By Janis Russell
October 5, 2014 (San Diego’s East County)- Four candidates are running for the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District Board. They are incumbents Bob Duff, Jerry Lecko and Rick Winet, and newcomer David Chong in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. (See the district map: http://www.lmsvsd.k12.ca.us/cms/lib2/CA01001633/Centricity/Domain/184/MAP-Schools.pdf).
ECM spoke with Superintendent Brian Marshall about the issues the district is facing. Marshall cited the budget, implementation of academic and innovative programs, wages, and bringing technology into classrooms.
We invited all candidates to be interviewed. Three accepted; Winet did not respond by deadline.
Bob Duff is a native San Diegan who graduated from Hoover High and San Diego State University. He has served in the Navy, and was assigned Hospital Corps School and at Balboa Hospital as Hospital corpsman second class. He has taught at Midway Adult School, Bonita Vista High, and special education at the Grossmont school district. He has also spent 25 years at El Cajon Valley High as a work experience counselor, career counselor, grade level counselor, and then an administrative assistant. He assisted in the development of computer studies, and then taught computer assisted design and drafting and industrial science.
Duff has served on the board for 10 years, and has been on several committees with the city including a commission on aging for the city of La Mesa, a new and emerging technology committee, bond oversight committee and on the team for passage of Proposition D. He has also been vice chairman for the development of the police and fire department. He served on the Citizen’s Bond Oversight committee when the school district first approached him and chose him as a founding member, and then he was later elected as a board member. He is currently the IT webmaster and board member for Friends of the Library La Mesa, and he also develops DVDs on display in the library foyer.
Duff originally thought it was time for a younger person on the board, but decided to run for reelection after learning that current board member Bill Baber is running for La Mesa City Council; Duff thought it would be difficult to fill two vacant seats on the board. He also wants to be a part of financing the new performing arts program at La Mesa Middle School as well as financing other programs.
If he gets elected again, his main priorities will be to kill cyber-bullying and make sure schools are safe. He says he has also been an advocate for preschools and a new Spanish immersion school. Last year, K-5 schools became K-6 schools. He added that parents weren’t too fond of that decision, but it was a safety issue. Regarding the Spanish immersion school, Duff commented, “I feel kids who have a dual language do better in schools overall.”
As far as his values and beliefs, he says, “Having worked with what was once referred to as educable mentally retarded (EMR) with success in teaching, I feel every child can learn every day --our district motto. I believe in teachers. I feel our schools should and do provide a safe environment… I am strongly in support of teacher tenure.”
As far as the issue of lack of money, he states, “We need to remain frugal and place cautious priorities on how dollars are spent…. I am dead set against the parcel tax or any increase in taxes to the people.”
Asked what the biggest challenges the district is facing, Duff replied, “1) getting new programs going, 2) transportation; by law, we need special education transportation. It was stopped at middle schools, but they will have it for elementary schools.” But he added, “There’s a question of whether they can still afford it for the elementary schools.”
His relationship with the current board is “very strong. The entire board has endorsed me for re-election.”
Duff feels every endorsement is important. But the ones he cherishes the most are “Dr. Mark Arapostathis (La Mesa Councilman and teacher in the district), Senator Joel Anderson, Steve South (president and CEO of EDCO who has served on committees with Duff), all the LMSV board members, and Steve Babbit (a pastor who helps Duff creating the Friends of the Library website).
As for his accomplishments on the board, he is most proud of establishment of the October 2 week break for teachers to generate and update lesson plans, and more recently the move of 6th graders back to elementary school to make schools in the district K-6 again.
There are a few things he would likevoters to know. “My lovely wife, Judi and I, enjoy square dancing and choreographed ballroom [dancing] weekly. Second, I bicycle 60-80 miles a week with a group of great retired professionals. I like to invent and repair around the house. Most importantly, I love going to church and being with people.”
For more information on Duff, visit: http://smartvoter.org/2014/11/04/ca/sd/vote/duff_b/.
Jerry Lecko, who was appointed to the La Mesa Spring Valley School District board after Penny Halgren retired two years ago, hopes to be on the board again this fall.
He has been an East County resident for 34 years, has lived in La Mesa for 25 years, and he and his wife Lisa have been married for 34 years. He is a licensed architect. He and his wife have two kids, Kelly and Alex, both of whom went through the La Mesa Spring Valley school district from kindergarten through 8th grade and graduated from Helix Charter High School. Kelly is currently in outdoor education in Virginia while Alex is expected to graduate from the University of the Pacific in 2015.
Lecko and his wife have both been heavily involved in the district as volunteers, and Jerry has held many positions such as middle school PTA president, School Site Council member, representative to the District Advisory board, and more.
Jerry also added, “I have known the Superintendent [Brian Marshall] for 10 years,” adding that he’s attended many board meetings through the years.
He considers running for reelection as a way to give back to the community. “Putting my hat for the appointment, I knew I had to run in November 2014.”
He values kids, community, character and commitment as his guiding principles. “Kids should be the driving force of all decisions. There’s a sense of community in the district; I want to continue that strong community,” he said. As for character, he notes, “The governance team (made up of the Superintendent and the governing board] should govern with integrity, honesty, transparency, a sense of cooperation, and respect.” As far as commitment, Lecker said, “Teachers go above and beyond their contractual obligations. We as a board should have a sense of commitment to teachers, to create a healthy environment for students and teachers.”
He views the lack of money as a Sacramento problem. “The Superintendent and administrative team have done a great job in helping” to manage funds that they have, he stated, adding, “Sacramento owes the district money.”
The biggest challenge the district is facing right now is “"less money is going to the classroom because the state is requiring school districts to put more money into the state's teacher retirement fund," he said. “This will put a damper on the 2020 vision, class size reduction, impact on technological upgrade/facilities’ maintenance, and educational programs.”
His relationship with the board is good. “We respect each other. We all have our strengths.”
He is most proud of being approachable and interactive with parents, teachers, staff, and administration to achieve his goal to be an engaged and informed board member in representing the diverse communities and making appropriate decisions affecting students’ learning experience.
As far as important endorsements, he responds, “I was honored to have the support from the PTA presidents and parents, support from La Mesa Spring Valley Teachers’ Association, and support (classified) staff.” On the political side, he names La Mesa Councilmembers Mark Arapostathis and Ernie Ewing, La Mesa Vice Mayor Ruth Sterling, former La Mesa city councilmember Dave Allen, and Barbara Warner , Spring Valley community advocate.
He would also like readers to know that “I’m really enjoying serving on the board. It’s an honor and a privilege, and a growing experience for me. I love team work on the board and throughout our district. I would like to encourage the community to vote.”
For more information, go to: http://www.lecko2014.com/home.html and http://www.smartvoter.org/2014/11/04/ca/sd/vote/lecko_j/.
David Chong has a background in education and is a published author of 13 books. He also has a background in business management and homeland security. He moved to San Diego in 2006 and accepted a job as the Safety, Environmental and Health Manager for the Southern California region with an international company. He is now the founder and president of a successful local business. He has served as PTA president for two terms at Casa De Oro Elementary, and he still serves on the PTA Board. He has volunteered with his wife at the school and district levels, and his three children are going through the LMSV School District.
LMSV School Board Member Bill Baber approached Chong and invited him to run. “I was honored and excited,” Chong says. “I have seen young lives transformed and in some cases even life trajectories altered in our schools. I would love to offer my skills and expertise to further enrich the excellent learning environment offered in the LMSV District, especially during these challenging economic times.”
If he gets elected, his main priorities will be fiscal responsibility, which is especially important, but first quality of education, as well as safety and security for children at the schools. “We can no longer assume that schools are a safe haven, yet many of our nation’s campuses are less secure than the local landfill,” Chong states. He also would like to continue to cultivate the district’s leadership in academic programs, including the Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) program at Spring Valley Middle.
He differs from the incumbents and competitors in a few areas. He is the only person from Spring Valley that is running, he is the only published author, and he is the only one with a safety and security background.
Asked his views on the district currently, he stated, “I’m excited that the increase in enrollment of enhanced learning opportunities are well received.” He added that these programs are budget neutral; they are paying for themselves through enrollment. “This means we’re a magnet,” he noted, but added, “I’m very concerned with the need for responsible leadership with new burdens to increase funding levels on the state’s retirement program.”
For the issue of lack of funds in the district, Chong says that with each enrolled student, the district gets more money from the state budget. He added, “I don’t want to see sacrificing educational growth in the name of budget cuts. As increased enrollment brings in the state budget funds, families can contribute to the local economy… Growth will only be one component of a comprehensive budget strategy, but along with responsible management of the District’s new ‘general fund’ budget structure, wise spending and continued collaboration with our dedicated employees, the District will not only survive, but thrive in this economic climate.”
He feels the current board “does a good job” but believes that “members of the Spring Valley and El Cajon communities do not have a representative on the board.” He hopes to fill that gap.
Chong believes there are other challenges the District is facing right now with its students. “We have many other issues facing the District, from implementation of the new Common Core standards to state-mandated gender-neutral bathrooms. There are also exciting opportunities for enhanced instruction, as the La Mesa Arts Academy, GATE and other programs lead the way in San Diego County.”
Safety and security is also an issue. Chong mentioned that one school had a lockdown because of a threat on campus just last month. “This must be addressed before a tragedy occurs.” There’s been some resistance to the common core standards, which is a new way of doing things. The goal is to have students think through the questions as they come up with the answers.
His key endorsements include LMSV board member Bill Baber, LMSV incumbent Rick Winet, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, El Cajon Councilmember Tony Ambrose, trustee Jim Kelly of the Grossmont Union High School Board, Senator Joel Anderson, and the Republican Party of San Diego.
Chong has these final thoughts for voters. “My ambition is to serve our community’s children. I already deeply enjoy the ways I can contribute to the children, and I have seen real results.” He has also been engaging with other parent volunteers, he concludes. “We can certainly partner with parents and help them be fully involved in their children’s education.”
Rick Winet, an incumbent, did not respond to our inquiry. You can find some information on Winet at the League of Women Voters’ Smart Voters website at http://votersedge.org/california/2014/november/la-mesa-spring-valley-elementary-school-district/candidates/board-member/12051-rick-winet#.VDlYSxbgW5I .