With six candidates and three open seats, the race is on for positions in the Gustine Unified School District Board. The election will mean that the majority of the five-member board will be new, because none of the candidates is an incumbent, said Superintendent Gail McWilliams.
"Sometimes it can be a challenge just to work with new people and figure out where we're going, what our goals are."
The two board members who will remain after the November election have two more years on their terms; the three who are elected will serve for four. The board is a policy body, according to McWilliams, and has decided protocol for issues from overnight field trips to what agencies should pay, if anything, for using school facilities.
Most of the candidates have experience teaching for the district or served as past school board members.
Fernando Silveira, 28, is studying for his doctorate in education. He taught music, fine arts, digital photography and drama for the district in the past. He said he's running for the future: His children, ages 7 months, 3 and 4, will attend Gus-tine schools, so, he said, he has a personal stake in school performance. He's the only candidate who listed a campaign Web site, on Myspace.com, and said that his youth is an asset.
"I'm not far out of school myself, so I know what the kids want. I'm also an educator and a parent as well," he said. "A lot of parents remember me as going to school with their kids. Students re-member me from being their teacher."
Silveira and other candidates stressed the need for unity in the community, getting parents, teachers and students on the same page after several incidents sapped morale and enthusiasm. They included hazing and sexual assault accusations levied against three players from the Gustine High football team in 2006 and a middle school that cost more to build than was expected and opened without proper sewage facilities this fall.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to put it all back into perspective," said Loretta Rose, 53, a substitute teacher for the Merced County Office of Education. Rose said solving the problems that have plagued the new middle school and requiring fiscal responsibil-ity will be her biggest priorities if elected.
"I'm not a follower. I'm someone who is going to think about anything that comes to the board's attention, even if it means I have to go out and ask questions, get the dollar amounts. Because there's no reason for silly spending in the district. We're too small," she said.
Pat Rocha, 62, graduated from Gustine High School in 1963; she said she wants to restore parents' confidence in the school. Recent conversations with friends, who have said they're considering placing kids in private school after the problems with the football team and middle school, among other issues, have unsettled her.
"I've lived here all my life," she said. "I love this community. There's no other place I want to live. I want other people to have the same comfort and confidence. ... I hate snakes, but I think I'm jumping into a snake pit. But I've always been up to a challenge."
Richard Guimmond II, who called his age irrelevant, said he's waiting to hear what the community wants before setting priorities. He supervises after-school and homework centers in Oak Grove and Morgan Hill, managing budgets between $5,000 and $30,000. He's a strong collaborator, he said, who is well versed in how to handle big building projects; he helped build a gym on a Morgan Hill campus that's one of a small number of environmentally "green" buildings on California public school grounds.
Candidate Robert Asmus, 53, was on the school board from 1995 to 2001. He now works for the company that built Gustine's new middle school, the Greg Opinski Construction Co., as the director of business development. Asmus oversaw construction for the district until January, then moved to Opinski when he learned that his contract might not be renewed, he said.
He called attempts by the school board to recoup certain middle school construction costs "smoke and mirrors," and said he'll bring construction experience and fiscal guidance to the board. Asmus said he's been involved with the building of nine schools.
Another veteran board member, homemaker Christina Gardner, 46, said her experience gives her an edge over the other candidates. Since 1990, she said, she's been on the Gustine School Site Council. She was on the school board for several years starting in 1996, and has attended "countless parent-teacher conferences."
Gardner's youngest son will be a high school freshman this year, so she decided to try to get as involved as possible in school affairs. Her goals include working to keep teachers longer than a few years; thinking about how to stem declining enrollment; and brainstorming about how to handle aging school facilities.
"Because I have been on both sides of the school board table, I am already familiar with the process," she said. "I could get right to work."
Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2235.