5 candidates in race for County Board of Ed seats | TheUnion.com

5 candidates in race for County Board of Ed seats

Jack Meeks
Ivan Ivan Natividad/inatividad@theunion.com | The Union

The Nevada County Board of Education race currently boils down to a battle between factions. Board incumbent Bob Altieri has tapped candidates Larry Meek and Michelle Sexton in an attempt to oust his fellow incumbent candidates, Marianne Slade-Troutman and John Meeks, from their respective seats.

“The board is made up of five members. If you have three people running and they all get elected, you’ve got a quorum. That’s not healthy,” Slade-Troutman said. “I mean you have to have a point when you can discuss things, you need differences, you need people with different opinions. You’re not on that board to win friends and influence people, to be popular, you’re there to do a job, and sometimes your job is not popular.”

The race has Slade-Troutman, Altieri and Meek vying for two seats in the county’s Trustee Area 1 district, while Meeks and Sexton seek to fill one seat available from Trustee Area 2. Slade-Troutman and Meeks have recently stressed the importance of fiscal transparency and oversight in their role as board members, in particular focusing on the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools travel expenses and charter school budgetary management.

Altieri, Meek and Sexton, as a three-slate ticket, though, contend that the board needs more collaboration, claiming their opponents focus on trivial budgetary issues, as opposed to the larger portions of the county’s operational budget that the board oversees.

“I think whatever their motivations are, it doesn’t appear to be in the position of stopping, and it’s unproductive,” Altieri said. “So that’s the reason I’m running, I’m not going to walk away from 16 years of serving this community. I worked with other community leaders to find these people, I’ve interviewed them all and talked to them and I think this is what we need to do. We’re going to win this election, I’m very confident in that.”

If elected, the faction of three say the allegiances they hold during the current election would not hamper their ability to serve as individual board members.

“The three of us are running to replace those two people, that’s where that stops,” Meek said. “Once we’re on the board, now I’m on my own, and my own person. If I have an opinion I’m going to do what I think is the right thing to do from my perspective.”

Meeks, though, challenges the perspective the new candidates have, pointing out that they all have background as administrators, some even having worked under Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen.

“Marianne and I are the watchdogs who investigate the budget on a line item basis,” he said. “The other three are either administrators, or former administrators, or real estate operators who are connected with administration rather than teaching.”

Sexton points out, though, that she has more than 25 years of professional educational experience, a portion of which she worked as a special education teacher and speech pathologist for schools in Sutter County.

“We’re all individual thinkers,” Sexton said. “I definitely think that some of the things that some of our opponents have done are divisive in terms of their functioning on the board and I think it’s healthy to have change pretty regularly.”

Brief Backgrounds

Trustee Area 1 candidates vying for two seats:

Bob Altieri

Age: 70

Current City: Nevada City

Hometown: Long Island, N.Y.

Occupation: Business broker and certified appraiser, Exit Strategies Group.

Education: Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, Indiana Institute of Technology, masters in Business Administration, California State University Dominguez Hills.

Websites: http://www.votealtieri.com. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/VoteNCBOE

With a background in electrical engineering, Altieri has been on the board since 1994, and has experience working with NASA on the Apollo missions into space and the moon. Altieri also has experience as a business broker and appraiser, and also previously taught as a college instructor at Sierra College, specializing in leadership.

Marianne Slade-Troutman

Age: 79

Current City: Nevada City

Hometown: Watertown, Mass.

Occupation: Retired, Community volunteer

Education: Wellesley High School

Websites: http://www.sladetroutman4kids.com. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Marianne-Slade-Troutman-4-Kids

As the longest standing member of the board, Slade-Troutman, has been a trustee since 1980. At a young age Slade-Troutman contracted polio, and says as a current board member, she has had experience with helping special education students and peoples with disabilities in her volunteerism with local groups such as the Friends of the Library, Kiwanis Club, and as a Grand Jury Pro-Tem.

Larry Meek

Age: 71

Current City: Nevada City

Hometown: Escondido, California

Occupation: Retired, Community volunteer

Education: Bachelor of Arts in geography, Master’s Degree in educational leadership, San Diego State. Doctoral Degree in educational leadership, University of Southern California.

Websites: http://www.votelarrymeek.com,

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/VoteNCBOE

Meek has 40 years of experience in education working in different capacities from principal of Nevada Union High School, superintendent of Twin Ridges School District, Assistant Superintendent in El Dorado County, and a consultant for schools in Davis and Truckee. Meek also spent some time as a professional basketball player overseas.

Q&A with Altieri, Meek, and Slade-Troutman:

1. What will be your top priorities?

Altieri: There’s been a paradigm shift in education. Testing, curriculum and the funding model have all changed. My goal is to do the same things that I’ve been doing in the past. My expertise is leadership, consensus building, we have to address the educational system because the environment has changed significantly. We have global everything now. Kids are walking around with cell phones in their hands and have more power than a room full of computers. Collaboration is a key to educating these days. What it’s about for me is to help provide as much expertise as I can to help drive that new 21st century educational model. It’s not read this and answer these questions anymore, it’s about creative thinking skills, and I’ve taught creative thinking skills. They need to be part of our education, we need to be doing more of that at the high school and other levels.

Slade-Troutman: The budget is the top priority, it has to be because it’s our responsibility. I think our programs that we could be instituting could be very important. As you know (Meeks) and I presented four programs and one of them we’re instituting right now and that is the mini grants for teachers. I believe we have given 18 of them out as we speak, I am so thrilled. We’ve worked since 2013 to get this before the board to get it passed, and so now we have $18,000 mini-grants going to teachers. The other one is the after-school programs, right now we’re also looking at three different sites for those programs. Also I would like to see technology upgrades, and after-school programs are very important. So those are the things (Meeks) and I tried to get out happening, two of them are out in force now and I foresee the others happening.

Meek: I think to ensure that there are educational opportunities for all students to achieve, that’s number one. Number two, would be to as a county board member, one of our responsibilities is to approve the Superintendent of Schools budget and I would want to make sure that in approving that, that programs that support the districts and the charter schools in our county are adequately funded, and are targeted by the needs that have been expressed by the superintendents and the charter schools. I think another priority that I have is to be out in the community talking to people, be knowledgeable about the programs the county board offers, and share that information with people as they have questions.

2. What are your thoughts and stance on the new Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessment?

Altieri: First of all it’s good that there’s dialogue and differences within the community. Good things come out of discussions between opposing views. We always need to arrive at the best possible solution for all. As far as Common Core is concerned, in terms of its implementation there are some concepts about it that I like, I have some concerns about other things but we’re not going to know until it’s tested and we can measure the results of what we’re doing and tweak it to make it better. The key thing is I don’t think it’s going to be the silver bullet, but the fact is the shot’s being taken, and I think that’s really important. We have a changing environment globally, we have technology that’s so far advanced, and with Common Core you can look at other schools in the entire United States or the world in terms of how they’re doing with that particular subject or question. So I think it gives students an opportunity to expand their boundaries. I also like the fact that it teaches creative thinking techniques. I like that concept as well. So we’ll see how it goes.

Slade-Troutman: This Common Core thing has been around California for a while, since 2010. But this county didn’t really get involved in it, but now this county is involved in it, very deeply. I think the important thing here is some of the parents are concerned about the data mining. It just bothers them so much, this is what I hear, that their students will be asked how much income they have, what their health problems may be in their family, things that have absolutely nothing to do with testing. So these are very deep concerns for parents and I think it needs to be addressed.

Meek: What I like about the new standards is they seem to focus more on critical thinking, problem solving, and working corroboratively in groups. When I talk to my friends who are working in both very large and small companies and ask them the types of workers they would like to have, the number one thing that surfaces is they want people who can think. The second thing is they want people who are able to work corroboratively with others. I made a point of visiting all the superintendents in the county and asked them about their experiences with the standards. They are all in different implementations of the standards, but the overall opinion is they seemed to like the fact that there seemed to be a shift from memorization of facts to critical thinking. Not having a right answer, but having kids able to explain how they got that answer. It’s early, and any time you have a new program there are going to be some glitches and people concerned about it, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

3. What should the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools reserve funds be used for?

Altieri: I do a lot of economic research in my work as an appraiser. California is not necessarily out of the woods, we have some serious economic issues we are facing, some of which we are starting to pass on to schools. After “Proposition 30” came now we’re having to pay another 8 percent on payroll to cover the (CalSTRS) issues because they’re under funded. Along that same line there are unfunded liabilities, and those numbers are big. Not only in California but nationally. We’ve got a big chunk of money, four million bucks there. But you don’t arbitrarily spend that down and say we need to do that program and this and that program. I think we need to maintain sufficient enough reserves because what happens, that people don’t understand, deferments and cash flow. If the state says you’re going to get this amount of money but we can’t afford to pay you now, and we’re going to let you tap into your reserves in the mean time, and those reserves dwindle down there’s no money. But do we have more than we need? Hell yea. And that’s a good thing. The only way you can have big reserves is through good fiscal management. We get a fixed amount of money. The more we have the more we can provide services to the schools.

Slade-Troutman: I’m strongly committed to programs for kids. I would like to see partnering with some of the parks and school facilities to provide children having programs during fall, winter and spring breaks, as well as summer recreation programs. Now to me we’ve got all these parks all over the county and a lot of students are having different breaks and there’s nothing to do, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t partner with some of those directors and have programs for kids right there affiliated with our schools. That’s one thing I want to see. I would like to see coding classes, young children are starting this from kindergarten, they’re being taught and it’s very important because it’s an open market. For instance in New York they had about 32,000 jobs available and 5,000 graduates in science programing. I would like to see it started in our schools and started at the kindergarten level, I think this would be a grand thing. All the countries all over the world are doing this. The United States are so far behind, we’ve got to catch up. If we want our kids to have programming we’ve got to catch up, so that’s another priority that I’d like to see happen in the future, and I’d like to be a part of this.

Meek: I have some ideas, I need more information to kind of find out if my ideas are already in place or if they need more funding. But for me it’s more about the process, I think this new board that will be seated in December should take over several meetings to meet with the Superintendent of Schools and discuss the needs of the council of superintendents and the charter directors and find out what their needs are. There’s been a substantial increase in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in our schools and those kids need help. I know the superintendent’s office currently is supporting the districts and the charter schools in supplemental interventions to help that category of student to achieve at the same level as other students. But I would want to engage in a conversation with my colleagues to see where help is needed.

Trustee Area 2 candidates vying for one seat:

John Meeks

Age: 88

Current City: Penn Valley

Hometown: New York City, New York

Occupation: Retired, Community volunteer

Education: Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, Syracuse University. Master of Science in biochemistry, Cornell University. Associate Science Degree in veterinary technician, Yuba College.

Websites: http://www.jackmeeksforschoolboard.com. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jackmeeksforschoolboard

Meeks is the second most senior board member with 20 years of experience as a trustee. Meeks has 26 years of experience working as a classroom teacher, and is also a retired Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff, and U.S. Army Signal Corps veteran.

Michelle Sexton

Age: 61

Current City: Penn Valley

Hometown: Warwick, New York

Occupation: Assistant Superintendent Special Education Local Planning Area, Sutter County

Education: Bachelor of Science in speech pathology, Syracuse University. Master of Science, University of New Mexico. Credentials: Special Day, Resource Specialist, Chico State University, Administrators Credential University of La Verne and National University.

Websites: http://www.voteshellysexton.com. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/VoteNCBOE

Sexton has worked in education in different positions ranging from Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Assistant Superintendent, to being named California Teacher of the Year in 1994, for her work with children with disabilities.

Q&A with Meeks and Sexton:

1. What will be your top priorities?

Meeks: The top priority is the Ed Code direction to the board which is to approve the superintendent’s annual budget. It also gives us the legal right to examine and change occasionally some line items but we have never had the opportunity to change any of the line items on the budget. We continue to oversee and charter. charter schools and also we would like to be the proponent of student programs which embellish or enlarge the quality programs that we now have in the schools. Some of those programs would be shops, music and art, industrial, business, home and local business valuable courses. In other words the idea would be that college is not the only objective of education and that home grown business is very important and courses should be established in those fields as well.

Sexton: An objective of mine is that each board member would have an understanding between the fiscal picture and the way that impacts programs in classrooms. I would want the relationship between fiscal and programs clearly established so that people would understand what they are voting for. That would be number one. Number two, I would want to maintain good communication with the public. It appears there’s been a lot of misinformation or a lot of misunderstood communication. So I would like to look at what good vehicles to maintain that communication are. When I’ve talked to people, and people don’t really seem to understand what the county board does. I would want to clear some of that up as I engage with people.

2. What are your thoughts and stance on the new Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced Testing?

Meeks: Common Core is the latest attempt to standardize academic courses. There are a lot of opinions on whether it is for the purpose of getting all students at the same level, but in my opinion as a teacher I have discovered whether Common Core is going to be successful or not depends on the teachers. The teacher has to take the 20 or 30 people to pull them together and by the end of the semester allow them to be promoted, so I think Common Core is going to rely primarily on the ability of the teachers to handle this diversity of students not only in our county but all through the United States.

Sexton: I think that it would have been nice that the state had done a more sequenced and well thought out roll-out so that teachers felt comfortable effectively implementing them in their classrooms. I think there’s insufficient curricular materials that are aligned to the Common Core at this point in time, so I’m very interested to see what occurs over the next two years. I have gone through and lined up the California state standards prior to this to the Common Core and in many ways they are quite similar. We do want to have consistency so that we can measure performance. I know one of the biggest concerns was the testing piece, and there was a lot of stress for teachers and students, so I would like to see more preparation for that piece. But at this point this is what we’re required to be using.

3. What should the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools reserve funds be used for?

Meeks: My idea is to use some of these reserve funds to establish a foreign language learning program at the earlier grades. I know that the high schools teach foreign language, but children at a young age learn the vocabulary of a foreign language easily. We have teachers in the high school who could also be assigned part time as a model middle school learning academy because foreign language is very important not only locally but as far as the whole entirety of the United States government, but national security, foreign language is highly looked at as a national treasure. I believe we should start a model program using high school teachers and students that are interested for having a satellite school from time to time to teach foreign languages provided by local teachers or by the county funds that are available. We should have foreign language along with music, arts, and even pre-med.

Sexton: One thing I would like to know is do the reserves include the deferrals? Is that really cash on hand? That’s one thing I would want to ask the superintendent and business services. Assuming that it’s all cash on hand then I would want to do careful input from districts because the county office has their operations, and the first step would be to look at if there are any modernization needs there. The second would be to look at those programs that are collectively provided on behalf of districts and see if they’re sufficient to address the things they are put in place to address. I know that the (Local Control Funding Formula) added some money to the county office budget and one thing that was done with that is to hire a curriculum instruction person to support teachers in their classrooms … I’m wondering if one person is enough. But really careful input from districts is really important before any decision is made.

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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