School Candidates Field Queries from A to Z



With less than a month before the November election, three candidates vying for two spots on the Laguna Beach Unified School District board answered questions posed by members of the audience last Thursday, Oct. 6, the only forum of the election season for local school board candidates.

The American Association of University Women-Laguna Beach and the League of Women Voters Orange County hosted the forum, and the ground rules permitted no verbal discussion between the candidates or audience of about 100 people. Moderator Kathleen Fay gave each candidate two minutes to respond to each question.

School board candidates, from left, Peggy Wolff, Jan Vickers and Howard Hills answer questions moderated by Kathleen Fay. Photo by Marilynn Young.
School board candidates, from left, Peggy Wolff, Jan Vickers and Howard Hills answer questions moderated by Kathleen Fay. Photo by Marilynn Young.

The three candidates, incumbent Jan Vickers, former PTA president Peggy Wolff and lawyer-author Howard Hills are contenders for the five-member school board. Board President William Landsiedel is not seeking reelection. Board members Ketta Brown, Carol Normandin and Dee Perry are mid-way through four-year terms.

Asked about what they would do about cyber security, Hills said, “I think we need an audit of all of our campuses and that is just to show that I am not opposed to consultants when we need them.” In the past, Hills has often questioned the school board’s frequent use of consultants.

“We should not just rely on the facility director and the local police department,” Hills said.

Vickers said the district should bring in speakers, who are experts on the subject, to educate parents, who have a responsibility to stay abreast of what their children are exposed to. “It’s not just cyber-security, but it’s also a method of how students harass other students. There’s a crossover from when they’re out of school and in school.”

Electronic devices within the district, “are as protected and as secure as they can be,” she said.

Wolff said cyber-security is ongoing and evolving. “The installation of security cameras is a great step forward in the securing of our school properties. It acts as a deterrent and helps protect our school property,” she said.

Wolff pointed out she wanted assurances about the security of required software her daughter installed on a personal computer for use on school tests.

Candidates were asked about the influence of art on critical thinking skills and whether the schools offer an adequate arts curriculum.

Wolff said she thinks art informs critical thinking and called for “a more thorough art curriculum at the elementary level.”

She praised the district’s elementary level music programs and pointed out that elementary PTAs for years have funded Art Masters, an art history program. “It’s about educating the whole child. We know that some kids’ strengths lie in the arts,” she said. “But you can always analyze, improve and grow those programs.” Wolff added.

Vickers agreed that more art curriculum is needed in schools aside from state-dictated instruction. “There used to be more. With the recession, the whole cycle stopped, that’s why we’re waiting for some of these local resources,” she said, alluding to alliances with the Laguna College of Art & Design and Laguna Art Museum. “We are fortunate we have not had to eliminate programs,” she said.

Hills took a different approach. “Well, when you become a school board candidate, you meet with the superintendent and they give you this,” he said, holding up a budget, “and a hand book and thank you very much, but it’s basically worthless.”

Hills showed the audience a different notebook with tabs, which he said allows “access to what is actually going on in the school district.”

He said art programs should be considered in context. “You would have to go back to when the rainy day fund was raided and some of it was to establish pensions and health care, but the rest went into a building fund. I would not just use the funds for arts. I would use it for technology, math, engineering programs and the STEAM program.”

Candidates were asked how much time per week they would devote to school related issues if elected.

“I’m not concerned about how much time it costs for me to serve on the school board,” Hills said. “It’s about the amount of time the school board spends because of misdirection. In some cases indecision, confusion and disarray. And it’s deliberative. There are hundreds and hundreds of man hours wasted every year because of poor governance strategies and tactics by the school district and school board.”

Wolff said she currently spends 20-25 hours a week as a volunteer, including preparing for boards where she serves and for school board meetings. “If it adds 10-15 hours, I’m willing to make that commitment,” she said, to ensure she is well-informed to make decisions.

“I spend as many hours as it takes,” Vickers said. “It is very important to read all of the material and be prepared to ask questions before making my decision.”

The deadline to register to vote in California is Monday, Oct. 24.

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