hour interview, ranging from their stance on a teacher's right to carry pepper spray, to the unsavory topic of handling forthcoming budget cuts. Seven candidates, save for Matt Morley, said they would consider the possibility of a parcel tax to generate desperately needed revenue for the cash-strapped district.
Christine West, 45, founder and owner of Go West Communications, presented her outlook on strengthening dialogue between schools, parents and the public. She mentioned vamping up connections with real estate agents, who should sing the praises of GUSD's successes as a catalyst for settling in Gilroy.
"Agents need to be letting people know, 'You do want your kids to go to this district,'" West pointed out.
Rebeca Armendariz is versed in the negotiation process for labor unions. Single father David Marin, the Vice President of Marketing for Mainstreet Media, is knee-deep in parenting with three adopted children in GUSD elementary, middle and high schools. Martha Martinez, Director III, District/School Support Services at Santa Clara County Office of Education, touts experience from the county, regional and state levels of the education system. Matt Morley, director of Fleet & Facilities for the City of San Jose, has a realistic grip on what it's like to deal with state budget cuts every year. Guy La'Mont Hadnot offered perceptive insight to bettering the college preparation process.
"We need to have a better alignment with college counselors," said Hadnot, a father of three who visited his children's colleges of choice to specifically ask, "this is what they're taking: What do they need to take to get into your school?"
Several hours after the 4:30 p.m. meeting kicked off Dec. 8, GUSD trustees eliminated Armendariz, La'Mont Hadnot, Marin, Martinez, Morley and West, although "we barely have a top two, if that shows you how difficult it was," said GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores.
Trustees say they appreciated the engineering background of Pace, a former computer programmer who diligently attends parent club meetings and has been involved with five school site committees.
"There are a lot of distractions, but man, the Internet has some pretty amazing stuff," he said, in one of the evening's food-for-thought responses to GUSD President Rhoda Bress's question, "What are the biggest challenges students face today?"
"Let's see if we can turn the model to let those distractions become positives," Pace proposed.
Following the close of the special meeting, most attendees said they weren't surprised by the board's final decision to opt for a familiar co-worker with a stellar track record.
"I'm sure with all the budget craziness they wanted somebody with experience," pointed out Christopher High School English teacher Paul Winslow, alluding the forthcoming midyear triggers likely to be imposed by state revenue shortfalls (which will instigate a $2.4 million blow to GUSD's budget).
Describing a vivid memory from when she was a teacher, Midtgaard recalled a school board member riding one of the morning bus routes alongside students. Segueing from this scenario, Midtgaard, who said she's looking forward to in-person classroom visits, spoke to the importance of board members staying plugged into the schools.
"You feel supported when you see a board member at your site," she said. "It adds credence to what the staff is doing."
Endline: The next regular meeting of the Board of Education will be held on Thursday, January 12, 2012 at District Offices, located at 7810 Arroyo Circle, Gilroy. Study session begins at 5:30 p.m. Open session begins at 7 p.m.
What candidates had to say about
- Keeping GUSD academic progress sustainable: "I don't think a student in GUSD should ever have his or her success contingent upon which school or classroom he or she is in. That's too much serendipity. If training and implementation of curricular objectives are aligned throughout the district ... that goes a long way."
- Pat Midtgaard
College preparation: "Graduation requirements don't match college requirements, and that seems to be off kilter. We need to have what they're taking in high school match up so they can get in to college."
- Christine West
State-mandated tests: "There's such a reliance on getting good tests scores that maybe academia suffers in the process. Beyond the score, students need to understand the concept of the subject. I would perhaps redefine what is important. A test score has a financial benefit to the district, but beyond that there's student fulfillment and really learning the information."
- Guy La'Mont Hadnot
Parent involvement: "Now that I have kids in junior high and high school, it's getting harder to keep up. It would make some sense in exploring the option of helping to educate parents."
- David Marin
A parcel tax: "The idea of a parcel tax is an interesting one. It's a tough time for parcel taxes. The public sector in my opinion wouldn't carry it."
- Matt Morley
School safety: "I'm not opposed to a teacher carrying pepper spray. As a principal there were times I wish I had pepper spray. But I think there would have to be a lot of training."
- Martha Martinez
Low teacher morale: "The board is the face of the district. It's the board's duty to be out and about, explaining what's going on with our schools. You've got to be open and communicative."
- James Pace
Fiscal oversight: "(It's important) to make sure bids are solid and we don't have to change them. We have to be conservative right now. Things like that can make or break a budget."
- Rebeca Armendariz
Blair Tellers is a staff writer for the Gilroy Dispatch. Reach her at email@example.com or call (408) 847-7158.