By Robin N. Kendall
Photo, left: Joe Stupar
October 23, 2020 (Ramona) - In Ramona Unified School District, residents may vote for two candidates to fill seats on the school board. The four candidates are: Daryn Drum (Retired Firefighter), Dawn Perfect (Parent/Board Member), John Rajcic (Retired Educator/Businessman) and Joe Stupar (Chamber Executive Director).
Dawn Perfect (right) is the current President of the Ramona Board of Education and Daryn Drum is the Vice President/Clerk. This rural district serves approximately 5,400 students.
Beginning in early September, East County Magazine sent emails to candidates for school board trustee in East County school districts. Email addresses were obtained from the Candidate List published by the County of San Diego-Registrar of Voters.
Dawn Perfect and Daryn Drum (left) did not reply to our emails. John Rajcic and Joe Stupar did not directly answer the questions we sent, but did provide information posted below.
John Rajcic, challenger for Ramona School Board
Biography: John Rajcic is a retired Army colonel who says, “My personal philosophy is anchored in optimism. Life is like a coin you can spend it anyway you choose but you can only spend it once. Students must learn to think critically and choose wisely. Student interest trumps test scores.”
Rajcic has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota; a master’s from USC; and a doctorate from Claremont Graduate University. He also is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the Army War College. He taught at Woodbury College/University, Whittier College, Cal State Fullerton, UCI, Orange Coast College. He was responsible for the budget/finance at Newport Elementary School District and Orange Unified Schools. He was an assistant superintendent at Ocean View and deputy superintendent in Irvine.
The next few years will be a challenge not only for the Ramona Unified School District (RUSD) but all of our public and private institutions. First and foremost a solitary school board member can do very little but attempt to influence, unless they are in the majority. The majority is constrained by an unannotated Education Code that weighs 5.48 pounds. Then there are countless other statutes, policies, “stare decisis” and traditions that limit creativity and effectiveness at times.
The top three priorities for the School District:
1. Student and staff safety and security is a top priority. The District must provide a learning environment that is safe, healthy and secure. Technology should be fully exploited. Security technology today is greatly enhanced and less costly. The District should continue to practice security drills at times as they do fire drills.
2. The curriculum is a never-ending responsibility of the School Board. A board member must be an effective "cheer leader" for teachers and principals as they upgrade the technology that impacts on effective teaching. Students find their interest in a variety of subjects and student interest trumps test scores. There must be a balance between content and pedagogy. Values that are important to the community should be addressed in the curriculum.
3. Financing education programs are also a never-ending challenge. The budget singularly is the most significant policy statement made by the Board. The budget determines whose values shall prevail. Who gets what and why? Budget decisions are constrained by the 5.48-pound Education Code noted above. The School District does not levy a tax. This is a rarity and unusual. The County levies a 1% tax of which the District gets around 45%. The District receives 45% of its revenue through the State Apportionment and about 5% from the Federal Government.
Regardless of what one thinks of the voucher system or the amount of teacher/administrator compensation, the School District functions in a competitive environment. The RUSD location and teacher shortages are making it difficult for the RUSD to attract teachers; particularly, in some subject areas. Many teachers are retiring making the situation worse. It is important that the board encourage more effective online courses; knowing, the teacher makes the crucial difference.
Trustee Area Elections. I was under the impression that trustee areas were a go, as determined by the court. RUSD is still at large obviously; regardless, I functioned in school districts that had trustee areas and those that did not. School Boards in theory are nonpartisan. The critical difference is the attitude and outlook of a particular board member. When a person is elected from a trustee area or at large there is no guarantee that minority interests will or will not be fairly represented. I believe historically, in Ramona, minority interest were/are fairly represented. Merely, look at all the different schools and programs in the RUSD.
Distant learning, reopening schools and Covid-19 reopening protocol. From what I see and observe the RUSD is approaching the reopening/opening of schools cautiously and prudently. I do not know of a way the Board can please everyone. Parents have a variety of options and programs.
The 4 million budget cuts. The budget will balance if not by the RUSD Board, by the County or State. Working with The Teachers Association and Classified Employees- an employee freeze, encouraging early retirement, eliminate non-performing programs, sale of unused property and more must be considered.
Every life has equal value. Every person deserves a chance to live a healthy productive life. Education is a passport to the future. I will appreciate your vote. I will follow the Golden Rule.
Joe Stupar, challenger for Ramona School Board
Biography: Joe Stupar describes himself as, “Age is 53 and I attended Mesa and Miramar College studying Administration of Justice and General Education and eventually I was given a great opportunity to work for a big box company that was in its infancy and worked my way up to the management level as the company grew to one of the largest in the nation. After many years I was seeking an opportunity to both serve my community and have more work/life balance which led me to my position with the Chamber.”
As a resident of Ramona for 25 years it has been a distinct honor not just to live here but to be actively involved in the community both personally and professionally. I am currently the Executive Director of the Ramona Chamber of Commerce and have been personally involved in the development and awarding of local scholarships to the youth of Ramona at all ages. It has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. I am passionate about education as it has been a very personal part of my life. My mother was an educator for 34 years and I have seen firsthand how hard teachers work to provide for their students.
I believe I have the business and budget management skills that the Ramona Unified School District needs in the Board as our students embark on a new era of learning.
My real-world experience working for a big box corporation for 18 years ultimately put me in a management roll with a $60 million annual budget to maintain and over 150 employees expected to maintain a very high standard of efficiency, fiscal responsibility, workplace morale and interdepartmental collaboration.
Joe Stupar’s Statement
[Editor’s Note: The questions listed below were not the ones that ECM sent. However, some are on related topics.]
1. What do you consider to be the Ramona Unified School District’s top three issues and priorities in the next school year and how do you plan to address them?
Top issues are funding for enrichment and extracurricular activities, maintenance of facilities and continued support of student distance learning as it continues through 2021. To address these issues there needs to be a combination of transparency with regard to the current budget and initiative within the Board to research and support alternative methods of funding both from the County and the State. As for facilities, the well-being and health of our students must be a priority on all campuses.
2. Do you believe by-trustee-area elections ensure a fair election system that does not dilute the votes of minorities?
Trustee area elections certainly have the ability to exclude certain citizens, not all of whom are minorities. An open election with proper promotion ensures everyone has equal opportunity to vote for all the candidates that will represent Ramona Unified School District.
3. Do you believe the $12.3 million RUSD spent on solar upgrades at its facilities was money well spent?
The solar upgrades, while in the long term will keep electricity costs down and allow for the school district to bank energy, I am not 100% certain that was the most important facilities improvement at this juncture. The state of some of the classrooms, buildings and general campus areas across the district are concerning and many of the issues have needed to be addressed for years.
4. Has RUSD adequately addressed distance learning, a reopening plan and safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic?
RUSD has done an adequate job communicating the plan for students for this school year, but I think the plan for reopening continues to shift, at no fault of the district. As the governor and the County continue to shift where we fall in the tier system it is difficult to communicate all the information and avoid confusion. That said, I believe they have done the best they can with the resources at hand.
5. Is RUSD prepared to implement up to $4 million in budget cuts in the 2022-23 school year? Why will the cuts be needed?
This is a difficult question to answer without a full understanding of the entire budget and what has worked and what has not that has led up to budget cuts. I would be happy to provide and answer given all the information at my disposal.