Shoreline race draws spirited candidates

10/10/2018

Each of the four new candidates vying for a seat on the Shoreline Unified School District board—two mothers, a retired school bus driver and a young graduate—promised to reinvigorate board leadership at a candidates’ night on Tuesday, describing their visions for the district to provide leading education and opportunity. 

Absent from the conversation was Tim Kehoe, a third-generation rancher and longtime incumbent, who will run against the four newcomers for two seats next month.

The moderator, a member of the League of Women Voters, read selected questions from the roughly 30 community members who attended as well as those provided beforehand by Shoreline’s parent-teacher-student association. The event was not translated. 

To reach the northern part of the district, the league will hold a second event next Monday, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. at Tomales High School.

Mr. Kehoe told the Light in an email that he was absent because he “had a conflict with something.” He submitted a statement for the league to read that highlighted his experience with finances, facilities and impact aid. 

Mr. Kehoe’s statement also pointed to successes. During his 17 years as a board member, two bond measures that generated funds for facility improvements across the district’s five campuses were passed. Emphasizing his continued focus on students, he made a commitment to “work as hard as I can for the district for the next four years.”

The audience got a better sense of the perspectives and personalities of Mr. Kehoe’s challengers, who braved the stage in the West Marin School gym to tackle a host of pressing concerns. 

On issues such as the achievement gap between Anglo and Latino students, the disconnect between the north and south ends of the district, and attracting and retaining qualified staff, the four were largely in agreement. 

Charlie Kain-Williams, a 26-year-old who grew up in Point Reyes Station and graduated from the University of San Francisco in 2015, said his concern about peers from Tomales High who did not walk with him was one of the reasons he chose to run. Better college preparation and counselors “who can really tell people that they have a unique background and can get scholarships, all of their schooling paid, if necessary” were among his priorities.

The other candidates echoed the importance of making college accessible to everyone. 

Capella Parish, a transplant from Sea Ranch whose son started at West Marin School last year, highlighted the importance of engaging families by having employees who are fluent in Spanish. 

Heidi Koenig, a longtime Inverness resident with two children in the district, agreed; she commended former principal Matt Nagle, who was bilingual and especially focused on Mexican-American achievement. 

Leslie Scott, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy and has lived in the area for two decades, including as a district school bus driver for nine years, said she had one word: “Scholarships.”

A disconnect between the north and the south? All the candidates agreed that better integrating the northern end—Tomales and Bodega Bay, which they described as more remote—was key. 

As far as addressing the needs of teachers and employees, everyone voiced a desire to scrutinize the school’s budget in order to determine how to squeeze out more for salaries.

Ms. Scott took it a step further, referencing the one-day wildcat strike that six of the district’s seven bus drivers participated in last November. 

At that time, 20 of the district’s 50 classified employees missed school in protest of long-stalled negotiations between their union and Shoreline’s administration over a failure since 2013 to raise salaries and over possible cuts to health benefits.

“It wasn’t about the money, though money would have helped, from what I understood,” Ms. Scott said about the bus drivers in particular. “It was the sense that the department was not being managed well, that they were not being supported in their work. It’s the sense of support.” 

Many questions allowed the candidates to take a bird’s eye view on their hopes for the district. Why do you want to serve on the board? What sets you apart? Your vision? And, how can parents better understand the board’s process of decision-making?

Though it is Ms. Scott’s official slogan, the responses from all four candidates together sung the same tune: “Openness, transparency and trust…for a change.” 

Their message comes after a year of turmoil for Shoreline, one full of criticism over the board’s leadership. 

In addition to concerns from the classified staff, conflicts centered around Mr. Nagle, whom the board demoted to an elementary teaching post at Bodega Bay School this year despite vocal opposition to the unexplained non-renewal of his contract. Mr. Nagle had created a stir this spring when he ran against the longstanding county superintendent of schools. Citing a lack of transparency, parents circulated a vote of no-confidence in the board and Superintendent Bob Raines at the end of the last school year. 

“There is a need for someone that people in West Marin can really trust,” said Ms. Koenig, who attended many board meetings throughout last year and was vocally critical. She cited her community involvement and experience with the school as strong suits. A former board president for the Dance Palace, Ms. Koenig has organized baseball and basketball teams and served on West Marin School’s site council.

Ms. Parish is relatively new to the area, but also attended many board meetings last spring and was vocal about her need as a parent for more communication from the board. With a background in firefighting and emergency medical services, she describes herself as a community activist with a knack for conflict resolution. 

“My deep passion is community involvement,” she said on Monday. “One of the things I’ve learned as a parent in another school district is that if you don’t take the time to be involved in your community, your community is going to happen without you.” 

Ms. Scott, who retired in 2014 and described her desire to join the board as a way to reconnect with the school, said her previous relationship with the school was a strength. 

“My vision is to improve on the past. There are many problems that we should be working on, and there is no reason why Shoreline couldn’t be one of the top school districts in terms of academic performance—we can make it great,” she said.  

Mr. Kain-Williams, who has a business degree and works as an account executive at a Berkeley-based customer service company, was candid about his lack of governing experience. But he has “a burning  desire” to learn, and emphasized that his fresh eyes were exactly what would make him a uniquely valuable trustee. 

“My interest, like I mentioned, is really to be a voice for the students. What I experienced out here is that there is a really tight-knit community that really supports people. This is a unique thing and students are poised to be successful, to be uplifted. It would be very fulfilling for me to serve the community that served me so well,” he said.

He said he was clued into technology and the job market, and would be a resource for students, to whom he planned to conduct outreach, along with parents. 

Answers to the question of whether the candidates were prepared to stand their ground, especially in situations where perhaps they stood alone, were crowd-pleasers. 

“The obvious example of this is my age, of my commitment to do this,” Mr. Kain-Williams said to chuckles of agreement from the audience. 

Ms. Parish said she was raised to take on confrontation, “to keep her head cool and listen—a skill we all need a little more of around here.” 

Ms. Koenig said she thought the board members were all reasonable people, “not just sheep,” and that no decisions could have full community support. 

“I eat that kind of thing for breakfast,” Ms. Scott said.