Modesto board candidates discuss intelligent design

Five of the seven candidates for the Modesto City Schools Board of Education were on hand Monday night for their first candidate forum, which looked at teaching intelligent design, keeping qualified teachers and aiding the district's minority students.

The League of Women Voters event attracted a dozen audience members to the Modesto City Council chamber.

The most divergent opinions came from the question: "Do you believe intelligent design should be included in a public school science curriculum?"

"I have a problem with eliminating anything out of our science curriculum," said Rickey McGill, vice principal at Johanna Boss High School in Stockton's O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility.

Maria Alvarez, an instructional services coordinator with the Merced County Office of Education, agreed that the theory of intelligent design could be included in a science class, as long as the line between educating children and indoctrinating them is clear.

"I think that with everything we need to support it with facts," Alvarez said. "Let the children and families decide."

The other candidates in attendance, incumbent Gary A. Lopez, former three-term board member Steve Grenbeaux and office manager Kimberly Gerber Spina, said intelligent design belongs only in a world religion or social studies class.

"I think it's in the proper spot; it's not part of a science curriculum," Grenbeaux said.

Candidates Sareth Pen and Dale "Gene" Williams did not attend. A forum moderator read a statement by Williams that focused on the problems of retaining teachers and lowering high school dropout rates.

Candidates also mused about new vocational education programs for the district's high schools, including Gregori High School in Salida.

Grenbeaux said he would take advantage of Gregori's location near a business park and set up a vocational-technical arts school tailored to the businesses around the campus. Lopez said his interest would be in an agriculture academy at the school, and Spina favored a culinary arts program.

When it comes to improving minority student achievement, McGill said it's essential to recruit more black and Latino teachers to Modesto schools.

More than half of all district students are Latino and 5 percent are black; however, 14 percent of Modesto teachers are La-tino and 1 percent are black, according to the California Department of Education.

The forum will be rebroadcast at 8 p.m. every Saturday until the Nov. 6 election, on Channel 7 for Comcast and Channel 19 for Charter Communications.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.