Both Dana Ann Baker and George Neely hope Lodi Unified School District voters want to see change.
The two candidates are vying for the Area 3 seat on the school board.
Incumbent Richard Jones decided not to run, despite filing the appropriate paperwork and paying hundreds in fees. Because of this, his name will still appear on the upcoming ballot.
Baker, who works as a senior lab technician at San Joaquin Delta College and serves as the school’s California School Employees Association president, decided to run because she believes there needs to be a change on the board. Even before Jones announced his withdrawal from the race, she said Neely had always been her biggest competition.
“I feel that because of my experience and the advocacy that I have done, I am a better candidate. I feel I am a very good leader. I’m known for that, and I don’t have a problem being transparent or (speaking) up,” Baker said this week. “If I win this election, I want to do so on my positive attributes.”
Neely is a native of the Stockton and Lodi areas and a product of Lodi schools. He is a retired military officer who has held two careers since leaving the armed forces.
“I have studied and practiced leadership my entire adult life and have received many awards for my accomplishments as a leader,” he said.
He currently teaches sixth grade at Oakwood Elementary School in North Stockton.
The candidate, known for declaring his intentions to run early and launching both a website and Facebook page to communicate with his peers, believes he is the best person for the board position. If elected, he said he will dedicate himself to returning the district to its previously touted stature, when living in Lodi Unified School District enhanced property values.
He also plans to redirect the focus of the board’s efforts from the district office to the classroom.
“Yes, I’ve spoken about the budgets publicly, but I have a lot of ideas about programs. I want to get us out of program improvement,” he said.
He also has a three-step plan to address test scores, including teaching students how to better take examinations.
“There are test-taking strategies, and we should have a districtwide program that starts students young. When you take a standardized test, you have to be aware of words like ‘always,’” he said.
As an advocate who regularly travels to Sacramento, Baker will continue to rally against education cuts, she said.
“Because of the way the funding has come down from Sacramento, I feel that there needs to be people on the board who know how to deal with budgets, especially related to the California school system,” she said, adding that the right candidate needs to know where to cut. “I’ve gone to many, many trainings from the Community College League and the Classified Leadership Institute, plus I sit on the planning and budget committee at Delta College.”
As the CSEA president, Baker also said she has to understand budgets, as well as union contracts and bargaining.
As for the budget, Neely thinks Lodi Unified is worse off than others in the area, partly because it has started new programs, then abandoned them.
“Administrators’ salaries are higher than average, and teachers’ salaries are lower than average,” he said, citing a recent study by Pepperdine University that included Lodi Unified.
He says he has the knowledge to change that.
“I know more about the financials than some of our board members,” he said, adding that he not only has background in business law, but he has scrutinized the district’s budget document for hours.
“I feel like I have more background than anyone else running, and I’m ready to do this job. I’m ready to step in right now,” he said.
He said he knows how the school board works, especially when it comes to open meeting laws, since he is the president of Lodi Library board.
Baker believes the local budget problems have been inherited from the state.
“We really need to make a change in Sacramento. Education has been cut over and over at the state level,” Baker said, adding that district cuts will not make everyone happy.
“You have to look at what will be in the best interest of the children. That’s what Lodi Unified is there to do, to teach these children,” she said.
Neely agreed and said trustees must restore education to the classroom and improve district office leadership.
He points toward the length of time it took for the teachers union and the district to come to a tentative labor agreement, and also believes the current board should not have approved Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer’s contract the way it was written, he said, adding that there were flaws in the process.
Neely is running because, he said, he’s put a lot of work into trying to get the elected officials to do what’s right.
“They continue down the same path. I decided when I couldn’t get the board to change, it was time to change the board. Bottom line is, I want to make a change,” he said.
Baker, who attended Lodi elementary schools but graduated from Calaveras High School, is endorsed by the Central Labor Council, local California State Education Association, the San Joaquin County Republican Party and Delta College trustee Janet Rivera.
Neely has received the support of the Lodi Education Association, as well as Congressman Jerry McNerney and the Democratic Central Committee of San Joaquin County.
Trustee Area 3 includes the following schools: Beckman Elementary, Borchardt Elementary, Nichols Elementary and Tokay High.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at email@example.com.