SBHS trustee race heats up

The race is heating up for three available seats on the San
Benito High School Board of Trustees.
The race is heating up for three available seats on the San Benito High School Board of Trustees.

The San Benito County chapter of the California Teachers Association has not endorsed any of the three incumbents, all of whom are running for re-election, but has endorsed all three challengers.

Incumbents up for re-election include Sims DeLay, Rider and Ken Kovanda.

The challengers are Bill Tiffany, Jan Joseph and Stefani Fowler, who are endorsed by the Future Farmers of America Boosters, the San Benito High School Teachers’ Association, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Hollister Elementary Schools Teachers’ Association, SBHS’ California Schools Employees’ Association and Parents and Students for Educational Justice.

The local CTA chapter has been critical of the current board for some time and most recently criticized the board for the hiring process of a new superintendent for the high school and for recent financial decisions.

“The teachers here feel that the school board does not have a vision for this high school,” said Clete Bradford, president of the local CTA chapter. “They don’t solicit input from teachers and the community and they basically look to the superintendent for guidance.”

The CTA chapter expressed concerns that the board’s decision to find a replacement in November for District Superintendent Dick Lowry, who will retire in February, will not attract the most qualified candidate. The chapter wants the school to hire a temporary superintendent so it can attract the most qualified pool of candidates in the summer, when a school superintendent’s term typically ends.

Bradford said any decision to hire a new superintendent before summer would diminish the number of qualified candidates.

“The board’s just kind of keeping us out of the decision-making process,” he said. “We should have input on who’s the new superintendent. We also question why they’re hiring mid-year.”

Yet the board hopes that by hiring in November the new superintendent can start in January.

“I feel the company that we hired to help us find the right individual for the school superintendent is very competent. Their actions are based on what we requested,” said Sylvia Sims DeLay, one of the three incumbent board members running for re-election. “We have opened our line of communication with staff as well as the community and asked for comments. We asked people to give input on what they think our superintendent needs to be. I don’t know what more we can do to involve the community, parents and staff. We are all elected officials; we are elected by community to make decisions like this. That’s our job and that’s what we’re doing.”

Incumbent board member Judy Rider also said the criticism is unfounded.

“That’s their opinion (about the superintendent),” said Ryder, who is also running for another term. “I don’t see why it’s warranted. They had a chance to voice their opinion on what type of superintendent they wanted. It’s common practice that teachers sit in or help in the decision on who was hired. I think it’s kind of silly that they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Sims DeLay has come under fire from the local CTA chapter for being married to Steve DeLay, director of finance and operations for San Benito High School. The chapter feels that the marriage is a “blatant conflict of interest,” Bradford said.

Sims DeLay married Steve DeLay in 2000 at the mid-point of her term on the board and feels that the alleged conflict of interest has no basis.

The couple even confided in an attorney who said their positions are legal as long as Sims DeLay does not vote on anything directly related to her husband.

“Their (the CTA chapter’s) chief complaint is the fact that we’re married, but it has no basis,” Sims DeLay said. “We don’t discuss my work any more than we discuss his. I think the CTA has not incurred anything to the contrary. Unless we’ve done something inappropriate or some evidence that concludes that, I don’t see why there should be any complaints.”

The chapter has also been critical of the lingering controversy over San Benito High School’s “zero tolerance” discipline policies. Local grass-roots organization Parents and Students for Educational Justice, which has endorsed all three challengers for the open Board of Trustees seats, called the policy “inconsistent” and “overly harsh.”

“The current school board has not been very open to parents and outside communications and has effectively blocked out any outside input other than administration and school board members,” said Joe Navarro, co-founder of Parents and Students for Educational Justice and a teacher at Sunnyslope School. “The school board members now are a rubber stamp for the administration. The new board member candidates will be independent free-thinkers and won’t be a rubber stamp.”

Approximately $350,000 was allocated from the SBHS budget for construction of the school’s new freshman campus, but with the current cease-and-desist order on new construction imposed by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the campus cannot be constructed until a new wastewater treatment plant is built.

“They’re putting money for a building fund and there is no building allowed in Hollister,” Bradford said. “Districts across the state desperately want more money, but our district seems to think we can cut here and there and have a profit instead of having smaller class sizes and extra programs for kids to succeed.”

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