Nevada County Board of Education candidates speak on issues, goals |

Nevada County Board of Education candidates speak on issues, goals

Julie Baker and Grace Hudek are candidates for the first time.

Both seek to apply their respective career insights from outside of education toward a term on the Nevada County Board of Education. They are vying for the single Area III trustee position, representing Pleasant Ridge School District.

The candidates participated in a Thursday virtual forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Western Nevada County.

“I desperately want to engage right now, because I’m done ranting on Facebook about what I see is wrong in the world, and I want to be involved in our community in a way that I think can make a difference,” said Baker, an arts professional and executive director of Californians for the Arts, on why she is running for a position on the board.

Baker cited the eight years she served as executive director of The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley as experience she would bring to the table, saying, “I learned a tremendous amount doing that, including the value of community connections.” She said good relationships with businesses, local government, and nonprofits could be valuable, particularly amid issues with school resources and funding.

Hudek, a public health nurse, said she decided to run for the board because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I will definitely be able to help the board and families get through the COVID crisis,” she said.

Hudek is a mother of children with special needs and has experience in homeschooling, which she said allows her to understand the struggles some families in the community are facing during distance learning and advocate for them. She said the education board, as opposed to a district board, would be an ideal fit for her because she is passionate about school choice and one of the board’s functions is evaluating inter-county transfers.

“Julie (Baker) has some amazing accomplishments, the Center for the Arts is important, but I think what I do for families and helping families is more important,” Hudek said, emphasizing in her closing statement the value of guidance regarding COVID-19. She said she believes Baker, who is originally from New York, “has some New York values,” while she herself is originally from Nevada County and comes from a family which has lived in the area for several generations.

In her closing statement, Baker responded, “For me, ‘New York values’ means that we get things done, we’re really straightforward, and we take care of each other.” However, Baker said, she believes she understands the Nevada County community. “I’ve worked here for 22 years, I’ve built businesses here, I’ve run nonprofits here,” she said, adding that her family also has longtime ties to the area.


Ashley Neumann, a medical sales professional and current member of the board representing Area II — Clear Creek, Grass Valley, and Ready Springs School Districts — since 2016, said Thursday that COVID-19 and the reopening of schools stand out as priorities going forward.

“That’s going to be the number one issue for us, doing it in a healthy way that accommodates everybody — Individualized Education Program and special needs families, gifted families, working families who are close to homelessness and can’t distance learn without falling into homelessness,” said Neumann. She added that another prominent issue facing the board would be “helping fight institutionalized racism, but doing it in a historically accurate way without bias,” noting having observed that historical events such as the 1921 Tulsa race massacre and the Trail of Tears were either minimally covered or absent in locally used history textbooks.

When asked what in her background would help in making decisions on the board, Neumann said she has presented at Earle Jamieson Educational Options and the county juvenile hall, as well as worked with victims of sex trafficking — experiences she credits as giving her valuable perspective on the needs of vulnerable student communities.

Timothy May, a retired educator running for a potential first term as Area II trustee, agreed that the pandemic and reopening of schools are urgent issues in education at this time. However, he expressed — and reiterated multiple times during the forum — that he believes it is important for the Board of Education to remain focused on things within its purview.

“What the county board does is overview the budget, and that provides much needed services for these local school districts,” said May, adding that some of the top priorities in this area include assisting internet accessibility, extending programs addressing nutritional needs, and countywide efforts to support students and their families through childcare and counseling.

“The county Board of Education does not have a role in determining the policies of the local school districts,” he said. “So when we start talking about textbooks, curriculum, or if they should have this platform or that platform, that is not our role.”


Retired educators Susan Clarabut and Louise Benicoff Johnson, both of whom currently represent Trustee Area I — Chicago Park, Nevada City, Penn Valley, Twin Ridges, Union Hill, and Camptonville Union School Districts — are running to continue in their positions, while Peggy Delgado Fava, founder of youth nonprofit Bridge Network, seeks a first term. Voters will elect two out of the three.

Fava said COVID-19 is the top issue facing education, and shared several messages she has received from parents detailing difficulties with distance learning, including issues of internet connectivity, children’s social interaction, and organization of assignments. “I deal with youth in crisis, and I have never dealt with so many youth in crisis as I have today,” said Fava.

Fava said her status as an “outsider” to the education system would be a positive addition, and that diversity of thought is essential for the board, in particular with regards to voicing the concerns of marginalized communities.

Clarabut, who has worked in the Chicago Park and Grass Valley school districts and served as assistant superintendent in the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Office, said school budgets are a looming issue. “Budgeting in times of deferment is very complicated, and those of us who have been in education for a long time have gone through this before,” she said.

Clarabut said she is set apart by her knowledge through experience with schools and budgets as well as her spirit for collaboration.

Johnson said fiscal solvency for the county’s schools will require strict guidance and oversight, to which she is prepared to contribute. She said the board often receives very technical financial materials which she has years of experience reading, interpreting, and using to make good decisions.

“We’ve had a little reprieve with the governor’s budget, but because of declining enrollment and the lack of state tax money, we’re expecting significant budget issues in all of our schools in the next three to five years,” said Johnson, who most recently retired as superintendent of Nevada Joint Union High School District.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at

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