The candidates for the three open seats on the Santa Clara Unified School District’s (SCUSD) Board of Trustees came together on Monday evening for a candidate forum. The League of Women Voters of San Jose/Santa Clara organized the forum, which featured all five candidates — Bonnie Lieberman, Albert Gonzalez and Mark Richardson for Area 2 and Andrew Knaack and Michele Ryan for Area 3.
Gloria Chun Hoo moderated the forum and asked questions submitted by voters.
When asked what the greatest challenge facing the school district right now is, Lieberman pointed said health and wellness, both physical and mental, is a top priority. Richardson, Gonzalez and Knaack echoed the sentiment and also said that reopening schools is another major issue.
“We need to make sure that staff and families both have options to go back to school as soon as possible, to provide for their family in the best way that they can,” said Knaack. “We need to have options for distance as well, for families that are in situations where they’re more at risk, or they have people living there that are in higher need categories.”
Ryan also emphasized the mental health of students and staff and pointed out that the district will face the financial consequences of COVID-19 in the future.
“There’s going be long lasting impacts as well. The economic fallout from the pandemic we’ll be dealing with for many years to come,” said Ryan. “In the future, we’re going to have to look to the budget and the budgetary impacts that COVID will bring even once the disease may not be primary.”
As a follow-up, the candidates were asked how they would handle a community and a teachers’ union that is very divisive about reopening schools.
“I think that decisions need to be made with full cooperation of our unions because teachers are people. Teachers have families and their emotions are very personal as well,” said Lieberman. “I think we need to prioritize our teachers and staff, along with our needs of our students and families and cooperate together, listen to each other, and find a medium ground.”
“It’s going to take a lot of communication and a lot of work from all entities to make sure that we can get this right,” said Gonzalez. “Ultimately, it’s the safety of our students and staff that is preeminent.”
“You handle it very carefully,” said Richardson. “I think it’s going to be messy. And we have to act like human beings and be very careful and thoughtful and respect each other and communicate. That’s how I think it’s going to get done. But it won’t be pretty. And it won’t be quick. And I think we need to cooperate.”
Knaack said you handle the divisive issue by offering as many options as possible for families and teachers. Ryan said it’s important to allow science to guide us, but that as soon as it’s feasible, teachers who are ready to return should return to the classroom.
When asked to use two adjectives to describe themselves, there were a variety of answers. Ryan said “collaborative” and “thoughtful”. Knaack said he “celebrates diversity” and wants to “make sure there are seats at the table for everyone.”
Lieberman said “collaborative” and “inquisitive.” Gonzalez said “good listener” and “collaborative.” Richardson said “listener” and “patience” and “conscience.”
Other questions included the difficulties surrounding special education, especially in this distance learning atmosphere and how to better engage students in the decision making and priority setting within the district.
Santa Clara will elect two candidates in Trustee Area 2 and one candidate in Trustee Area 3. The winners will each serve a four-year term on the SCUSD School Board.
You can watch the entire school board candidate forum on the League of Women Voters website: www.lwvsjsc.org.