CUSD race not so elementary, dear voter

Five distinct candidates vying for two seats on Chico school board

Rick Anderson has spent 13 years on the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees. He decided not to seek re-election, and he knows the work that lays ahead for all five members: three carryovers and one (if not two) newcomers.

“It’s going to be challenging,” he said, “because Sacramento is fundamentally broken. We have unintended consequences of term limits, redistricting and the way the parties control—or don’t control—what’s going on down there. Even if we come out of it economically, we need to change how things are done.

“In public education,” he continued, “things are very challenging [already], and Chico has declining enrollment and financial challenges. We’re in for a tough one.”

That is the stark backdrop before which the current board president seeks a second term and four challengers seek their first. Each candidate sat down with the CN&R to discuss their campaigns, issues facing CUSD and why each wants one of the two available seats.

Jann Reed
Reed’s four years on the board, including 2008 as president, have been particularly eventful. In that time, CUSD has hired two superintendents, closed four elementary schools, signed off on three charter schools, decided not to build the third high school funded by hard-fought bond funding … and has gone into “negative certification” financially and “program improvement” academically.

Nonetheless, she sees Chico schools going down the right path, particularly when the probationary status gets placed in context.

Jan Reed

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

“We are doing amazing things,” she said. “Unfortunately we’re on program improvement, but that’s a misnomer based on how the kids are doing. [No Child Left Behind testing requires] every subgroup has to be proficient in every subject, and we know that’s not possible. There are a whole host of issues people deal with in their educational process.

“Because we are in program improvement,” she continued, “we get more money from the state. In some ways, we are benefiting from being in this unfortunate situation….

“Our kids are still getting accepted to major colleges across the United States. Our kids are able to get jobs right out of high school, do well at Butte College. The right things are happening.”

Reed has received some criticism over school closures. Three years ago, she voted against closing schools, but once “I made my statement, there was no majority on which to close; I needed to make a determination on what’s better,” which she decided meant Nord and Jay Partridge.

She said she’d have preferred to make other cuts. “Nice irony,” she said—“many of the savings I identified at the time were eliminated from later budgets,” such as when the district faced an $8.5 million deficit this year.

Reed is particularly encouraged by the Professional Learning Communities that came together last fall, soon after Kelly Staley replaced 22-month Superintendent Chet Francisco. She also is pleased that the district, encouraged by response at its public forums, is improving facilities at the two comprehensive high schools.

“Building up Chico [High] and Pleasant Valley and making them the pride of our community is what we should be doing,” she said, adding that if the third high school had been constructed, “we’d be in a really bad situation … because we’d have the same amount of money now and Canyon View High School.”

Liz Griffin
Griffin, like Reed, received the endorsement of the Chico Unified Teachers Association. Perhaps it’s because she’s been there, done that, and felt the pain of a budget-strapped district.

Liz Griffin

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

A 1988 graduate with honors from Chico State, Griffin got hired by CUSD to start an Advanced Placement program at Chico High … and subsequently pink-slipped. She applied to law school, and though she got asked back to teach five junior high classes, she opted to take another career path.

“Classroom management … would churn me up inside,” she said, recalling her frustration at trying to make lessons exciting for the majority of students eager to learn when “four in the back subvert” her efforts.

She since has served as a court-appointed advocate for foster children, instructor with the Parent Education Network and head of Butte County Foster Care Licensing Program. Griffin now works as school readiness coordinator for First 5 of Butte County.

“How I distinguish myself from other candidates is my whole life I’ve been interested in education and how the system works,” she said. “I have insight into how problems are resolved in the system and how to tackle them. I can see things from the perspective of teachers and people who don’t like unions … and I can see the administrative piece.”

Griffin, mother of two Chico High graduates, has been a fixture at recent board meetings. Citing as an example the recent discussion over binding arbitration requested by employees, she pledged to “look at the big picture” and do her “due diligence” to “get the full picture of all parties.”

“Other candidates, it seems to me, got involved for a particular issue or have an axe to grind,” she said. “I’m fearful of some of the ideas put forth by my opponents.”

Jjon Mohr

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Jjon Mohr
Mohr is no stranger to the political arena. He’s run for City Council twice—the first time after hitting a City Hall roadblock when he wanted a stop sign at an intersection where one of his kids got hit by a car. He lost, but the sign went up.

Retired after 27 years with Pacific Gas & Electric, he owns and operates Mohr Sound. Mentoring youth is his passion, though, exemplified by two decades as a scoutmaster and seasons of support of Pleasant Valley athletics.

Mohr and his wife, Dianne, have 11 kids: five biological, two foster children they intend to adopt, and four foster kids who are now adults. Their house in PV’s neighborhood has an open-fridge policy, which Mohr estimates costs him $60 a week in 30-cent burritos.

“If people voted me in, I would be the eyes and the ears of every kid,” he said. “When they explain their toilets aren’t working, I’ll go out there and see myself, then I’ll find out whose job it is and I’ll make it right….

“The reason I’m running, straight up, is our kids have taken a back seat to the adults. I expect to pay teachers well—I haven’t had a teacher who’s taught my kids who hasn’t done good work. To have a district employee making 100-, [1]20-, [1]30-, [1]45-, [1]50-, [1]90-thousand dollars, that’s money going away speedily in a place that doesn’t touch kids.”

For those salaries, he blames both the board and employees who accepted them. At candidate forums, he’s called for—by name—the resignation of the superintendent and top administrators. He demands change.

“What I’ve already seen and what people have brought to me is a call to action,” he said. “I owe it to the people who put me there to bring it up. I also owe it to the people who put me there to find a solution….

“If I lay an egg, I’ll sit on it. If what I think gets proven otherwise and I learn otherwise, I’ll back up. People will forgive that. What people won’t forgive is if you ride it to the ground.”

David Pollak

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

David Pollak
Pollak is a quintessential Chicoan. He came to town 22 years ago to attend Chico State, and he’s been here ever since. He works for Capital Beverage Co. as a sales manager. His wife is a teacher with the Butte County Office of Education.

They have three daughters—two at Chico High, one on the way there in a couple years. He’s a fan of Panthers athletics (i.e. the field hockey team for which his daughters play), and while cuts to school sports concern him, he insists they’re not the impetus for his candidacy—“my agenda is only to look at all issues from all sides,” he said.

“Over the last couple years watching the school district struggle, my way to give back to the community is to run for office. To talk [badly] about people without knowing why they’re doing things that way is irresponsible. I’m a level-headed person—I think the school district needs someone like that to build trust … and break down distrust with good, honest integrity.”

That includes facing hard questions.

Pollak admits he hasn’t attended meetings regularly. He missed the last two because of field hockey games—his children are his first priority, and he acknowledges the school board would reduce his time with them.

“That has been an issue in my house,” he said. “I think I can find a happy medium there. If there’s a meeting, I’ll miss a game or recital to make this community better. By making this community better, I’ll make my family better.”

Zane Schreder

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Zane Schreder
Schreder has a distinct vantage point on education. He comes from a family of teachers and is married to a teacher. As a school project manager for the past 10 years, he has contracted with districts up and down the North State—getting looks at the inner workings of K-12 academia.

“A lot of these districts are smaller [than Chico Unified] but you still can learn from everyone,” he said, “and a lot of these districts have components of issues Chico Unified has, and you can learn from their successes and failures.”

A success he’s seen is “win-win negotiations” in which salaries are set by a formula based on what the state gives the district, so each side bargains over other priorities (benefits, vacation, extracurriculars, etc.). “Everything is out on the table—it’s an open process.”

He continued: “I have a unique opportunity because I can see what other districts are doing and get 12 to 15 opinions on something.”

Along with advocating the options for parents afforded by charter schools, Schreder has zeroed in on Chico school facilities. He decries what he sees as “paralysis by analysis” regarding the 1998 bond measure, which he says has lost half its buying power over the decade most of the funds stayed in limbo.

“I believe spending on high school projects is good for the students,” he said. “The big question I would have is they have the new performing-arts building [at PV] and a two-story classroom building for Chico High, [but] what are the new projects going to consist of and when will they start planning?

“We already have the money. It doesn’t have anything to do with the district budget. The longer we wait, the less facilities we’ll get.”