Ex-educator, parents seek Salida schools seats

October 10, 2009 

SALIDA -- A retired educator and three parents are running in a low-key race for the Salida Union School District board of trustees.

Only one incumbent, Ivan Wyeth II, decided to try for re-election. The challengers are retired Sisk Elementary School Principal Virginia L. Berry and parents Torren Colcord and Catie Englebright. All are involved at Salida schools and in the community.

The four are running for three seats on the board.

They are running low-budget, or even no-budget, campaigns for a chance to set the educational and financial direction for the 2,900-student district. Budget cuts are the main concern for candidates. Colcord is running because of his disagreement over how recent cuts have been made. All the candidates promise to closely monitor spending.

Officials estimate that $1.3 million will need to be trimmed from next year's budget.

Terms are for four years on the five-member board. Trustees aren't paid, but they are eligible for $6,360 toward health insurance each year.

The candidates, in alphabetical order, for the Nov. 3 election are:

Virginia Berry

Hailing from Southern California, Berry moved to Salida 20 years ago to take over as vice principal at Salida Elementary and Middle schools. She started her career as a teacher, something she knew she wanted to do ever since she was a child.

"I was a good reader in elementary school, so I'd get paired with someone who struggled," Berry said. "I realized I loved helping others learn."

Berry retired in June after 36 years in teaching and administration. She continues to visit Salida schools each week, among other volunteer activities.

When she moved from teaching to administration, Berry said she learned to think more widely and consider the whole school instead of just her classroom. She believes that makes her a good candidate for the board. Berry said she hopes to restore trust in the district and in officials' ability to handle finances, and work with employee unions.

Most trustees are parents or business leaders, so she hopes to bring an educator's perspective to the board, Berry said.

Torren Colcord

A father of three, Colcord is running, he said, because he thinks some trustees too often take staff's word when it comes to teacher layoffs and other budget cuts. He wants the board to provide more oversight.

When the district decided a few years ago to trim the budget by reducing health technicians and crossing guards, Colcord said he started learning about Salida Union's budget. He and other parents started the Salida Parents Advocating Responsibility for Kids, an advocacy and watchdog group.

Last year's budget cutting and last-minute special board meetings on Friday nights rubbed him the wrong way, to the point where he lost his temper and yelled during a meeting, Colcord said.

That passion combined with his experience as a labor relations executive with the National Emergency Medical Services Association, he said, makes him an ideal candidate for trustee.

"I have a significant stake since I'm a dad," he said. "And the board needs to get more information than just from the staff."

Catie Englebright

Englebright works at Salida schools as a fill-in secretary, librarian and health or attendance clerk. She knows she'd have to quit if elected to the board (employees can't serve on governing boards). But she said it would be worthwhile.

"I think I have something unique to offer. I've worked in all Salida schools. I know the staff, the children, how programs work," she said. "I'm someone who really understands how budget cuts affect our children."

For example, when class sizes were increased this year -- from 20 students per teacher to 23 or 24 -- Englebright said it made a huge difference in maintaining order and the ability to give students individual attention.

Englebright said she knows she has a lot to learn about budgeting and union negotiations, but that she'll be an advocate for children.

Englebright is the only candidate endorsed by a Salida Union employee group -- the Classified School Employees Association.

Ivan Wyeth II

A dairy manager, incumbent Wyeth hopes to bring stability to the board and serve a fourth term.

"I've already been involved. There seems to be a lot of uneasiness (about the budget), and I think it's important to have continuity so the district can run as smoothly as possible," he said.

Through his 12 years on the board, Wyeth has seen booms and declines in enrollment and funding. He said he wants to help the district maintain a balanced budget and keep the programs schools offer.

Wyeth said most people are satisfied with the way the district's run, and he wants to continue that.

The district started an independent study charter school this year, and Wyeth noted his advocacy of alternative education.

"It's another way to reach students who are not getting the best of the traditional school setting," he said.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339. Read Michelle Hatfield's education blog at thehive.modbee.com/ ExtraCredit.

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