“We have one of the highest paid superintendents in the state of California, so why are test scores continuing to tank? “ – Alex Welling
By Miriam Raftery
November 25, 2023 (El Cajon) – In an exclusive interview, Alex Welling, candidate running for the Trustee area 5 seat on the Cajon Valley Union School District board of trustees, speaks out. He’s concerned about respecting parents’ rights, increasing transparency, improving low standardized test scores, and holding staff accountable. He has also called for an audit of district finances.
He’s a conservative challenging board chairman Jim Miller; both are Republicans. Welling has a master’s in legal studies as well as bachelor’s degrees in political science and government. He’s the communications manager of wildfire resiliency for SDG&E and previously served a public communications officer for SANDAG and as field director for the American Action Network devoted to free market principals. He’s also served on the city of Chula Vista’s board of ethics.
Q: Can you start by telling us more about yourself—do you have children in the district? What got you engaged and concerned about policies in the district?
A: I grew up in between homes in Chula Vista and El Cajon. I’ve got family in both cities. In 2017, my wife and I had just had our first child,, decided to move back into East County. Right now we’re on the border of Spring Valley and Rancho San Diego, right off of Jamacha and 94. . .
Prior to moving,.I realized our son was getting of age to start going to school. My wife and I were both raised in public schools so it’s definitely important to us to make sure they have a quality education and have that kind of same experience that we did, and I was concerned about test scores. Test scores were extremely low to the point where family and friends who live in different districts were trying to tell us that hey, maybe you could put our address wrong and send your kids to that district, which is not really the most ethical thing to do.
Q: Cajon Valley ranks tops in diversity, but in the bottom 50% for overall test scores, with only 34% in math and 49% in reading for2021—down sharply from 2014, when they were around 70% in math and around 85% in reading and language arts. This, even though spending rose sharply and is higher than the state median. What happened, and what would you do to bring those scores up?
A: Spending goes up, test scores go down. So I think the real question is where is the money going? ...The first action that I want to do as a member of the board of trustees is to call for an independent audit, because we need to be able to answer that question: Where our are tax dollars going and why are test scores continuing to tank?
Just in the past year, I’ve been made aware of and really dived into see where the tax dollars are going. They’re not going to the students. Just a few months ago, the district held a welcome back ceremony for the teachers, which I’m all for, you know, we need to celebrate our teachers. But we also need to make sure that they have the resources that they need to be able to succeed and to provide the students with the tools and resources that they need to lead successful lives later on.
Let me tell you this. The bill for that event was somewhere to the tune of about $360,000 for a one day event. They spent just over $100,000 on the Viejas Arena, about $150,000 on food, they spent about $14,000 on fireworks and around $10,000 for a sand artist to come in.
...It really comes down to asking the question: what are the district’s priorities,” Welling says, adding that the money could have spent on supplies or activities for children “so that teachers don’t have to spend money out of pockets.” He notes that a video of the event was “produced” to attract clicks and could have been done for less. “It just raises some red flags spending that much money on a single day event. We can better invest that money into our students while still giving our teachers the appreciation, the team building and everything else that they deserve because they are the people with our children eight plus a day; they have hard jobs and it’s important that we recognize that, but...the purpose of the district is to make sure that our children have the tools and resources that they need to succeed later on in life.
Q: What are your views on Cajon Valley’s World of Work Program, which Superintendent David Miyashiro rolled out, and he’s touted it all over the country..it’s teaching kids occupational skills, but is it coming at the expense of teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Can you do both, or should we take another look at that program?
A: I think you can do both. I think the World of Work program in concept is good. We need to make sure that kids have real world experiences, real world knowledge.” He recalls requirements to pass physics, chemistry and algebra II. “I’ve never used it in my life. I have learned being on the job in more in one day than I have elsewhere. So .it’s definitely important to bring occupational knowledge back into the classroom(while also providing math, English and other important subjects, he adds). My question is, what business does the district have getting into lending money to a private foundation with the hopes of possibly generating ap profit later on down the road?
My understanding is the district is taking taxpayer money, they are loaning it to the World of World Foundation, and the World of Work Foundation goes out to the world, to the nation and tries to sell this curriculum with a contractual obligation to try to make sure that a percentage of proceeds go back to the district to hopefully try make a profit.
But there’s an issue with that. Earlier this year, the World of Work Foundation requested a loan of over $300,000 to put on a conference for sports curriculums, and inviting staff, superintendents, and educators from across the nation to come to this conference...the foundation was required per the contract to repay the district the $300,000 plus within 60 days. That was back in March.
So the money was due in May, and the district still has not seen a return on their investment. They have not even received payback on the loan. So the question is where did the money go?
Q: Let’s talk about respect for parents. What are some of the ways in which you’ve observed the chair disrespect parents?
I don’t want to focus too much on Jim because I really want to stay focused on the issues in this district. But having talked to parents across this district...parents don’t feel that they are respected, that their opinions are respected; it seems when they get up and speak to the board, it seems that the board is distracted, there to hear but not really to listen...I’ve heard some have referred to parents as the peanut gallery.
Q: Miller once responded to children speaking up at a board meeting about concerns over mass shootings by donning a gun rights group hat and touting gun rights. Comments?
A: That’s a reflection on leadership. Leadership requires the ability to have respect for people you don’t agree with....but still being able to sit down with them and have a civil conversation. I remember reading your article about that board in particular; I am also a second amendment guy as a conservative Republican, but that is not the time or place for that sort of action.
Q: Do you have other ideas for keeping schools safe in this era of mass shootings?
A: Absolutely. Most of these mass shootings occur at soft targets where there is little to no security. So making sure that we have armed security at schools; I’ll go so far as to see teachers should be able to carry if they are able to meet certain requirements...maybe there is some additional training that could be applied....that’s also a conversation that needs to happen with parents, law enforcement and other stakeholders. That’s not a job that I can make by myself. My job as a board member is to listen to the concerns of the community and find a solution that best makes the needs of everyone. I don’t think that banning guns is the answer...The mental health crisis is the unspoken pandemic....it is more critical than ever...it’s important to remove the stigma of seeing a therapist.”
Q: Many parents were upset that the board has thus far refused to allow any public input in review of its Superintendent, David Miyashiro. What’s your assessment of the Superintendent, who has had some controversies, and do you believe the public’s voices should be heard in determining whether to renew his contract?
A: Absolutely and you know, the current bylaws state that the public should be involved in that process, which is why it’s so concerning that they’re trying to change the bylaws to basically cut the public out of the process.
For years, going back to when Jill Barto was on the board of trustees, she had been pushing per the bylaws for an official evaluation process, where there’s goal setting...and the public has a way to weigh in on what those goals should be. That has not been done, even up to today...skirting the bylaws and not maintaining any level of accountability for district staff.
Let me make it abundantly clear. The role of the board of trustees is not only to look out for the best interests of the children that they are serving, but also to hold staff accountable, and that has not been happening. In fact it seems almost as if the superintendent has control of the board...That needs to change. That relationship needs to flip.
If you were a CEO of any corporation and the profits were tanking for five years, that board of directors would fire you...We have one of the highest paid superintendents in the state of California, so why are test scores continuing to tank?
Q: We have seen in some school districts across the nation recently efforts to restrict teaching of critical race theory, banning books and restricting counseling services for LGBTQ students. Where do you stand on some of those controversial issues?
A: Book bans, I’m not the biggest fan of that term because it’s not necessarily what’s going on. It’s more along the sense of removing materials that are not appropriate for children at elementary school age. Just like they have movie restrictions at movie theaters, my rule of thumb is if it’s pornographic...if I can’t read it in public or show it in public, it does not belong in the classroom. It’s that simple.
When it comes to CRT, critical race theory, I think the operative word there is theory. It is not an academically proven subject...in many cases it seeks to do the opposite of what it’s trying to create...it’s trying to bring sense to racism and bigotry ...but at the same time, it also separates people into classes. We are all the United States of America. The key word there being united. WE are all free; we all have the same rights and it’s important to focus on equality rather than diminish someone’s education, someone’s opportunities based on the color of their skin or where they are from. It’s just simply unfair.
Q: Does that run a risk of repeating wrongs of history if we don’t teach about it, whether it’s the Holocaust or slavery, or what happened to Native Americans?
A: Absolutely. In my experience growing up and going through the public education system, all those things were taught. I learned about all the bad things and if you don’t learn about history, you’re doomed to repeat it. I definitely think those things should be taught and we should not censor those things. I’ve heard calls that we should censor certain dark parts of United States history when it comes to slavery and that’s not acceptable. (He also opposes censoring teachings about World War II and the Holocaust.) “That’s not necessary. Look what’s happening in Israel right now. That just breaks my heart. It’s a lack of accurate understanding of history. If you start sanitizing and censoring certain pieces of it, people aren’t going to see the full picture. It leads to what’s happening in the world right now.
Q: Who are your principal endorsements from?
A: I have a number of current and former board members throughout the East County area, East County Parents Alliance, Santee Parents for Choice.” He adds that former Supervisor Dianne Jacob, a former school board member, has endorsed him and offered help with his campaign, which he calls humbling. “She kind of has this approach to governing that I really admired, I want to emulate it, which is a community-based approach.”
Q: You were on an ethics board. Are ethical reforms needed in this district?
A: I think that there’s certainly some transparency reforms—making sure that the public has an idea of what’s going on...and making sure the public has a voice. So much of my career has been focused on public engagement, public policy processes, whether it’s a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project or a housing process, whether it has to go through environmental impact process or scoping review, making sure that the people who would be most impacted by these projects have a voice and a say in what the end result will look like. So it’s going out in the community. It’s knocking on doors; it’s inviting them to public open houses. It’s making sure that they don’t just feel like they’re involved in the planning process, but to actually have them involved.
That’s what I want to bring to the board of trustees, it’s that level of involvement and engagement, making these meetings more accessible so that more people can attend.
Q: What else would you like voters to know and where can they find information on your candidacy?
A: If you live in the district’s area 5, you can go to www.WellingforSchoolBoard.com; you can also find me on Facebook and Instragram. Really at the end of the day, my campaign is about the children and making sure that children have a voice in the process, making sure that parents know what’s going on with the school board and inside the classroom, and really designing this district around the students. Making sure that they have the opportunities, tools and resources to live successful and good lives. At the end of my goal, that’s the goal.
This is a nonpartisan race. I am Republican. I am a conservative. I am a Christian. I’ll be the first one to say it. But when I look at my kids, my son is turning 4 in a few weeks; my daughter’s turning 2. We have another boy on the way in March.
I want to be sure that they have the best education and I’m willing to fight for that, and I’m willing to fight for your children, too. Because at the end of day, these children are our future...I want what’s best for all of them. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re Republican, if you’re Democrat, what your skin color is, what your background is, what your income is, what your gender identity is. I want to be sure that your child has the best opportunity possible.