Christopher De La Cerda cited boosting Career Technical Education and early learning, upgrading campus safety and expanding health services as accomplishments worthy of another four-year term on the Fresno Unified school board Tuesday night.
But Veva Islas, who is challenging De La Cerda for the McLane High area seat, said that much more change and elevation of student learning is needed.
Whether Measure X funds are being used wisely, the best way to fund the reduction of classroom sizes, and what can be done to increase educational attainment were among the questions posed at GV Wire’s Area 4 candidates forum.
GV Wire Operations Manager Randy Reed moderated the 40-minute event at CMAC’s downtown studio.
Islas said her primary reason for running is because she doesn’t believe children are succeeding and thriving as they should be.
“I am running to fight to create a change in our district,” she said.
The winner in the November election will join a seven-member board responsible for educating more than 74,000 students and managing a budget in excess of $1.3 billion in California’s fourth-largest school district.
Reducing Class Sizes
While both candidates were in favor of smaller class sizes, they were on different ends of the spectrum in how to finance such an undertaking.
When asked whether a district-wide parcel tax should be considered to fund class size reduction efforts, Islas said she has concerns.
“I would want an explanation of what a parcel tax would entail,” Islas said.
Islas added that she fears such a tax would be regressive because “the McLane region has a large volume of families in poverty,” she said.
Instead of a parcel tax, De La Cerda said he would be more comfortable funding smaller class sizes by utilizing Measure X funds, which total $225 million. Such funds are dedicated to improving the district’s facilities.
“We need to keep the promises made to voters about utilizing bond money prior to asking them for more money to pass a tax,” said De La Cerda, who has served on the board for six years. “I would like for us to keep our promise.”
Measure X Funds Spent Wisely?
When asked if Measure X funds are being spent reasonably, De La Cerda said they definitely are.
De La Cerda noted the many new buildings and upgrades at McLane High: a new gym, baseball field, and tech building; and upgrades to the school’s media center and library. He said he plans to continue improving school facilities for students and teachers with Measure X funds.
“We are not done,” he said.
However, Islas said she is not sure if Measure X dollars are being maximized in the way they were intended.
“I see shortcomings,” Islas said. “I know we have been working on things paid for by general fund money so we need to make sure we are being fiscally responsible and are serving the needs of children and families.”
Islas said she intends to allocate a portion of Measure X funds to improve facilities in a way to deal with modern-day school incidents.
“We need to invest in resources that promote student and teacher safety and design schools to deal with 21st-century threats such as an active shooter on campus,” she said.
Improving Quality of Education
Although she acknowledged that the graduation rate in Area 4 has improved, Islas said there is more work to be done.
“The graduation rate has improved, but that doesn’t mean all children who graduate are college and career ready,” Islas said, stating that only a small percentage of graduating students are adequately prepared.
Islas said that more programs dedicated to students of color and English Language Learners are needed.
“I want to see children from disadvantaged homes get the tools they need to break poverty cycles,” she said. “I want to see them in a career instead of in prison.”
De La Cerda said that while he will never be satisfied with the quality of education students receive in Fresno Unified, the district is making progress.
For instance, he said that 73 percent of English Language Learners are graduating, and noted that some are performing just as well as, if not better, than students whose first language is English.
“We should never be satisfied, there is always room for growth,” De La Cerda said. “That is what education is all about.”