October 27, 2005
Points of contention
NoHum high school district race far from quiet
by HELEN SANDERSON
MORE THAN A FEW SLEEPY SCHOOL BOARDS across Humboldt County do not have enough people running to fill the vacated seats. The Northern Humboldt Union High School District is another matter. Eight candidates are scrapping for three spots on a school board that has often been at odds with itself.
Vying for the three seats are incumbent Sarie Toste, a former teacher and administrator, and challengers Don Avant, a retired hospital administrator; Shane Brinton, a student and writer/co-editor; Steve Cole, an engineer; Dan Johnson, owner of Danco Construction; Becky Kurwitz, a money manager for elderly and disabled people; Steve Lorenzo, a business owner; and Mike Pigg a real estate agent and former professional athlete.
The district runs two major county high schools --- Arcata High and McKinleyville High --- as well as two continuation schools and an adult education program.
In a more exaggerated repeat of the 2003 election, campaigning has revealed a rift between the contenders, with a conservative faction of supporters standing behind certain candidates --- namely Pigg, Toste and Johnson --- and progressives behind others, like Brinton, Avant, Cole and Kurwitz.
The divide has been attributed to, among other things, opposing political values between somewhat conservative McKinleyville constituents and liberal Arcatans.
While sexual education, declining enrollment and nutrition remain highlights and at times points of contention in board business, a debate on military presence boiled over into the ugly zone during a recent meeting.
A resolution, penned by Board Member Kathy Marshall, that would have kept recruiters on a tight leash on campus and allowed students to guard their private information from the military, was drastically revised and passed 4-1 at an Oct. 11 meeting, with Marshall dissenting. The debacle spurred harsh words from conservative board member Jim Welsh and random residents, and stirred current candidates to take a stance on the issue.
Shane Brinton, 18, the most active campaigner and arguably the most candid candidate, called Marshall's original resolution "amazing" and described the revision as "watered down."
In response to an e-mail query, Brinton, who recently graduated from an Arcata charter school, said that the option to opt out of military recruiter contact should be widely publicized by the board and administration.
"Right now our young people are being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice," Brinton wrote. "The least we can do is make sure that high school students have the information they need to make an informed choice."
Brinton touts his youth as an advantage.
"I know the strengths and weaknesses of our high schools. I've been in the classrooms, talked to the students and teachers and most importantly, I know the climate of today's schools."
Kurwitz and Avant both voiced their disapproval of military recruitment efforts.
Kurwitz, 64, a grandmother and past president of Mad River Youth Football, said that she was pleased that military recruiters must now sign in when on campus. However, she said recruiters should not be serving as tutors at NHUHSD high schools. Beyond that, she said that board meetings have become mired in bickering and that the trustees are losing sight of what's important: students' education.
Avant, 77, who has served on a number of public boards, kept it short and snappy.
"Nothing was resolved that meets the needs of the majority of the community," he said. "The board seemed to come to its decision on the basis of legalities. The issue should be revisited."
Lorenzo, 40, said he is running simply to volunteer his time and his past experience as a school board member, and that one of his top priorities is to reduce the pressure students experience from recruiters, colleges and trade schools. He offered an example.
"When I was in high school, a trade school told us that their school was located in an area that had a population of seven girls to every guy," he wrote. "This is a method of persuasion that is not appropriate."
Other candidates seem more centrist on the issue. In an e-mail, Dan Johnson, 41, said that he appreciated the board's hard work and that, more or less, the revised resolution appears sufficient, though it may be too early to judge.
"It seems to provide a clear choice and I think that is our basic responsibility," Johnson said.
Also opining somewhere in the middle was Cole, 60. In regards to the Oct. 11 meeting, he said the atmosphere was "acrimonious" but in general, the board does not seem overtly political.
"I have not noticed any more politics than I would expect in any public meeting," Cole wrote in an e-mail. "I would classify the current school board as conservative in their politics, but this in itself is not bad. One can be conservative in politics and still have the best interests of students at heart."
Other candidates' reasons for running have little to do with the recent debate over military recruiting or politics.
In campaign literature, Pigg, 38, stated that one of his top goals is to be a good listener and that he has no political ties or agendas.
Toste, 69, the sole incumbent, has supported the founding of a history program, an arts institute and an orchestra within the district. She said she believes the revised recruiting resolution is effective as it provides two opt out notices to parents.
"I feel that this issue has been resolved and that we as a board should move on to other issues" concerning education, she stated in an e-mail.
Detailed information about each candidate including endorsements can be found at www.smartvoter.org. l
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