Typically, few challengers step up against the incumbents in the Oak View Union School District board of trustees race. But this year, there are three such candidates, plus the three incumbents.
All are elected at-large.
Incumbents Jeanne Pearson, Carol Pehl and Mark Huft are being challenged by Deborah Ward-Crummey, John Vermeltfoort and Joel Maldonado Jr.
The one-school district in Acampo has long enjoyed successful standardized test scores, making it one of the highest-achieving districts in the area. Teachers chalk a lot of that up to smaller class sizes than their neighbors to the north and south. They also provide a lot of individualized time with students falling behind, according to administrators.
Ward-Crummey, who has lived in Acampo for four years, is a rancher who works with American Quarter Horses, American paint horses, goats, lambs, pigs and steer. She was also an aircraft mechanic and a Class A driver.
Being a full-time mom is at the top of Crummey's achievements, she said, adding she is also an active member of the local community. She has served as a 4-H horse leader and 4-H summer camp leader, and taken part in the autism walk as a walker and the Avon Breast Cancer Walk as a walker and team leader.
Crummey said she is running for school board because she wants to see the district move forward and regain community trust through transparency.
"Our current board is not forthcoming with information to the parents when requested," she said. "Open communication is key to keeping the community and parent support in our school."
The candidate would like to see the district move forward with technology, and she feels that last year's eighth-graders headed to high school ill-prepared for their freshman year and inexperienced in the use of computers to complete assignments.
"This is unacceptable to me as a parent. Why did our school not prepare them better to succeed in high school and in life?" she said.
Ward-Crummey would also like to see the district obtain more grants and donations.
"I may not be as qualified as some of the others, but I do have the passion to see every student succeed, and our school to be No. 1," she said.
Huft, first elected to the board 16 years ago, said the biggest issue the district has to deal with is the budget, specifically declining revenue.
"We want to keep the highest standards that Oak View is known for, and to continue to reward an amazing staff for their quality teaching, to help lead our kids towards their future successes," he said.
Huft said that if re-elected, he will continue hold the line for extra expenses and reward staff in every possible way. Additionally, he wants to look at funding opportunities and increasing enrollment to help in this manner.
"I want to continue to bring technology into the classrooms, and to continue to make our campus a great learning environment for our kids," he said.
He and his wife of almost 29 years own Elk Grove/Lodi Upholstery, a trade he started at age 13. They have four children, three of whom attended Oak View.
"I love Oak View School. We are a family here: The kids, the parents and the staff all working together to help train the next generation. I want to keep it that way," Huft said. "It's worked and has made a difference in the lives of many Oak View families. The friendships we've made here are some of the best experiences of our lives."
Despite "major budgetary constraints," the incumbent said his past experience will continue to help the district through this time of uncertainty and help keep it strong heading into the future.
"The experience I bring to our district has helped make our school one of the very best in our county, and the whole state," he said.
Joel Maldonado Jr.
Though not an Acampo-area native, Maldonado grew up in a rural farm community near Fresno.
"I know what it was like to go to a small school," he said.
He also said that with his diverse technology background, he can help infuse a bit of that into the district's classrooms which, he said, look the same as when he attended school. They still use overhead projectors and transparencies to teach and small TVs to watch videos. "I don't think they have the technology they need to succeed nowadays," Maldonado said, adding that instead of adding computers, he'd like to see the district's teachers show students what they can be used for.
When a student asks a question, have the teacher look up Google or Wikipedia for the answer for application purposes, he said.
"Most of the kids, by the time they get to second or third grade, they're pretty good at understanding computers. While a computer lab would be nice, and I certainly wouldn't discourage it, I think what is lacking is how they can use this technology," Maldonado said.
Maldonado, who enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Operation Desert Storm, would also like to see improved communication between elected officials and community members.
"There is a general feeling from everyone I've talked to that the board is not open, and not open to communication. (Residents) feel like they're not being served. That's huge when the public loses faith in the board," he said.
If elected, he said he would do everything he could do to make people who come to him feel comfortable. Meanwhile, he wants to find ways to communicate with those even without children since they, too, pay taxes. This could be done affordably through e-mail, he said.
Finally, the candidate doesn't feel the current board is seeking contributions from the community. For example, local farmers with equipment may have been able to help grade a new track, instead of hiring outside help, Maldonado said.
Pearson and her late husband, Paul, moved their three children to Acampo in 1979. They founded Pearsons Concrete in 1958 and opened the Galt operations in 1983. She has been a member of Oak View School's board for 29 years.
She said the biggest issue facing the district today is the economic downturn and its effect on district cuts.
"Our staff has been understanding of the budget implications and, as in past downturns, remain committed to the high academic standards. Thanks, in part, to our positive working relationship with our excellent teachers and classified staff, Oak View School remains one of the best schools in the area," she said.
The other issue is filling the superintendent position with someone the board hopes can replace the synergy the district enjoyed with Bill Chiechi's 20-plus-year tenure. The current board recently hired Beverly Boone as the new principal/superintendent, to replace Michael Scully, who resigned at the end of last school year.
"I believe Ms. Boone has and will continue to have a positive impact on the educational program at Oak View. I look forward to supporting her education, experience and leadership of Oak View," Pearson said.
"While I know we cannot replace Mr. Chiechi, our first attempt to achieve a synergistic relationship with a new superintendent was not successful. I believe Ms. Boone is a better fit in the leadership team, and will be a positive force within the district," she said.
The candidate believes her experience on the district's negotiating team has contributed to the current working relationship with the bargaining units.
"We have worked together in past economic cycles to share the pain as well as the gains," she said.
During her tenure, Pearson said she has been part of the team that expanded the campus by nine new permanent classrooms, without asking the community for more in taxes. Additionally, she has an understanding of a board member's role as part of the "governance team," she said.
"I have seen the challenges of being a board member while having children in the classroom. I am free of these conflicts and tendencies to micromanage," she said.
Pearson recognizes that in the past, few have challenged incumbents on this board.
"There appears to be a strong anti-incumbent mood with our state and national elected officials. This seems to have spilled over into our local elections," she said. "But I strongly believe if it is working, return the incumbents."
Like Pearson, Pehl has been an Acampo resident for more than 30 years — and Oak View School has been a part of her life for the last 31. Through 2003, as the business manager, she was responsible for all the financial functions of the district.
During her tenure, she said, the district presented balanced budgets for 16 years, while student achievement dramatically increased. The district was also able to build two classroom wings with district funds.
She wants to ensure now that the district has enough money to add a kitchen to the gymnasium currently under construction.
"Oak View is (also) badly in need of a technology update," Pehl said, adding that the district used to be on the cutting edge with technology, and that it was the first small district to go online with the county office of education. "We must review our needs and set a budget, for several years if necessary, to improve the quality and amount of educational technology available to our students."
She also believes the board needs to work on improving communication with all segments of the Oak View community.
"Oak View's success is due to community involvement and local control. I am committed to keeping an accountable atmosphere and to make the difficult decisions that trustees must sometimes make," she said.
Pehl believes she is more qualified than her challengers because her experience will go a long way in maintaining Oak View's excellence, she said.
"My strongest qualification is my financial knowledge of the district. But, most of all, I am committed to spending the time and energy necessary to achieve the goals set for Oak View School," she said.
Pehl is also a former Galt Joint Union High School District board member. She served from 1990 to 1998.
Vermeltfoort, who has lived in the area for 34 years and owns his own general contracting business, believes Oak View needs board members who are parents of students currently attending the school.
"Some of our board members have served in that position for over 20 years. We need board members who ... are in communication with the newer families who have moved into the district," he said, adding that elected officials should also be willing to go outside of the small community to get ideas from other districts.
The 1979 Oak View graduate would also like to solicit ideas and concerns from district residents.
"The board has served the district well, but has lost contact with the younger parents in the district, some of whom have no contact with board members," he said, adding that effective board members should be those who have children who are or have recently attended the school, not just those visiting the campus for meetings and photo opportunities.
He serves on the bond advisory committee and is active in helping with campus activities through the parent-teacher club.
"This helps me observe teachers, staff, parents and students working together, and gives me a good feel for the health of the district," he said.
Vermeltfoort has also been a Galt Lions Club member for 15 years. During that time, he's served as president four times and as Sacramento-area Lions district zone chair. He has also been working on the McFarland Ranch historical restoration project.
In the end, he says he can bring to the table his experience with using different funding sources, as Oak View will need to come up with new funds to convert the existing multipurpose room and kitchen into a library, and offices for staff once current construction is complete.
If elected, Vermeltfoort would like to see greater transparency from the school board so the public knows how the bond funds and tax dollars are being spent. He would also like to see online efforts through websites such as Facebook.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.