HSD elections in full swing

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With tough budget cuts and the increase in class sizes at
Hollister School District, the Nov. 2 election will give voters the
opportunity to give a vote of confidence in a veteran board member,
or bring fresh blood into the board room.
Hollister – With tough budget cuts and the increase in class sizes at Hollister School District, the Nov. 2 election will give voters the opportunity to give a vote of confidence in a veteran board member, or bring fresh blood into the board room.

Incumbent Margie Barrios, and parents Randy Phelps and Chuck Spandri are running for the two vacant seats on this year’s ballot. Board Member Carol Cochran will not run for re-election. Each of the three candidates have their own ideas and concerns about how to create the best possible learning environment at HSD, but Board President Dee Brown said the big issue this year is money.

“I think the big thing this year is going to be solving the budget challenges,” she said.

Last June, HSD had to make $2 million in cuts to balance its budget. Some of the cuts, like increasing class size and a new kindergarten schedule didn’t sit well with parents and teachers, and each of the candidates has different ideas of what should happen next. From retaining teachers to keeping the facilities clean, all three have different backgrounds and campaign platforms, and Brown said she just hopes whoever is elected brings an open mind to the board table.

“I’d like someone who is open, fair and centered on what is best for the children,” she said.

Since the ’80s, Hollister School District Board Member Margie Barrios has spent 12 years in the board room, and she’s not ready to hang up her hat for good just yet.

“I still have a lot to do,” she said. “It’s an unfinished job… we still have a lot of goals to be met.”

Barrios, 55, has lived in Hollister since she was 15, and all three of her children went through HSD. A self-employed accountant, Barrios believes her communication skills and positive attitude make parents and teachers feel comfortable talking with her about issues in the district.

“I feel I’m a bridge between the school board and parents,” she said. “I get calls all the time, and I feel like I’m a community liaison.”

Barrios said she’s proud that she was part of the board when it opened five new schools between 1987 and 2001. She also was the treasurer for the 1997 Measure G school bond, which raised $6 million for the district to build multi-purpose rooms and other facilities.

“I’m very proud that it improved our facilities,” she said. “They need to look good and be conducive to student learning.”

Looking back on her achievements motivates Barrios even more to run for re-election and see more projects through. Another district challenge she’d like to continue to work on is the budget. Barrios was one of the votes that approved the 2004-2005 budget that had to make $2 million in cuts.

“We have a lot of challenges with the budget, but it doesn’t scare me,” she said. “We have been there before, and I know if we work together we will solve it.”

Along with working on the budget, Barrios said she has an on-going platform that she’ll campaign with. Her first priority is students achievement, because it’s the district’s mission, she said. Another commitment she has is continuing the relationship between the district and the city of Hollister. In the past few years, the two entities have collaborated to build many athletic fields at schools such as Marguerite Maze and Rancho San Justo middle schools that are used by the schools and community residents, she said.

“I want to make sure the schools have exceptional facilities,” she said. “They should be clean and well maintained no matter what part of the community they’re in.”

If re-elected, Barrios said she’ll keep a level of continuity in the board.

“We’re five people, who think differently and have different opinions, but, in the end, we’re all thinking about the same thing,” she said. “The children.”

By day he works on educational projects for Apple Computers, and by night, he’s a father of two Ladd Lane Elementary students. At the age of 44, Randy Phelps says he’s ready to add Hollister School District Board Member to his resume.

“The No. 1 thing I need to do is be a child advocate,” Phelps said. “I’m reasonable, thoughtful and I have good experience. If nothing else, I think I represent Hollister.”

Phelps thinks his past experience in the classroom will make him an effective voice for the students. Before getting into computers, he spent nine years as a teacher and administrator in Rifle, Colo., and three different towns in Kentucky. He believes when teachers leave the classroom and join the administration, they “lose touch” with the students, and that’s something he hopes to change.

“When you go from the classroom to administration you think everything is going to be fine, but then all of a sudden the door closes and you don’t know what’s going on,” he said.

Since having children of his own, he’s had the chance to revisit the classroom, helping out in their schools and attending many HSD board meetings. During the past few months of meetings, Phelps said he’s become very concerned with the district’s financial problems, since HSD had to make $2 million in cuts last June. If elected, he hopes to fix the district’s financial problem by building a long-term plan that monitors its every expense.

“I need to find out if the district has a master plan and, if it doesn’t, we need to figure one out and move it in the right direction,” Phelps said. “The district should be gathering data over time. They should know how long to run the lights in the classroom, or what it costs to run the buses on a daily basis. I need to find out if we have this kind of data, or if we’re just guessing.”

Phelps’ wants to make sure the district “grows when it needs to grow, and saves when it needs to save.”

“We should always keep rainy days in the back of our minds,” he said.

Along with his goal of getting the district fiscally sound, Phelps said his other priority is high academic achievement and making sure there is a decent number of teachers per student.

“The last thing we want to do is reduce head count,” he said. “In the end, it comes down to how much individual time each child gets.”

When parent Chuck Spandri, 43, isn’t dressed as Sponge Bob, cheering on students at the Cerra Vista School Walk-a-thon, he’s in the classroom finger painting with them.

As a compliance specialist for the Calpine Co., Spandri doesn’t have a background in education, but says being a parent is all the experience he needs.

“I’ve been to a lot of the board meetings, and from talking with others, it seems like some of the voices weren’t being heard,” he said. “I want to speak up for the kids.”

One of Spandri’s biggest concerns about the district is class size and its ability to retain teachers. Of his three children, two have yet to start school, and the district’s new kindergarten schedule worries him. Last May, HSD cut its budget by $318,000 by implementing a new kindergarten schedule. For 89 minutes a day, a teacher and one aide teach social studies, science, fine arts and physical education to 32 students.

“I think they’re trying to rely too much on aides,” Spandri said. “In the years past, all kids had to learn was how to count to 10 and their ABCs, but that’s all changed now.”

Along with putting more kids in one classroom, Spandri said the list of school supplies and requirements sent home to the parents is getting out of hand.

“It keeps getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

Spandri believes in order to represent the children they serve, the board members should spend a good amount of time inside the classroom working with the kids.

“These kids aren’t just numbers,” he said. “I would suggest that the board go and visit the classrooms and see what is really going on.”

Spandri plans on working on these issues by talking with other parents, and doing as much outreach in the community as possible.

“I would like to try and get a consensus, visit the classrooms, read the opinion page of the paper, things like that,” he said. “I know how I would like things to be for my children, and I guess I would just like to make sure every other child in the district get those opportunities. I’d like to see everyone get a chance to succeed and see their potential.”

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