To say the Poway Unified School District Board of Education has had its hands full this year would be an understatement.
The five-person board grappled with investigating, firing and suing ex-superintendent John Collins, claiming he took $345,000 in excess pay. The board also selected and quickly lost Collins’ temporary replacement, lost several other top administrators to retirement and recently began a new school year.
Collins’ final year was marked by concerns about transparency, financial irregularities, conflicts of interest and self-dealing. A costly $1 billion bond deal made on Collins’ watch years ago, and the continual use of the consultants who helped craft it, also continue to dog officials.
But the tumultuous year didn’t dampen people’s enthusiasm for public office.
The candidates for the November school board race were recently finalized, and nine people will compete for two seats. Incumbent Kimberley Beatty is seeking re-election, while another seat held by longtime board member Andy Patapow will be vacated.
The nine candidates are:
owner of Athens Market Cafe
Poway school board member
school foundation volunteer
operations director at City Heights Prep Charter School
John “Chas” Moriarty,
retired elementary school principal
education and military advocate
Stanley “Stan” Rodkin,
retired mechanical engineer
The top two vote-getters districtwide will win. Here’s what the candidates had to say about the 36,000-student K-12 district and their bid for votes.
Why are you running for school board?
Nick Anastasopoulos: I am disappointed by the recent dysfunction of the board and the executive administration and, as a problem-solver, I hope to make the PUSD great again.
Kimberley Beatty: Public education is the foundation of democracy in ensuring a civically engaged and educated citizenry. Public education also affords the best opportunity for leveling the playing field, providing equal access and upward mobility. Continuing in this position as trustee for the Poway Unified School District will allow me to continue to work toward providing a quality education for all our students.
Debra Cooper: I’m passionate about upholding public trust and the district’s reputation. I see the board’s primary job as focusing on student learning. If elected, I will conduct the district’s business with integrity, with transparency and with every student in mind. Every student deserves the opportunity to achieve their personal best. That requires elevating public education and exceptional dedication to supporting the diverse needs of our children. While I continue to believe in Poway Unified schools, I’m disheartened by the discord within PUSD’s leadership that is detracting from important conversations about student learning. I will end that.
Jimmy Karam: PUSD school board has embarrassed this community long enough. I’m more than qualified, and I have a great deal of value to add; furthermore, I bring honor, integrity and solid leadership to the table. My vision to implement a computer science curriculum from pre-K through 12th grade. I have a unique perspective, serving as the United States Naval Academy Economics Department associate chair for the past two years. Our service academies are making a strong push for computer science, and so should our schools. Lastly, I want to show my children the importance of being an active member in their community.
John “Chas” Moriarty: When my own children were attending Poway schools, I was very involved in the district, serving on committees at school sites and at the district level. I was chosen as the district’s volunteer of the year. I was proud of the district and felt that my kids received an excellent education. When I read that the district was now receiving Golden Fleece Awards, it awakened my desire to get involved once again. My own children have decided to return to the area, and I want my grandchildren and all children to continue to have the opportunity to receive the same quality of education as in the past.
Terry Norwood: For over 20 years, I have been an advocate for families and want to continue as a school board member focusing on the overall PUSD educational business plan. I am frustrated that we have elected some board members that are protecting the status quo. Our district budget deficit continues to grow. Critical district management positions have been chosen without regard to qualifications. Deals are made without proper discussion and oversight. As a school board member, I will work to ensure every voice is represented – students, parents, teachers, staff and the community.
Darshana Patel: PUSD is a high-performing school district that is suffering from serious management challenges that are pulling the board’s attention away from its mission of excellence in education. We need to elect strong, objective, collaborative and ethical leaders to work with continuing board members to address these issues. I am a civic-minded scientist, parent and community leader dedicated to educational excellence in PUSD. Since my three young daughters attend PUSD schools, I am fully invested in high-quality education for many years to come. I know I have the right experiential diversity and leadership skills for a solution-focused board.
Stanley “Stan” Rodkin: I served on the PUSD Board of Education back in the days when it was building and well-deserving of its reputation of excellence. The recent negative publicity saddens me and I cannot sit idly by and not try to help get the district back on the right track. I would like to put my 13 years of board experience and conservative values to work to help alleviate what I now know to be a budget deficit. There needs to be more financial control and some difficult cost-cutting.
Carol Ware: I want to make a positive impact on our community! As a recent breast cancer survivor, I have refocused my priorities to contribute even more. Of the past 20 years serving on nonprofit boards, the last decade I directly served as a foundation board member for three PUSD schools and a community foundation granting funds to PUSD schools. I’ve helped to raise over $750,000 for PUSD schools, and have a proven track record of working effectively on boards. I will bring my past two decades of unique board experience and leadership to work for good for our children and community.
What do you hope to achieve?
Anastasopoulos: I hope to be a part of hiring a new superintendent who will lead the district out of disarray.
Beatty: I will continue to champion responsible governance and fiscal oversight in order to maximize the community’s funds that directly benefit our students. Millions of dollars can be saved through reductions in legal and consulting costs, management reorganization and performance audits. The savings can be used to address the structural deficit; lower class sizes; increase funding for robotics, PE, visual and performing arts, counselors, libraries, career pathway programs and other student programs. My other goals include: working to close the achievement gap; increasing online course offerings; improving anti-bullying programs; reintroducing middle school intramural sports; starting secondary schools later and farm-to-table partnerships.
Cooper: With student learning at the forefront, I will bring the civility needed to do the important business the board conducts on behalf of PUSD students, parents, teachers, supporting staff and taxpayers. Critical first steps include hiring a new superintendent and auditing internal systems and processes to identify needed improvements.
Karam: Our nation is far behind the power curve when it comes to computer science. With the cyber threats that exist today, we cannot afford to be behind any longer. Innovation no longer happens in the steel mills, coal mines or strawberry fields. Innovation will continue to happen behind a computer screen. My vision is to implement a computer science pre-K-12th grade curriculum. Innovation through a computer science lens affects all types of interests like music, science and sports; it impacts all of us. I would love nothing more than to see PUSD lead the country in this initiative.
Moriarty: If elected, I hope to be able to bring civility back to the board where the focus can be on learning and achievement. I hope that I can help build consensus to ensure that the needs of all students are being addressed. I hope to build strong leadership at the top of the district. I hope to build an atmosphere where all factions of the district feel that they have a voice.
Norwood: I will work to restore transparency, collaboration and integrity to the school board. Providing oversight to district management will be my key role as a school board member. Informing our community about our financial challenges and the need for prudent budgeting while retaining an excellent school district is paramount to this job. I will also work to strengthen educational options for our students helping share the Career Technical Program with our families and the many options available for students. I will ensure teachers and staff have resources and collaborative support and work to safeguard our community’s investment for the future.
Patel: I have three specific priorities and one overall goal. My first priority is to focus on high-quality education for our children through excellence in curriculum, finances and staff. My second priority is to balance classroom resources between STEM, arts and whole child. My third priority is to advocate for greater participation, collaboration and openness with the community in order to rebuild trust. Tying all of these priorities together is my overall goal to have a board that effectively and respectfully works together to give our children outstanding education they deserve in order to prepare them for college, career and society.
Rodkin: I hope to put my previous experience at consensus-building among the other board members to work for the benefit of all students. I want to strengthen all vocational programs and perhaps increase those available, within budgetary constraints, because these are the paths to well-paying jobs for the non-college-bound students. I also want to reduce teaching to the test because I don’t believe that that is best the path to learning for the students.
Ware: I want to be the voice of children, parents and teachers to make them a priority in financial decisions. I will work collaboratively with board members to exercise oversight of PUSD’s $350 million budget in a transparent way, ensuring that decisions prioritize what best advances our children’s education. I put children first, and will exercise fiscal responsibility in making decisions that ensure our teachers and administrators have the resources they need to continue delivering excellent results. We are the caretakers of excellence in education, and must achieve that goal in an ethical, fully transparent, collaborative and fiscally responsible way.
What are the largest obstacles facing the district?
Anastasopoulos: Lack of trust in the current leadership of the board and administration.
Beatty: In 2012, I was swept into office on a reform mandate. The toxic “billion-dollar bond” was a symptom of broader problems – failed leadership, financial mismanagement and lack of board oversight. The recent forensic audit highlighted not only financial improprieties, but a lack of internal controls and a system devoid of checks and balances. The largest obstacle to fixing these problems is the resistance to change by those who have profited from this system and by those who fear challenging the current structure. Despite additional revenues in the last couple of years, we are facing an $18 million structural deficit due to irresponsible actions.
Cooper: PUSD’s challenges include: upholding public trust, hiring an exceptional superintendent and building Poway Unified’s staff leadership team, aligning the district’s technology implementation with both student learning objectives and business/system goals, fixing the structural deficit in PUSD’s budget, analyzing how the state’s current student enrollment decline may affect PUSD and addressing potential impacts to PUSD’s budget and facilities.
Karam: Trust in leadership! PUSD school board has continuously made poor business decisions that have cost us all millions. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the capital appreciation bonds or the former superintendent fiasco, our school board has been an embarrassment by making countless unethical decisions. It’s time for the people of PUSD to elect someone to the board who can build consensus and has professional knowledge and experience to make sound ethical business decisions, and most importantly places our teachers and students first. Transparency has to be the key to earning back the trust of the people.
Moriarty: The largest obstacle facing the district is a lack of leadership at the top. The main focus of a school board should be learning and achievement. I feel that the board has lost its direction and needs to take the infighting out of the conversations and replace it with meaningful discourse based on what is best for the students of the district.
Norwood: The largest obstacles facing our district are the looming CAB payments and mismanagement at the highest levels. We need to hire a superintendent who can repair the recent damage done and rebuild our school district team into a cohesive unit working for all of our best interests. We have highly educated and compassionate teachers with students who want to learn from them. We have parents and a community that support them. What we need is a superintendent and Board of Education that is working together for the students, not their personal interests.
Patel: Our district is facing challenges with finances, personnel and oversight. With finances, we need to redress the fallout from the capital appreciation bond, seek new funding opportunities due to budget shortfalls and rebuild fiduciary trust with our community. With personnel, we need to hire top-level administration and implement effective succession planning for staff nearing retirement age. Finally, there are serious flaws with internal controls and the processes currently in place are not sufficiently robust to capture mismanagement and need updating. We need a board that will work collaboratively to address these issues and advance the mission of academic excellence.
Rodkin: The largest obstacle, by far, is hiring a new superintendent at a fair salary, a salary commensurate with the size of the district. The current board allowed the salary to reach astronomical heights and now the bar is set at that level. The challenge will be to hire a superintendent with all the desired qualities and capabilities at what is a fair salary for the size and complexity of the district. Anything above that amounts to a gift of public money; money that should be used for the education of students.
Ware: Large obstacles currently facing the district include hiring a new superintendent, district-wide technology deficits and allocation of budget resources to best align with our educational goals.
What would you look for in a new superintendent?
Anastasopoulos: As a huge proponent of the Character Counts program, which I was instrumental in bringing to the district, the new superintendent must have the highest moral fiber and be a proven positive leader in the field.
Beatty: The most important function of a school board is hiring the superintendent. The first step is hiring a top-notch superintendent search firm that can draw upon a nationwide pool of successful school leaders. We must include our community members in discussions about what attributes are important to them in a new superintendent. We need a visionary and inspirational leader who possesses the highest levels of competence and integrity, and who is capable of maintaining good relationships with the board, staff and our community. Our new superintendent should be a leader who values and respects the work of every single employee.
Cooper: Poway Unified School District’s next superintendent needs to be future-focused on behalf of our students, families, teachers and supporting staff. This person needs to have proven team-building and management skills internally within an organization. And the next superintendent needs to have demonstrated the ability to successfully collaborate with multiple internal and external constituencies that have competing needs. Finally, this position demands experience managing a complex organization, preferably of PUSD’s size.
Karam: Integrity, leadership and grit! Naturally they must be qualified and experienced as a superintendent, but I also want someone who has a track record of persevering through difficult times. I want someone who is still hungry to prove him/herself and is willing and able to articulate long-term goals for themselves as well as for PUSD. I want someone who is an effective communicator; someone who inspires me through their passion and vision for education. Most importantly, I want someone who is going to lead with integrity and hold themselves to the highest ethical standards in mind.
Moriarty: I feel that the new superintendent should have a strong educational background, have a history of leadership that demonstrates consensus-building, have a strong commitment to remain in the district to ensure stability and bring a passion for learning and achievement.
Norwood: I will first work with the recruitment agencies to strengthen their vetting process. Emphasizing the importance of a nationwide search, realizing the best candidate may not come from within the district. We deserve a person of the utmost integrity with the education for managing a $350 million organization and the character to stand against corruption. Someone with a passion for service, a consensus-builder who can take ideas and guide them into reality, and a person whom the community can rely on to do the right thing for everyone.
Patel: Since the superintendent is responsible for student achievement, operational efficiency and transparency with the community, the ideal candidate will have the expected skillset of an experienced district leader: proven ability to communicate and collaboratively implement the district vision with strategic problem-solving expertise. Additionally, I prioritize a flexible educator who has recently led a district of similar size and demographic as ours, thus knowing how to handle our budget and curriculum challenges and leverage our staff and community strengths. Finally, the qualified candidate will have demonstrated the ability to respectfully work through failures – we need a leader that has proven resilience.
Rodkin: Should have an earned Ph.D., he or she should be at mid-career; neither starting out nor near retirement. Should have classroom and principalship experience as well as cabinet-level experience. Should have been a superintendent in a district similar to PUSD in size and socioeconomic makeup. I would also want to talk to some of his or her direct reports and to some of his or her supervisors and board members. He or she must have the ability to foster good morale throughout the district and to be well aware of the board/superintendent relationship.
Ware: Our new superintendent should be a person with a history of high integrity and experience in handling a district of our size and budgetary scope. And just as importantly, this superintendent should lead us boldly into a new and powerful vision, one that will set our sights on an even stronger future for our children and build that legacy of educational excellence.