Redwood City School Board Candidates Debate (Rush Transcript)

This is a rush transcript of the debate of candidates to the Redwood City School Board. It took place at the Redwood City School District office on October 1st 2009. It was hosted by the League of Women Voters of South San Mateo Country, SEPTAR and RCEF.

The candidates: Hilary Paulson, Jack Hickey, Maria Diaz-Slocum, Lea Cuniberti-Duran

The mechanics: introductory statement first, then questions. See how far we get on questions, take questions from the audience in the later section of the event.

The notes: these notes were taken in real time, using various degrees of point form. I tried to use the words of the candidate as much as possible, trying to summarize their arguments without introducing any editorial comments of my own. Any misrepresentation of their statements is completely unintentional and I'll be happy to make corrections if appropriate.

Introductory Statements

Lea Cuniberti-Duran (LCD): her issues: accountability through transparency, increase parent participation, teacher/therapist credentialing, positive behavior intervention for all our schools.

Maria Diaz-Slocum (MDS): incumbent. Makes experience argument, specially relevant in these hard times. Need to understand budget and issues already. Continue upward trajectory on achievement. All kids need to be educated to their full potential: ELL, Special Ed, etc.

Jack Hickey (JH): currently also candidate for supervisor. Had a voucher plan. Proposes "Performance based payments" to all students. Higher taxes hurt everyone. Property tax credit proposal. Everyone gets a choice, even people without kids.

Hilary Paulson (HP): appointed 2 years ago for someone that retired. Wants to continue her work. Increasing test scores, closing achievement gap, meeting needs of all children (gifted, ELL, etc), district fiscal stability.

Prepared Questions

1. Tell us about your involvement in the school/district.

MDS: trustee. Visit, talk to parents, RWC 20/20 Governing Structure Board, delegate with California School Board Association (lobbies in Sacramento). Works in library and talks to students and parents daily.

JH: opposed sales tax proposal in 91, opposed Garfield, opposed and defeated all Redwood City parcel taxe initiatives.

HP: been in district since 1998. Classroom volunteer, art in action, field trips, run auctions. Helped write grants for district wide playgrounds and headed building at Roy Cloud. District wide: RCEF grant writer then VP, then School Board. With the kids: co-chaired Stafford/Stulstaff park renovation, getting it done, raising money.

LCD: has three kids in the school district. She's volunteered in different capacities. More involved in board meetings, attended budget decision meetings. Upon failure on Measure E, spearheaded support for SCA6 (Simitian Bill to reduce 2/3 requirements for parcel taxes). Also worked on the SEPTAR board.

2. We expect reductions of around 5.5M next year (budget projections), even might need mid-year cuts. What should we cut to balance the budget?

JH: fewer classrooms required, recommends cutting # of principals, staff and school sites. Lease or sell school sites, with enabling legislation to allow use of the money.

HP: No simple answer. All easy things are gone. Everything will hurt the children of the district. The Financial Advisory Committee exists to create the prioritized list. Go back to that list and re-evaluate.

LCD: review all current programs, see how effective they are. Programs we can't quantify or programs not producing should be cut or refactored. Examples: dual calendar. Also, apply to more grants, by hiring a grant writer.

MDS: Financial Advisory Committee again. Listen to them and super intendent. Have a discusion with the other trustees. Talk and then see. There's no easy cut.

3. How would you address the perception that special ed uses more than its fair share of funding?

HP: objects to wording choice: "encroachment" and "fair share". Special ed is an unfunded mandate.

JH: his perception also. Dollar per pupil should be equally distributed. His plan does that.

MDS: we must provide the services for the children. Some of the services are costly, but we must provide kids what they need.

LCD: she did hear "coming from the district" that special ed "does encroach", and was used as an example of why the district cannot offer some other program to the "typical" children. Looking at other district in the Bay Area, they spend less per student, they have the same % of special ed kids and are "rated higher". The district should not use this as an excuse.

4. Do you believe needs of English learners are adequately met and what would you change?

LCD: look at statistics and test scores, EL have not met expected improvements set by the Federal government. It's important to serve these children. Have the district apply to all possible Federal and State grants and measure effectiveness. Also have district look around the country to find other succesful programs that could be replicated here.

HP: Adelante increased AYP by a lot, Henry ford, Haas, Hoover, Taft, MIT. We should be celebrating these gains. Fantastic numbers. Board's job is to look at the district, see where the problems are, hold staff accountable and make sure progress happens. Piloting programs in school, like TIG. Grade level leaders is a meeting to share success stories.

JH: Agrees with "candidates in the trenches who know what's going on".

MDS: have made tremendous gains. Bilingual education program needed to be revised and was. Go to Hoover and visit Ninfa's class and see how good the program is.

5. Do you believe the needs of high achieving students are met and what should be changed?

JH: less time in classroom and more in self guided activities outside the classroom.

HP: we have Northstar, not a good fit for everyone. The GATE pull out. Would like to have GATE reach out to more students. Roy Cloud has advanced math. IB at Sequoia, advanced classes at Kennedy. 8th grader taking classes at Sequoia. But GATE was on the chopping block last year.

LCD: concerned about GATE money not being there next year. All schools have the same curriculum and not all children learn in the same way. Interesting to look at programs for different learning styles, open up school to that kind of diversity.

MDS: already have programs meeting the needs. Keep the money and use technology in more innovative ways.

6. Had to increase class sizes. Position on keeping class sizes at 20 for the lower grades.

HP: her daughter had 16 kids in KD years ago, teacher could do differentiated instruction. Wants that for all kids, but it cannot be done, not a chance, sad truth. When the money comes back we will go back. We did receive a little flexibility. We can choose per class and school to manage teachers and administration better. Some class sizes dictated by union contracts.

LCD: supports 100%, small class sizes. We should commit as a district to bring back the reduction.

MDS: her children said it made a huge difference when class size reduction happened. Would like to keep the reduction...

JH: smaller class size is better, but what can the district afford? Problem with larger class size: discipline. Would like State to do away with class size program. Gimmick created by the unions to hire more teachers.

7. Studies show that positive behavior management is a good thing, also mandated by no child left behind, yet we don't have behavior managers. Your view on whether this is a good idea and how to implement it.

MDS: we do the best with what we have. Superintendent tries to carry out board policies. Suspensions are down, so we're doing something right. Would like to have more of everything but can't afford it.

JH: categorically opposed to categoricals. Opt out of categoricals.

HP: we still HAVE a behavior specialist and that's a good thing, and we're making the most of it. They teach about positive behavior in the classroom. The middle schools suspensions are way down. The Board handles all expulsions, and it's really painful. Outlines what the board has done. Principals are sharing their success stories.

LCD: this is part of her platform. Programs based on scientific findings, they do work when implemented district and school wide. Results drammatic. Better discipline and scores go up. We need to invest in programs that have been replicated succesfully in other districts.

8. Why do you think the academic performance index score is low and what should we do to increase scores for all groups?

LCD: look at our schools. Some of our school are very high performance, some are struggling. These school reflect the makeup of the neighborhood, mix of middle and lower class families. Homogeneous schools are a problem. Fix: make school campuses safe, use positive intevention. Better credentials for teaches. Have district take leadership role to create communities around the schools. Create opportunities for parents to volunteer in the classroom.

HP: question makes her sad. We're pretty close to our targets. Everyone making progress. We need to celebrate successes. In 2000 many schools were around the 400s now we have most schools around 800. Adelante up 260, Fair Oaks up 300, MIT up 220, Taft up 340. Amazing improvements. Teachers doing a fantastic job and are still told we're not making it.

JH: get back to basics, ensure all kids are enrolled because parents chose to, increase parent participation, maintain discipline.

MDS: like Hilary said, we need to celebrate. The academic plan is working. Staff development has worked, but we don't have the money to continue. Fair Oaks, Taft, examples of progress. Menlo Park is almost perfect and could still go into PI (Program Improvement).

9. How would you respond if parents wanted to create a Charter school?

JH: supported Charter school initially, when it seemed they would allow them to stay away from unions. Now it seems they would cost more than normal schools. Encourages tax credits.

HP: would analize any proposal that came to the table. District open to alternatives: Northstar, Orion, Adelante, IB at Selby Lane, Garfield. Concern: many failures with Charters which need to get pulled back into the district. Montesori? Project based learning at Rosevelt is a new alternative.

LCD: would support charter school as long as it benefits students and has rigurous financial overight.

MDS: supports parent choice. As a trustee has to look at every proposal, but having seen Aurora close and seeing what happened to the students... Would recommend parents look at the schools we already have. No need to reinvent the wheel.

10. Benefits of PE, yet PE teachers have disappeared...

HP: PE makes a healthier child, calmer classrooms, we want PE, but it's another unfunded mandate. This was one of the major goals for Measure E. Measure E was close, but we could not fund the teachers. Would continue working with partners to provide PE services to the school sites. It's happening now, but it's difficult without standard PE teachers.

LCD: district should be trying to get funding through grants. PE is very important. Schools are struggling with this, some funded by PTA, some are training parents for PE. Longer and more frequent receses would help for kids to blow off steam, a good solution for the short team. We should think about reinstating PE district wide.

MDS: would love to keep PE wherever possible. We can't afford it, so continue to work with the community and partners.

JH: as an alternative would urge parents to support private activities in the community. They should enroll their kids in these. Budget shortfall is overstated. Can get IOUs from the state to fund this, he says.

11. What are the 2 most important areas in Special Ed the district needs to address?

LCD: fully implement IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), what all districts need to do. Has drammatically changed the rights of children with dissabilities. When fully implemented: kids in their classroom, succeeding with the right amounts of support, they can grow up get jobs, go to university, be independent and be contributing members of our society.

MDS: have consultant look at our programs and re-evaluate our programs, see how to serve the kids better with the money that we have. Don't focus on one individual area. Have someone else come in and tell us.

JH: cost and inequitable expenditure of assets. Students that can't take advantage of the free public education should be given their 10 thousand dollars as a family.

HP: financial ability to support the programs and ability to retain high quality staff. Important for people to come to the board and let them know what's important to them. We need to hear about things that are not working.

12. What role should parents have in the school system and how should they be better organized?

MDS: parental involvement is crucial to the success of the students. Parent participation in the school and classroom. She even went to middle school to help out, although not cool for her kids. She used to be on site council. Continues to meet with different parent groups.

JH: enrollment of children in public schools should be voluntary. Property tax credit, voucher, etc.

HP: the Board's responsibility to allow parents to participate, to have a spot for them, in the classroom, in the office, in the district, etc. School are making this happen. When it's not school can work with a coordinator to make it work. We've been using the director of communications, the automated phone system, and working with our partners.

LCD: big supporter of parent participation. Cites Harvard study showing the district needs to take a leadership role in driving the process. Ensuring people feel like part of the process, create opportunities for parents to volunteer. The increase attendance campaign was highly succesful. Work with pricipals and teachers to put together list of opportunities for parents. Important to hire a grant writer for the district. Grants can fund parent-run programs like Art in Action.

13. How many of our schools have you visited, what's you knowledge of our campuses?

JH: has visited most of them over time, in role as tax advocate, making sure district not using schools for political advocacy. Proposes tax credits again.

HP: has been on every campus, as parent, visitor, board member. She had a good understanding of the demographics, programs, makeup of each school. She also knows about the space issues at each school. And you also get to specialize on 3 schools when on the board. Unique perspective from serving on various committees. She has an understanding of the community as well.

LCD: lived in RWC for 10 years. Attended Rosevelt, Orion and Roy Cloud, visited John Gill and met with people at Selby Lane. Noticed that some of the neighborhood schools do not reflect the neighborhood. Some middle class families reticent to send their kids to their neighborhood schools, need to examine why. Safety? Lack of parent participation options?

MDS: like Hillary, visited all of them, after school, child development center, etc. Talks to parents, walks around the neighborhood, looks at traffic issues, parking. We're lucky in this district to have "schools of choice". Today you don't have to move houses to go to a different school.

Questions from the audience

14. Feeling about reducing class sizes in schools with low test scores and increasing it on others?

HP: parents would explode if this came up. We had this idea on the books, but we run out of the extra funds two days before the start of the year. If the money comes back we should bring back smaller classes for kids with more need.

LCD: all children have equal right to quality education, so all children should have lower class sizes. There are specific Federal/State grants with strings attached, but should give lower class sizes to all children.

MDS: loves small class sizes. We have done this before, but we don't have the funding to implement it even in schools with lower scores. Would love to have them for everyone.

JH: already stated his opinion on class sizes. Penalizing the ones that are scoring high will bring their scores down, dumbing down, we'll have mediocrity.

15. Without parental notification, students have been shown videos, sex education, etc, how would you inform parents and allow parents to exclude their kids.

MDS: we have a policy for this and the super intendent should handle problems at specific sites. Jann is very responsive, would send letter, make a phonecall on the phone system, have meetings with parents, etc. She's confident we can solve this problem if it comes up.

JH: would make policy that would require district to have permision from parents before these things take place.

HP: she's taken kids out of assemblies before. Parents should get permision slips before allowing their kids to attend sex ed.

LCD: policies exist and parents should bring up to the administration if something is not appropriate. She's aware of the policy.

16. Are the students we send on the high school prepared for high school work?

LCD: some are, some aren't, might depend on which school they come from, which program they have attended. Should look at students and schools that are struggling and work with Sequoia to see if we can prepare students better. We should have programs to help struggling students.

MDS: they're much better prepared than a few years ago. We get data from the high school district that tells us how well they're doing. Important that they graduate high school. She decided years ago to make a difference on the K8 School Board. There's room for improvement. We have partnerships, like summer school opportunities.

JH: agrees with Maria on feedback from high schools. Proof is in the pudding.

HP: has a high schooler. Daughter says some some kids come in struggling with math and have to be pulled down a level. Do our teachers know that high school teachers are teaching? Do they know what they need to teach for high school? Need a better way to get that feedback to the teachers.

17. Ideas for getting the community more involved, specially Hispanic community, like at Clifford.

MDS: include Hispanic parents in activities at Clifford. Same at other sites. Have parents talk about how they can get engaged and keep trying.

JH: reiterates previous comments: parents that are forced to send their kids to public school won't want to participate. Give them money so they can send their kids to private schools. Then they will want to participate.

HP: our super intendent has fostered a great relationship with community organizations. We're beginning to take advantage of these relationships. Good for getting word out about our schools. DLAC has been doing great work. Very organized, training parents, teaching them how to be involved, coming to meetings, speaking out, etc. When we need outside help we bring it in, like at Fair Oaks. If a program works, let's have it replicated.

LCD: district should take a leadership role to create communities around the school. Pricipals should be out there, participate in PTA, know the parents, make people feel important and educate parents. Every parent wants the best for their children. We need parents to run schools and make them succesful. Given them an opportunity to be an active member, even if there is a language barrier.

18. Do you support a parcel tax measure soon? If NO: how do you explain that all surrounding districts have one? If YES: what do we need to do differently?

JH: NO. Sidesteps the question: suggested to make the parcel tax voluntary, with opt-out and even letting people increase their contribution if they wanted to. This measure could pass.

HP: if advisors told us that it needs to be done soon, would do it soon. Makes her tired just to think about it. Abandoned her family in the spring for this effort. Some portions of the community could not be reached: seniors people witout kidws in the schools. We need to reach them.

LCD: YES. Next time around would wait for a general election, with lots of voter turnout. We've tried different formulas which have not worked (mail in ballot, special election). Other cities have been succesful in presidential elections. Believes a strong majority supports the parcel tax, but they need to come in to vote. Good for everyone: property values go up with good schools. Good schools need money.

MDS: YES. Would continue to push lowering the threshold. We don't make it for various reasons: voter fatigue, economic issues. Lower the number.

19. What is your key issue regarding our schools and how do you implement it when you're one of 5 board members?

HP: fiscal stability of the district and finances. We do not always agree on the board, but we try to reach solutions, collaborate and use administration to gather data and look for alternatives when there's a solution we don't like. You're part of a board. You can no longer advocate for your child in the classroom. You're part of the board.

LCD: accountability through transparency. Would push for that. Data review and presented to the public quaterly. Make people understand what works, what doesn't, how grant moneys are spent, what investments we've made.

MDS: agrees with Hilary: financial stability. By being collaborative, listening to colleagues, be respectful of others, and have data to support decisions.

JH: wants to be the driver of economic policy, to implement scaling down the district, and tax proposals. Wants permanent reduction in size of the district.

Closing Statements

LCD: running to bring issues forward, hopes you know what the issues are by now. Believes her platform will make a significant difference for all children. We need to look at what wehave and use our money to best effect. This is a great district, good super intendent, board has heart in the right place, great staff and teachers and fabulous kids. There's room for improvements. Go to my website and think about it.

MDS: thanks organizers. Test scores are up, schools are safer, we're making progress, continue to support me. Visit to see what each candidate has put forward to make your own decision. Hopefully I can continue to serve you.

JH: all school districts are in the categorical box, with very little discretion. Would advocate removal from this box, through legislation. We had the parcel tax to get our of discretionary funding. Not the way to do it. Instead of getting the requirement down to 55% for parcel taxes, a bad idea, go change the education code. Why does the law care about which hours education takes place in? We need to look at the tax credits to give parents a choice.

HP: As a board member you need experience, knowledge and understanding. I've climbed the steep learning curve, worked in various organizations (RCEF, planning comision). Now I have an intimate knowledge of our budget and reporting requirements. Took masters in government program. Understanding: has been at every campus, met teachers, been in the community, talk to people with and without kids in the schools.


  1. Donna Collins WilliamsOctober 3, 2009 at 12:09 AM

    I could not be at the meeting, and really appreciate your taking the time to post an unbiased transcript. It is both insightful and informative. Thank you for all that you do to keep the parents in RCSD abreast of the issues and solutions proposed.


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