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Five vie for Riverbank school board

Issues such as charter schools and housing developments' impact on schools will determine who is on the next Riverbank Unified School District Board.

Those were among the top responses by candidates when asked about the key issues in this election.

Five candidates, including incumbents Pamela P. Floyd, who asked that her age not be published, and John Mitchell, 46, are vying for two open seats on the board. The other contenders are Cohen Blount, 26, Steven Costalupes, 39, and Kevin J. McBride-Luman, 40.

Charter school

After two years of negotiations, board members approved a dual-language charter school nearly a year ago. The charter school is housed within Rio Al-tura Elementary School, which used to have a Spanish-language program.

Some say the school detracts from the district. Others say it enriches the district.

Blount said the charter school is costly and that residents should decide if a Spanish-English language school is how education money should be spent in their town.

Emphasis on speaking Spanish in school can be a drain, Costalupes said.

"I think our test scores suffer because we are teaching in Spanish," he added.

Mitchell said the charter school is worth experimenting with for a few years. In a little more than two years, school board members will review the charter school again and decide if it is something they will continue to support.

Floyd said she supports the school. She said parents sending children from outside of Riverbank to the school will help the district grow and bring in money.

Both Floyd and McBride-Luman said they like that the school gives parents more choice when it comes to their children's education.

"Charter school is not a solution to everything, but I think it's an alternative," said McBride-Luman, a founding member of the school.

Development

The candidates said they also are interested in how the school district will keep up with a growing city. Since the housing market has cooled over the past year, there's not as much pressure to expand in order to accommodate new students. Still, a development called Bruinville, which includes 3,400 homes in east Riverbank, put the city and school district's relationship to the test.

"I think the relationship with the Riverbank City Council is just broken right now. The council is not backing our school district at all," Blount said.

Regardless of the issue, the relationship between the district and the city must be strengthened, Floyd said.

Until four months ago, city officials said they were working with the school and fire districts to ensure developers in Bruinville pay their share of impact fees. When City Council members balked at the amount school district officials wanted in- cluded in the impact fees, school district officials protested. Council members opted to negotiate with Bruinville developers alone, leaving the school and fire district to find for themselves.

Once the dust settled, the issue could be traced back to a miscommunication between city staff, a consultant and board members. By then, the housing market had cooled to such a degree that only a handful of Bruinville developers were still interested in building the new neighborhood.

The shift away from the new development influenced how some board members thought the district should spend bond money earmarked for new facilities.

"First, I thought the elementary school should go first because all of those homes were going to be built. But Bruinville developers backed out and the city backed out, so now I think the gym should be built first since we don't have the urgency for an elementary school," Mitchell said.

"That's a tough question because so many people are passionate about both. Certainly the elementary school is important, but sports keeps kids in school. It's hard to choose one over the other. Both are going to be built. I think it's a good plan and hope it will be realized," Floyd said.

"I think the gym should have gone first. That bond was passed for the gym," Blount said.

"We should do both. Both are needed," said Costalupes, adding that the elementary school should be built in phases in conjunction with need for the space and as the district has money available for it.

"I think they should have been ready to go at the time the bond was passed. Construction fees have risen since then," McBride-Luman said. "Education structures should be built before sports structures, but the community has been waiting for this gym for a long time.

"I think we should look at alternative funding to save money on construction of both."

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.

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