After much debate this year, school board members agreed to put Area 7 on the Modesto City Schools ballot in November.
Now, it’s time for voters in south Modesto to choose their representative on the school board. They have three choices: Matthew Harrington, Adolfo Lopez and Ryan Schambers.
Harrington, 36, has four years experience on the South Modesto Municipal Advisory Council, a county-appointed body that deals with community issues in the largely Latino voting district.
Lopez, 26, has the endorsement of the Modesto Teachers Association. Schambers, 25, a substitute teacher, says he is the only candidate with experience working for the school district.
In the first vote-by-district elections for Modesto City Schools, Incumbent Cindy Marks and appointed incumbent Chad Brown are unopposed for Area 1 and Area 3 seats, respectively. Three candidates are running in Area 5 and the remaining three seats are slated for the 2019 election.
Lopez, a Modesto native with a political science degree from UC Merced, said he can work with community groups and residents to improve opportunities for students. He works for a consulting firm as a community outreach coordinator and has helped different organizations with education projects or building sidewalks in unincorporated areas.
A top priority for Lopez is closing the achievement gap to help disadvantaged students succeed in the classroom. He wants to get parents more involved with schools, and supports summer programs so students are ready to resume their school work in the fall.
“A lot of time we ask parents to come to our schools, but we need to go into the community and meet them where they are and personally invite them to get involved,” Lopez said.
As a member of the South Modesto MAC, Harrington said he has dealt with problems such as squatters on vacant land, abandoned cars and needed park upgrades. If elected to the school board, he wants to evaluate safety issues near schools, such as Bret Harte and Shackelford Elementary, and push for improvements.
Harrington said the district needs to provide more programs for students who need the most help at Area 7 schools. “I realize it is going to cost some money,” said Harrington, who works as a youth care professional for Aspiranet and part-time newsroom clerk for The Modesto Bee.
He said the education process should be tailored to students’ needs. Rather than placing every student on the college track, some students could be guided toward skilled jobs as electrical workers, welders and steelworkers, Harrington said.
Schambers is making a second run for public office after a losing bid for Modesto City Council four years ago. He said he’s running for school board to reduce wasteful spending, ensure fair pay for teachers and increase community involvement in education.
“A lot of schools in south Modesto don’t have a (Gifted and Talented Education) program,” Schambers said, adding that some campuses in south Modesto are lacking compared to those in other areas. “The school facilities are worse than what you see at Beyer and Enochs (high schools).”
According to Schambers, the current school board members rubber-stamp agenda items. They could reduce costs by taking more time with the bidding process, he said.
Schambers said more attention should be focused on Spanish-speaking families who want their children to do well in school. “I feel like they don’t get enough support,” he said.
In recent interviews, the candidates were asked about a proposed bond in Modesto City Schools to possibly modernize school facilities, some of which are 50 to 60 years old. There is no clear direction for the potential bond, which will be discussed in the next several months.
Lopez said that quality of classroom facilities should be a priority. “We are asking the kids to learn at high levels so we need to give them the environment where they can excel,” he said.
Schambers said he would look for ways to trim costs, so the district doesn’t need a bond issue for renovations.
Harrington said he doesn’t want to overburden taxpayers, some of whom are paying Mello-Roos bills and other taxes. Any bond should come with an action plan, including specifics on where the money will be spent. “It can’t be a general obligation bond where you collect all this money and it’s not earmarked for something,” he said.
The candidates also weighed in on Common Core, a national initiative that established standards for English and math instruction.
“It is a new program and we need to see how it is going to play out in the long run,” Lopez said.
Schambers said Common Core could be effective but it was poorly implemented. “Parents don’t understand Common Core. Teachers don’t understand it. ... A lot of it is vague and it is hard to integrate things. There is not enough funding for training teachers in Common Core,” he said.
Harrington said he wants to review the data to see if Common Core is a benefit for students. “I would like to actually see the progression or regression of students and find out how we can better meet their educational needs,” he said.
To remove a conflict, Schambers said he will not take substitute teaching jobs with Modesto City Schools if he’s elected.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16