PUSD — 3 incumbents, 3 challengers, 3 seats
School board incumbents and challengers are entering the home stretch toward the Nov. 6 Tulare County General Election for three available seats in the Porterville Unified School District.
In the running are incumbents Hayley Buettner, Pat Contreras and Sharon Gill, in Trustee Areas 1, 2 and 6, respectively, and challengers Fred Beltran, Tom Velasquez and Linda Peterson.
Though most of the candidates will be given the opportunity to speak at an upcoming SETCO Forum on Wednesday, all of the candidates agreed with the direction PUSD is heading.
Contreras praised the District’s Pathway academies.
“I am pleased with the direction the PUSD has taken. In particular the nine Pathways curriculum that have been implemented at the secondary level that allow students to select a career path that stimulates student interest and achievement,” Contreras said. “I am also pleased with the progress and gains that students and teachers are making on the API.”
Buettner also praised the District’s Pathways programs, current and future.
“The Pathways program continues to prepare students for college and career. We’re planning to expand the Pathways to include a new Military Academy,” Buettner said. “Additionally, our API (Academic Performance Index) scores continue to climb, and despite deferrals from Sacramento, we remain fiscally solvent.”
Beltran was in concurrence, saying he liked the direction of the current curriculum and of the educational, vocational programs of Pathways.
“Of particular concern to me would be to focus on finding or partnering to find solutions to the many problematic issues with students such as gangs, graduation rate, life skills, scholarships, grants, children with disabilities, parenting,” Beltran said. “[And] scrutinizing the budget to afford upgrading outdated infrastructure and facilities.”
Gill said she feels there is more right than wrong at the District.
“But we can never hesitate to demand more,” Gill said. “Many of our programs are leading-edge but we still have students not being served adequately. I will continue to press for higher standards.”
Velasquez said he likes the way the Board has handled various issues.
“I feel they experienced issues that were both sensitive and unpopular, and handled them with both fairness and prudence,” Velasquez said. “I did feel they struggled with the maintenance of the ball fields and continued use of temporary class rooms.”
Peterson said, given the demographics and economy, she’s only somewhat pleased with the district’s direction.
“However, I feel that we should not stop looking for ways to improve the quality of education for all of our children, judiciously using every resource available.
The candidates also sounded off on how they feel about board members receiving health benefits.
“Those who have served for 12 years or more were given the right to lifetime health benefits,” Gill said. “If we are to reflect integrity and commitment to them, the very few who qualify should continue. The new members should not.”
Beltran said he is not familiar with the laws regarding benefits but is willing to look into it.
“My understanding is that none of the current Trustees are receiving free benefits,” Beltran said. “I am not in favor of receiving future benefits. Any benefits current or future board members receive should be paid for by that board member.”
Peterson said, if elected, she will reject a benefit package.
“Being fiscally conservative, I feel that all our funding should go towards improving the lives of our students and schools,” Peterson said. “I am against trustee health benefits, lifetime or otherwise, and will reject the benefit package if I am elected. It’s a volunteer position.”
Tom Velasquez said he feels they should.
“Providing health care benefits for school board members in the State of California is common. Porterville Board members put in 10 to 20 hours weekly of their time. They are not compensated nor do they receive a stipend.”
Pat Contreras agrees.
“I believe that board members should receive health benefits as is the current school board policy,” Contreras said. “At this time some board members receive the benefit while others receive the benefit as do all PUSD retirees. This policy was established years ago to encourage school board members to serve.”
It’s a responsibility for past trustees that should continue, Buettner said.
“PUSD has a legal responsibility to maintain financial commitments made to past trustees,” Buettner said. “However, I do believe that in this period of fiscal difficulty, benefits for current board members are not sustainable, which is why I have declined my PUSD health benefits.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.