Election 
centers on 
Bolinas bond spending

David Briggs
Business consultant Christine Cunha is running for a seat on the Bolinas-Stinson school board, competing with three incumbents in an election that will present district voters with a $9 million school bond measure for facilities upgrades. Ms. Cunha, a mother of two, said she’s looking to expand her service to the community after years of engagement as a parent. 
08/21/2014

In the first contested election in eight years, a business consultant and mother of two will challenge three incumbents this November for a spot on the Bolinas-Stinson school board as the district readies itself for a facilities overhaul.

Christine Cunha, an active member of the Fiscal Oversight and Facilities Planning Advisory Committee since 2011, wants a seat on the board after becoming so “vested” in the process of putting a $9 million general obligation bond on this year’s ballot. After spearheading recent surveys to assess the facilities needs among staff and gauge community support from residents, she said she wants to do her part to see construction through to completion.

“I attended a lot more board meetings in the last few years and I’ve been involved in a number of committees at the school,” said Ms. Cunha, who is also overseeing the installation of the Stinson Beach Preschool’s portable classroom. “I feel like I’m ready to offer a greater level of service to the community.”

During the current period of transition in the district, the three sitting board members—Jennie Pfeiffer, Steve Marcotte and Nate Siedman—stressed a need for continuity as a new superintendent and principal take the helm, a bond measure is headed to voters, curriculum changes will be implemented under Common Core standards and the preschool moves to another part of campus. 

While all four candidates share the same general goals of providing the best education possible for local children, their approach to the bond measure and spending priorities has been more nuanced and individual.

Ms. Pfeiffer, a specialist in the school’s art program for two decades before she joined the board in 2006 (so she has “some insight into what’s tried and true, and what was tried and truly didn’t work out,” she says), is advocating that the district take a much longer timeline into account when asking voters for money. Climate could lead to stronger storms and tidal surges that could flood the coastal towns and their schools. “I would like to see our local organizations, educational institutions and nonprofits come together to work with our organic farms to help provide options,” one of which could be purchasing land from Star Route Farms to have sustainable and healthy food, additional programs and space to build up on higher ground. “While I don’t feel it’s necessary to be an alarmist,” she said, “I do feel it would be prudent to take this matter seriously and consider what future scenarios might look like before we spend large sums of money on remodeling our campuses.”

Mr. Marcotte, a firefighter and Bolinas native whose daughter is entering sixth grade, has also been on the board since 2006. “Pragmatic” and unafraid to be “the lone voice” at times, he cast the sole dissenting vote against placing the bond measure on this year’s ballot. He feels the board has not yet heard enough input from the wider community about what they hope the bond measure will fund, and hopes to bring in “a broad spectrum of people,” hear from the staff and consult with experts before construction begins. “I just want to be sure the money is spent effectively and efficiently,” he said.

Nate Siedman—an attorney and lifelong resident who graduated from the school, whose father was president of the board and who now has a child in kindergarten—wants to see the bond used to “modernize” the campuses by retrofitting for earthquakes, ensuring compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and expanding educational programs, particularly with upgrades to technology and a possible science lab. “We have to address the new state standards for curriculum while keeping an emphasis on local priorities: small class sizes, green education and educating students to be productive citizens and not just rote learners,” he said.

After preparing and studying the survey results, Ms. Cunha thinks the bond needs to strive for “facilities that will enhance student learning for the next 30 years,” like a science lab that could bolster teaching opportunities in science and math. But before she makes up her mind about any priorities, she said she wants to hear more community input. “If I were to become a board member, it’s my job to represent our community,” she said.

Either way, “I think no matter which path unfolds for me, it will work out,” she added. “It might not come to pass this time, but I’ll find some way to be involved.”

The November ballot will also feature a tax measure for upgrades to the county’s emergency radio system. 

Candidates for the Bolinas Fire Protection District (Anna Gade and Sydney Bass), Stinson Beach Water District (Jim Zell and Larry Baskin) and Mesa Park District (Angie Calpestri, Charles Whitefield and Victoria Maier) will not appear on the ballot, since the races were uncontested.