Six compete for three seats in San Dieguito Union district
By Karen Billing
In one of the more competitive races on the Nov. 2 ballot, the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) has six candidates vying for three open seats. To help voters make an informed decision, the League of Women Voters held a candidate forum on Oct. 13 at Torrey Pines High School. Candidates Barbara Switzer Groth (incumbent), Amy Herman, Sandra Timmons, John Salazar and Andrew Brown participated in the forum. Candidate Rick Shea did not attend the forum because he was out of the country.
About 30 people were in attendance at the forum and submitted questions for the candidates. The tight and challenging budget was brought up as one of the biggest issues the incoming board members will face and they were asked how they would address making cuts.
Timmons said that cuts need to be made as far away from the classroom as possible and every program, be it football or band, needs to be considered equally. She said that, overall, the district has been doing a good job in trimming wherever possible without impacting students.
“There’s no fat to cut, guys,” she said. “You can’t get blood from a turnip.”
Groth agreed with her assessment and said they know the situation is going to be “horrible” but that the cuts will continue to be a shared pain.
Herman said as they go through the process of cuts, programs need to be kept in place that offer students the best education and keep them safe.
“Each school has to look at their priorities and keep funding activities that engage all students,” Herman said.
Salazar said it’s a board member’s job to make tough cuts and “stand up to the heat.” He said that the district would have to be creative and continue to look for ways to bring in money, such as advertising.
‘The unfortunate reality is that advertising is more and more prevalent in our lives and schools may have to take advantage of that. I’m open to it,” Salazar said. “We have to look at reality and the reality is we need money. But it has to be tasteful.”
Brown said he doesn’t mind advertising on playing fields or scoreboards but he “doesn’t want it all over the place.”
Timmons said they have to be careful with advertising because school is not a voluntary process and the children have to be there.
“We have to be careful about selling them short.” Timmons said. “More money is always lovely but our students’ success is what’s important.”
Groth said they have approved advertisements on fields but they all face inward. The people who see them are attending events voluntarily. She said that she does not want to see product placement all over campuses.
The candidates were asked about political endorsements and their place in school board elections as the Republican Party is endorsing Salazar and Brown.
Groth said that it’s important for board members to remain non-partisan so that they can act without an agenda.
“I’m not concerned about endorsements as long as the school board members can focus on student achievement once they get into the board room,” Timmons said.
Salazar said he doesn’t see a problem with people knowing he’s a Republican in a non-partisan election.
“It’s OK with me if people know I’m a Republican,” Salazar said. “ I’m proud of it.”
Brown said that while he is a Republican, his political affiliation does not affect the way he serves on the school board, as he has shown in his experience at Cardiff.
One question for the candidates was aimed at Brown and Salazar about an automated telephone call asking for people’s votes for Brown and Salazar. The questioner said that the call mentioned that the current board’s “fiscal mismanagement and budget bloating has plagued the district.”
While Salazar said that the language used in the question was inaccurate, he said he does strongly advocate for fiscal responsibility.
“I am concerned that money goes to students and not to bureaucracy,” Salazar said.
In response to the claims of bloating and mismanagement, Groth said the board prides itself on transparency and all the budget materials used are online. She said the current administrative costs are running below the recommended budget.
“I really don’t see bloating or mismanagement, we do our best with what we get,” Groth said.
About the candidates
A 12-year member of the San Dieguito board and its current president, Groth, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, previously served on the Rancho Santa Fe School District board for four years. Groth also works as the business manager of her husband’s medical practice.
Groth is a San Diego native and “proud graduate” of San Dieguito Academy, where she met her husband. Her two children graduated from Torrey Pines High School.
Groth said the district is running like a “lean machine” — she said in uncertain times she and the board have worked to keep cuts away from the classroom. She noted that despite the state’s dismal budget situation, the district has great teacher and kids, noting Canyon Crest Academy is tops in Academic Performance Index scores of high schools in the county and Carmel Valley Middle School has the highest API among middle schools.
“I’m very impressed with what we’re able to accomplish with how little we’re given,” said Groth. “We don’t whine here.”
Timmons, an Encinitas resident, had two children graduate from San Dieguito Academy. She has served as a PTA president at Park Dale Lane Elementary, president of the Encinitas Education Foundation, president of the San Dieguito Academy Foundation, and is on the board of directors for the San Diego Children’s Choir. Prior to her service in nonprofits, Timmons worked in the production of educational programming for KPBS-TV.
In preparing to run for the board, she said she has attended more than 10 board meetings and five workshops to learn about how the district’s budget works and the role of the board within the district.
“This is work I want to do,” said Timmons. “I want to represent our voters and advocate for our students.”
Herman said she moved to the Carmel Valley area 15 years ago because of the great schools. Her children attended Carmel Valley Middle School, Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest Academy. She was a founding member of the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation, a PTA president at Carmel Del Mar, a board member of Dollars for Scholars and co-chair of SDUHSD Legislative Action Network.
“I believe we have the best school district in San Diego and I would like to use my time, energy and experience to keep it that way,” said Herman.
Salazar, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, has lived in the district for 18 years. One of his three children attends Torrey Pines High School and he has worked as a substitute teacher at the school in addition to running his own business for 25 years.
In working at Torrey Pines he said he really came to appreciate how dedicated and talented the staff is and he is interested in being involved with the district and bringing some of his business expertise to the table,
“I want to help students, help schools and do the right thing,” Salazar said. “I want to ask the tough questions and challenge people to say ‘Why are we doing this this way?’ To say we always have done it this way in the past I don’t think is the right answer. I want to challenge the board to go a little further.”
Brown, an Encinitas resident born and raised in the district, currently serves on the Cardiff School District board. As a sports coach in the community for over 30 years he said he really loves the students here and wants to help create the best learning environment for them,
“I will be here to listen to you, I will be here to work for you and I do have experience,” Brown said. “I have a lot more to learn but I will take time to be on campuses, talking to parents and teachers. I would love to work with you.”
Shea, who did not attend the forum, is an Encinitas resident running in a slate with Herman and Groth. He has lived in the district for 40 years and is retired from his job as administrative services officer for the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools.
Shea was also the president of the Encinitas-Leucadia Town Council and served as councilmember and mayor of the city of Encinitas. His daughter is a San Dieguito graduate.