For the first time in a generation, the incumbents on the Santa Barbara County Board of Education have opponents running against them for their board seats. The former County Superintendent of Schools appointed these incumbents and has been actively campaigning for them, claiming the county education office needs them because of how effective they have been. Keep in mind, no board incumbent or superintendent has had to run for their respective office for over 30 years.
Is it true that the board incumbents are the people this county needs right now because of their effectiveness? Over 30 years ago, our public schools were first-rate. Unfortunately, since then they have been in a steady state of decline, to the point where we are now witnessing a generation of kids from this area who are graduating without the requisite academic or vocational skills necessary to succeed in the workplace or life.
Now we would understand if some readers might think we are exaggerating this pitiful situation with our schools, so we are prepared to cite relevant information. In 2019, only 44% of the students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District were meeting the standards for math and 54% for English. If you thought this was bad, you might be surprised to learn that only 35% of students in Santa Maria were passing math and English. Not to be outdone by neighboring districts, as few as 28% of students at Lompoc Unified met the standards for math and a paltry 44% for English. Let’s not forget Santa Ynez High School, where only 36% of the students are up to snuff with math.
Unfortunately, it’s not going to be easy to turn this around, since it has developed over many years. Logic would dictate that there is absolutely no way it can be fixed when the same people who oversaw this sharp decline in our schools are now asking voters to keep them in office for another term. In any other positions where performance is highly valued, these incumbents would have lost their jobs.
Finally, since most voters do not know what the County Education Office does, we think it might be helpful to understand what this bloated behemoth has become. This agency spends $58 million every year, employs over 500 people, many of them administrators, and directly oversees the education of 175 students. This costs taxpayers $330,000 per student. Yes, they do some other things, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone, including the teachers in our schools, who would know what they are. County superintendents could have used their position to pressure the district schools to improve their performance, but sadly they didn’t.
The voters will decide if the school board incumbents deserve another term in office. We believe voters deserve better schools than what they are now getting. The citizenry can reclaim their schools by voting the school board incumbents out of office. Anything less is a vote for business as usual.
We are two of the opponents who are energized, ready to serve and bring a fresh set of eyes, ears, and ideas with a focus on reversing the downward trend in reading, writing and math proficiency. Also running against county board incumbents are Cage Englander and Bruce Porter in their respective districts. We will foster greater transparency and fiscal responsibility. We will emphasize innovative programs that engage, inspire, and prepare our youth to develop skills that are relevant in today’s economy.
Lou Segal is a candidate for County Board of Education, District 6, Santa Barbara. Michelle de Werd is a candidate for County Board of Education, District 4, Los Olivos.
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