Three seats, four candidates

One challenger joins three incumbents in school board race

School board candidates prepare for a League of Women Voters forum. From left to right: Kathy Kaiser, Tom M. Lando, Gary Loustale and Eileen Robinson.

School board candidates prepare for a League of Women Voters forum. From left to right: Kathy Kaiser, Tom M. Lando, Gary Loustale and Eileen Robinson.

Photo by Melissa Daugherty

This year’s Chico Unified School District board of trustees race is made up of mostly familiar faces, with three incumbents hoping to keep their seats.

The longest-serving, Kathy Kaiser, who’s been on the panel for the past dozen years, is seeking a fourth term. Meanwhile, Eileen Robinson, first elected in 2010, has served two four-year terms, and Gary Loustale is wrapping up his first term.

Their lone challenger? Tom M. Lando, the son of former Chico City Manager Tom Lando, but “my last name is not junior,” he’s quick to point out.

CUSD has a five-member board, rounded out by Elizabeth Griffin and Linda Hovey, whose terms end in 2020.

Here’s a little on each candidate on the November ballot.

Kathy Kaiser is a retired Chico State sociology professor. She lives in Chico with her partner and can often be found cheering for her grandchildren at school sports games.

Kaiser has worked in a local and state capacity (on the Chico State and CSU system academic senates) to connect the educational experience provided in kindergarten through 12th grades to college.

Kaiser was first elected as a trustee in 2006. Among her accomplishments, she noted having supported the upgrading of middle school science labs and technology district-wide, with students and computers on a 1:1 ratio. Parents stressed safety as being a No. 1 concern, so the school board took a “really important step” and put up fencing around all schools, she added.

Looking forward, CUSD is expecting to see student growth—its recently expanded middle schools are already full, and the school board is trying to address crowded elementary campuses. The board has to “really keep focused” on providing its incoming students with classrooms that allow them to learn in a hands-on capacity, she said.

Tom M. Lando, a teacher at Pivot Charter School North Valley, became motivated to run to repair what he sees as an underutilized, unhealthy relationship between the district and charter schools.

“We need a board that understands that [charter] process better and is willing to see charter school teachers … as advocates for their students,” he told the CN&R. He would like to see the district encourage teachers, whether at charter- or district-run campuses, to share best practices and provide more opportunities for professional development and transfer student success. He’d also like to explore a full-service community school model, in which campuses become a community hub, with health and social services.

Lando’s greatest concern is the performance disparity across CUSD elementary schools—test scores for English and math are low and decreasing, he said. “I’m kind of worried that it’s turning into a have-and-have-not situation,” he added.

Lando, a longtime Chicoan, graduated from Chico State in 2009 with a degree in political science and his teaching credential. He’s been teaching for five years, is married and has two kids.

Gary Loustale grew up in Tracy and has been the career tech educator and adviser for the Butte County Office of Education’s Computer Technology and Small Business Administration for 12 years. He is married and has three adult children.

If re-elected, Loustale said he’d focus on getting all kindergarten schools on a full-day schedule, so CUSD students can all start first grade on equal footing.

The state is pushing for schools to become college- and career-ready, so he wants to make sure CUSD is “providing many career pathways for students to experiment with” before graduating.

During his time as a trustee, Loustale supported making room in the budget to retain district elementary school counselors after a grant expired. He stressed that the board saw that as a critical service for young students. The board also has supported charter schools by making sure they were eligible to receive Measure K bond funding for facilities, security, transportation and athletic equipment. “That’s kind of rare for the state,” he said. “I was proud we did that, because their parents pay taxes, too.”

Eileen Robinson grew up on a small dairy west of Hamilton City, and has seven daughters (three of whom are step-daughters) and seven grandkids. For nearly 30 years, she was an attendance clerk at Pleasant Valley High School. After she retired in 2002, she had a hard time staying away from education, and was first elected to the school board in 2010.

During her tenure, Robinson has advocated for interest-based bargaining, a style of negotiations that looks at “solving a problem rather than winning a battle.” That process, recently used by the district and its employee and teachers’ unions, has led to “such a positive change.”

She’s been proud to support getting preschool started in the district, adding that she “can see already with our preschool programs how much more prepared our kiddos are as they get to kindergarten.”

If re-elected, Robinson said she will push for more educational flexibility (i.e., high school schedules and career-readiness), more training for teachers (to improve the learning experience for special education students in integrated classrooms), and more opportunities for parent involvement.

Robinson is also a Torres Community Shelter board member.