Each candidate was given 2 minutes for opening statements. Kelly Champion was the first to present her opening statement. Kelly moved to Loyalton from Truckee in 2001 at 24 years of age, where her children attended the schools. She is a self-employed accountant and also works for Sierra County Children and Families Commission as a Business Manager. She is also a district clerk to Sierra County Fire Protection-District 1. She has been an active advocate for students, parents, and teachers throughout the pandemic and regularly attends school board meetings. “What I’ve realized is that we need some restructuring here at the board level, and I see the superintendent there doesn't have the best leadership, and I see a huge need to improve the facilities, and do some upgrades, and we need to find funding sources. As an accountant I’m very familiar with small county funding issues and resource obstacles. I’d also like to improve our transparency to the public and our functionality.”
Jesse Whitley followed stating that he moved from Oregon and has 4 children. “I would like to see a bigger voice for parents and children. I would like to see a bigger focus on education. More like welding classes and stuff, and getting involved in trade schools as well as universities.” He expressed concern with the politics involved in the school systems.
The first question asked was, “What are three major roles of being a trustee member? What are they?” Jesse responded, “I don't know what the book says but me, personally, I think a trustee's position is to advocate, again, for the voices of their constituents to protect the children, and to see that everything runs smoothly both economically and structurally.” Kelly responded, “one of the main goals is to establish the mission, or vision, of the community. They are also there to manage the superintendent. They are also there to maintain the budget and strategic planning, and long term, long range planning.”
The next question was, “What has been the most important issue in the school district in the past two years in your opinion?” Kelly responded, “I think it was a lack of leadership and unity within the board.” She expressed challenges with staff and finance issues. Jesse responded that due to the pandemic there was a shortage of staff and about the concerns of students and parents being heard. When asked about social emotional learning Jesse said he felt parents don't get the opportunity to know what's going on in school due to lack of transparency. Kelly said she has seen a lot of social, emotional challenges, most within students and teammates. She expressed that the school has a duty and obligation to adapt to the quickly changing social climate.
When asked, “How much, and in what way, should board members seek out abusive teachers and other school staff?” Kelly responded that there should be constant surveys to everyone to gather the proper knowledge in order to have a clear goal. Jesse responded that through technology and phone calling, different forms of communication should be sought in order to connect and talk with people.
When asked how he would respond to parents wanting to remove books from a library or classroom, Jesse said he would have to be versed on the legal laws regarding removing literature, and get a clear census on why someone would want it removed. Kelly replied that depending on the content, if it's offensive, or causing an issue, discuss it with staff, and put the topic on the agenda and open it to the public.
When asked what techniques should be used to evaluate teachers properly and thoroughly, Kelly replied that evaluation should be unbiased and standardized. Jesse agreed about standardizing, and respecting the opinions of students and teachers, and depending on the situation may require a “closed session” environment for evaluation.
When asked, “If elected, what are your top two priorities as a trustee?” Jesse replied it would be respecting the parents’ schedule regarding school events, and scheduling around parents work hours whether it be school board, sporting events, etc., Kelly replied that one is to improve the functionality of the board, and to improve leadership with having the superintendent being held accountable. Improving transparency and working with parents and the city in order to have facilities properly maintained, and replace old facilities that need to be built and improved. She emphasized better management of funds.
“How many school board meetings have you attended in the Plumas Unified School District and have you asked any questions in those meetings?” Kelly responded that she has attended at least 20-24 and has been attending every month for the past few years, and expressed how she always has questions to analyze the board's decisions, and feels sometimes decisions are made without thoroughly viewing all angles. Jesse responded he has been to about 5 meetings, saying he usually goes “directly to the source,” going directly to the individual he wants to speak with.
In closing, Jesse re-emphasized regarding the politics in the schools. He is a registered Republican, but wanted to mention, “if you look up conservative, the synonym for conservative is stability, and the synonym for liberal is benevolence, and I think in our schools and in our country we need to see more stability and benevolence.” Kelly gave thanks to the opportunity and emphasized how she works well in group environments, likes to get things accomplished, and her heart is in the school district and communities. She mentioned the schools have a lot to recover from, and have been through a lot the past few years, and she would like to give them the best opportunity to recover and feel safe at school. “I do not believe that our government, especially in Sacramento, needs to be directly controlling what we do in our local schools, and I don't believe that our politics, and our individual healthcare is a politician's decision, and I’d like to shield our students from that division, and get back to educating our kids.” She said she's seen many areas of strength, and that we can build on and do, and would like to see it be the very best it can be.
Moving onto questions for the candidates for Trustee Area 5, Coby began with opening statements. He thanked the League of Women voters and the public, and Leslie for her service to the school board. He moved to Quincy from Chicago three years ago, in Chicago he spent over ten years working for the Chicago Association of Realtors under education foundation. They worked with public, private and charter schools throughout the city, seeing how efficient schools prepared their students for success, and how poor schools failed their students. His daughter is in the third grade, and he has gotten to know the CRC staff and others throughout Plumas County. “I can't deny that there are systemic problems in our school system. A viable and flourishing community requires a viable and flourishing school system, where our children show up to school every day, have access to both after school and extracurricular activities, and can easily acquire the help they need in order to accelerate their studies.” He continued saying kids deserve the same chance as a kid in Orange County to continue their studies beyond high school.
Leslie opened by stating she has been on the school board for ten years, and that her kids were born and raised here. “I am running again because I am passionate about Plumas Unified School district, I am passionate about public education, and I believe in the mission and vision in Plumas Unified School District, and I get super excited to watch our kids as they develop and go through the system, and how they interact with their teachers.” Her vision going forward is regarding recruiting and retaining staffing, and her concern about kids returning from distant learning. She also wants to continue to provide a warm, welcoming school environment for the kids.
The first question asked was, “How has the current board made decisions on how to spend Measure B money and what’s the protocol?” Leslie responded that the current board has made those decisions based on taxpayer input, when they went out for Measure B in 2016 they did many community forums asking people what the needs were, and identified those needs, many being safety concerns about making the schools to be secure facilities. Major structural issues were also concerns for taxpayers. When Measure B passed they were no longer in crisis management mode, and sought consulting for priorities among the community to address those needs.
When Coby was asked if he was on the Board how he would support spending Measure B money, he agreed that taxpayers should have input. He said making sure the schools are getting what they need when they need it, and having a balance between what the kids need and what's viable.
When asked if they win the election what changes they will seek to implement, Coby replied he would like to focus on truancy rates giving an example that in Portola the 8th grade has around ⅓ kids missing. He emphasized the importance of making school a place kids want to go, and look at issues at home. He also mentioned student performance needs to be at acceptable levels, for example Chester High School, 93% of students have not met the state level standards. He also emphasized housing for teachers and retention of them. Leslie agreed with replying the importance of teacher retention and staffing issues needs to be addressed as well as a good working environment and pay structure. Additional support for students, and course offerings for students. Provide more opportunities for students with trade skills, advanced placement, and online options.
When asked how they would address the teacher shortage issue, Lesie re-emphasized the pay structure, and housing issue for staff. She mentioned, “We recently purchased a four-unit duplex in Quincy,” that she said one teacher is already living in. She brought up the idea of doing something similar to the hospital with rotating staff and having “traveling teachers.” She also brought up marketing our community better, and recruitment events. Coby agreed about the housing situation needing to be addressed, and also bringing more local businesses into the community for the spouses of teachers to be able to have jobs. He said the problems have been known for years, these issues are just now “popping up and becoming important,” and must have been there prior to now, which is why he thinks change is important.
When asked what ideas they have to meet the needs of students, such as those looking to attend a trade school versus a four year college, Coby replied that now more than ever many children will have better opportunities going into a trade like welding as opposed to a four year college, and getting a liberal arts degree they can never use while accumulating excessive debt. He said almost 80% of students aren't attending four year colleges and asked what the board has been doing to help students, and find ways to make sure they are viable, important members of the community. Leslie replied there is a robust career technical education program including culinary, fire science, auto mechanics, and a new welding class.
When asked about their opinion on policies regarding teachers' pay being evaluated on standardized tests, Leslie does not agree with it. Coby felt that everyone should be evaluated on performance, and a teacher's performance should be based on how the students perform. He said from experience working in the private banking sector for 25 years, that if you're not performing your job correctly you cannot benefit the customers, “If we're not making money for the shareholders, then we’re not doing a good job, likewise with our schools. If we are not giving our children every chance to succeed, if we’re not putting them in a position to be successful in life, then what are we doing? So not evaluating teachers and not evaluating staff based on the performance of our children is just as bad as graduating kids who don't deserve to graduate.”
He stressed the need for accountability between students, parents, and staff and working between all parties to find something that works instead of how things have been running. Leslie agreed there needs to be accountability within teachers.
When Coby was asked about an argument he was involved with on Facebook about the 8th grade curriculum, and what the issue and solution was, he didn't recall the situation.
When asked about critical race theory, Coby replied that what works for other counties may not work in this county, and that students need to be taught history, but whether a single theory should be taught is uncertain. He said as a parent he wants to be consulted about what is being taught, and that the consultation of the parents is essential. Leslie’s response was that they do not teach critical race theory, and she believes they should be teaching an accurate, factual, and culturally sensitive curriculum.
When asked if elected, what their top two priorities would be for the term, and why they think they would make a good school board member, Leslie’s first priority is staffing and teacher support systems for long term retention. The second was providing support for the students, and mentioned that with COVID relief funds they have been able to add many teachers aides to classrooms, and she aims to maintain that support. Coby is concerned about student truancy rates, and believes that the 30-35% absentee rate is unacceptable, and wants to figure out why students aren't attending, and how to improve math and English scores.
When asked how they would respond to controversial issues being addressed that the State of California is trying to mandate as the curriculum, Coby re-emphasized that parents need to have a voice and ability to reach out with concern to the staff, and some are adapting to the new curriculum. Leslie mentioned that part of being a governmental agency is adapting to the master schedule with the mandate and agreed about talking with parents. She said a lot of those classes have value, it’s a matter of adding it to the curriculum.
The last question was for Coby, asking how many school board meetings he has attended. He answered he attended a number of them on Zoom, but not the recent one in Chester, or on Oct 4th, but he says he keeps in touch closely with staff and has a good grasp on problems and solutions for issues going on.
In closing statements, Leslie spoke about her commitment to the district, from being a school volunteer, working with the parent cooperative organization, and after working with the school for so many years was asked to be on the board and continues to support the district. She volunteers in two second grade classes, attends sporting events, and does classroom visits being fully involved in the school district. She is a member of the California School Boards Associations Delegate Assembly and enjoys going and speaking on behalf of school district legislation and how it affects our schools, stating “this is something that drives me because I want what’s best for our kids.” Coby, in closing, thanked the league and Leslie, and said he recently met with the new superintendent. He said it is time for a change, and every decision will be about what's best for our children. He encouraged anyone to reach out for any questions or concerns.
Phil Oels began the opening statements for the City of Portola Council candidates. Born and raised in Portola, Phil is a veteran who served in the Army. He sees himself as a servant over being a politician. Bill Powers is a graduate of Chico State where he got his teaching credentials. He enjoys volunteering and serving the community and the city council. He also represents Portola in transportation, and serves on the General Justice Coordinating Council, the Forest Service Research Advisory Committee, Sierra Nevada Connections Foster Agency. He is currently involved in two grants, one for Nervino airport, and the other to help Plumas County kids. He is a substitute teacher at Portola Jr/Sr High School and assistant Soccer coach. Being a native from Portola, where he graduated, he served for 11 seasons as a wildland firefighter. He taught at Jim Beckwourth High School for 23 years and was elected County Supervisor in 2004.
Leah Turner has lived in Portola for 14 years, and moved from Burney, California. She currently works at Eastern Plumas Health Care, where she’s worked for 12 years. Previously she was a community service officer for the City of Portola for seven years. She said the number one question she has been asked is, "Why doesn’t the city repair the roads?" “In order to accomplish this we need to replace our aging infrastructure, of sewer and water lines, some of which are probably more than 50 years old.” She is currently a volunteer for Eastern Plumas Fire Department, and is the medical training officer. She was with the City of Portola Fire Department for 6 years.
When asked what procedures the City Council should use to find a qualified city manager, Phil replied, “Well, all I know is what we’ve been doing, it’s really difficult to put it out to people who are interested in it, you interview them, sometimes even going to weird places like Greenfield,” which he said he did. He also said since he’s been on the City Council, for the last ten years, there have been four of them. “I don’t know, it’s just really hard to do.”
Bill responded there is usually a three part system, first is the national level, then a written screening, then we invite a group to interview in person, then a second interview. He said last time they hired them they had a group of five. Leah agreed you have to advertise nationally for a City Manager, and “have a criteria for a small rural area.” She said she believes good advertising, proper interviews, and background checks are necessary.
When asked if locals will be able to burn pine needles this season, and if there can be a class to provide to residents for safe burning procedures, Bill responded that the answer will most likely be no, and emphasized the continuing to try to work with Intermountain Disposal for yard waste removal. He also mentioned the city is working with the Air Quality District for safe and effective burning. When Leah was asked if she was in favor of burning lessons, she mentioned that she does not condone burning, but that proper burning lessons is a good idea. Phil mentioned that the burn ban was coming from the Air Quality District, and said he believes if people are going to burn they should be doing it right.
“What's the biggest problem faced by Portola and how would you solve it?” Leah responded the biggest problem is the infrastructure and road conditions, and the solution is to seek monies to get in grants and through the government, and to start planning for use of our own funding through our budget. Phil agreed that the pipes are “old and rusty,” and that the roads need improvement, but expressed concern about fixing pipes underneath newly paved roads, as well as funding issues. Bill replied, “We’ve swung and missed a couple of times in the last couple years,” mentioning a team from Chico State’s proposal to the city which was not fulfilled because the students graduated. The amount asked for was around $35 million dollars for sewage and water systems. He agreed there “wasn't much sense,” in paving if they are minus the funds to fix pipes underneath the road.
When asked what the city is doing to procure grant funding, and money available for rural communities, Phil replied, “I do believe that’s a job for the City Manager, we can try, I did get a grant for fireside work, so maybe I should be looking at it. I don't know, it's a hard question.” Bill referred back to the swing and miss comment, saying when they applied for a previous program, they were accepting ten communities, and we were number 11. He says they will continue to apply and search for grants. Leah’s solution was to hire a grant writer if we don't have one, and a committee to work with the grant writer and city manager. She said because of her experience with working in the fire department she knows a grant writer is essential. She agreed the pipes need to be repaired before the roads so newly paved streets don't have to be torn up.
When asked what the city council can do to help job prospects for Portola residents. Bill said perhaps it’s the city’s job to help to get residents to look at jobs at businesses. He suggested a vocational program for career preparation for local businesses. Leah suggested the city develop their own employee development program, as well as work with the schools for open job listings, and even go to each business to get info on opening. She expressed concern with age limitations for certain jobs. Phil replied he finds it important to attract more businesses and industries.
“What can the city council do to attract more businesses to Portola?” Phil responded about bringing tourism with more events like the recent Gravel Grinder bike race, and the idea of adding a fishing derby to Lake Davis. Leah said the biggest problem is the housing market, and having places for people to live. She said there should be a program to help bring in new industries, and that it's not necessarily the city's job to attract more business. Bill responded with ideas regarding finding uses for biomass like sawdust.
When asked what their vision is for Portola ten years from now, Phil said he would like a clean town, solid structures, good roads, and a reasonable amount of tourism. He would also like to see it having water rights, have clean water, and be fire safe. Leah agrees with Phil and envisions a clean city with water rights and fire safe also. She wants residents to have community pride, for it to be more family oriented and safer for kids, addressing the drug and homelessness problem. Bill expressed confidence in getting the infrastructure problem solved, fire safe, and clean water.