By Rita Robinson | LB Indy
Hiring the person best qualified for the job rather than the best of the bunch at hand is an ability school board candidate Carol Normandin says she can bring to the Laguna Beach school board.
She also says she isn’t just the best of the lot; she fills the bill.
“I think I bring expertise in recruiting and budgets, experience with the schools, passion, a high level of energy and a dedication to the schools,” Normandin said.
For eight years, Normandin led Schoolpower, the Laguna Beach organization that asks residents for money to augment school district programs. Schoolpower consistently supplies $300,000 towards a discretionary fund, now a line item in the school district’s budget, as well as grants for teacher’s classroom projects. She retired from the Schoolpower board last year.
Normandin, who lives in the Top of the World neighborhood, also ran her own executive recruiting company for 13 years after earning a degree in business administration/management from Texas A&M. She left headhunting behind in 2009 to become a full-time mom to her three school-age children. “I had four phones and a cellphone and my kids would just stare at me,” she said. That’s when she decided to hang up to hang out with her kids.
As a member of Schoolpower’s executive board for seven years and vice-president of the organization’s community campaign, Normandin said she learned how to read a lengthy and complicated public-agency budget. “I can’t ask for money if I don’t understand how the budget works in the first place,” she said.
The school district’s $42-million budget is generated mostly from property tax as a result of its Basic Aid status with the California Department of Education. That makes the district fiscally sound as far as covering expenses, salaries and programs, said Normandin, yet not always fiscally strong enough to advance new ideas. As a former Schoolpower leader, she said she understands the concern over remaining objective as the middleman between what the district wants parents to fund and what parents actually feel is important for students’ scholastic development.
“Schoolpower’s position was, ‘If you tell us what you want, we’ll go ask the parents if they want to fund it’,” she said. “My job was not to go talk about what the school should or shouldn’t be doing. My job was to fund what the parents were asking for.”
As a result, she got to know a lot of parents in the district, an edge she hopes will benefit her candidacy. “I’m feeling very confident,” she said. “I have a high energy level and I’m trying not to exhaust my team.”
Although she’s not handling her own fundraising, Normandin said there’s $6,000 in her campaign coffers. At first, she did make a few calls for checks. “It is different to ask people for money for yourself,” she said.
One of her colleagues for nearly 10 years at Schoolpower, Bill Steel, a partner at Samuels, Green and Steel law firm in Irvine, said he’s supporting Normandin not only because she’s a good talker when she’s raising money, she’s a good listener. “She weighs all points of view before making a decision,” said Steel, “and that keeps her very balanced.”
Talking to parents about school projects, Normandin said the conversations often turned personal.
She said one question from a parent concerned fears about having dyslexic children in a public school system that was now stressing reading, writing and spelling as part of the new state-mandated Common Core academic standards.
“I also have a son who’s dyslexic,” said Normandin. “Parents are concerned if Common Core is going to help their child or harm them. When you look at it, there’s a whole percentage of the population that’s dyslexic. We’re not alone.”
The possibilities could turn out positive for the students, she maintains. “Yes, they will have more challenges. They will be graded for their grammar in science or on their social studies project. We want them to learn how to write properly. And it will make them more disciplined. We just don’t want it to be painful.”
Another parent and Normandin-backer, Suzy Elghanayan, says her support is based on a candidate’s deeds, not their words. “She’s kind to her children and so she is kind to all children. She’s set on her community and has no ulterior motive. She has purity and authenticity and that I am attracted to.”