In what promises to be a contentious race, seven candidates are vying for three seats on the Galt Joint Union High School District board of trustees. School board members are elected at-large, and there are two incumbents running.
Both Art Oelsner and Dennis Richardson, who won a two-year term in 2008, are hoping to retain seats on the board.
They are being challenged by Mark Beck, Frederick Goethel, Angela Marie Da Prato, Gus Prouty and Patrick Maple. The last two are former board members.
The new board will be expected to work closely with Superintendent Daisy Lee, who is still fairly new in the position. Together, administrators and elected officials are still working on creating a union with Liberty Ranch High School, which opened last year.
Oelsner ran for the school board four years ago, he said, because of frustration watching a dysfunctional board and a crippled high school staff unable to operate because of micro-management and unethical behavior.
“The last four years we have seen a shift in our district,” the incumbent said last week. “Gone is the circus-like atmosphere. Gone are the days of running the district from the front porch of the general store. The current board has been running the district in a professional manner.”
He believes both Lee and Galt High School Principal Charles Howell, also relatively new, are doing a “terrific” job focusing on academics and building character.
Richardson, who is completing a two-year term on the board after being appointed to fill Maple’s seat when he resigned, says his desire to serve the district’s families will provide stability. His wife currently serves on the elementary school board.
“I want to use my knowledge of school administration and finance as important tools in decision making and school governance,” he said.
Da Prato, a graduate of Galt High School, served as the student school representative to the school board her senior year, so she knows firsthand about the issues. She has coached basketball and soccer teams for more than eight years since returning from college.
Maple said he has advocated for students for 40 years, save for a brief break following open heart surgery. Today, with his health no longer an issue, he said he is ready to re-start his journey for children.
He counts among his accomplishments during his past board tenure the nearly $80 million brought to the district through outside funding, raising test scores more than 180 points and creating broader, more challenging curriculum.
Prouty, on the other hand, believes he is among the best candidates because he said he respects the diversity of the district.
“I have proven myself to be a staunch supporter of our youths without reservation, and I am not running to avenge an old grudge. I will lead the district forward to what it was before the budget cuts and more,” he said.
Beck is a retired special education and agriculture teacher at Galt High School. While a teacher there, he also served as department chairman for special education and coached football. He now has four young children who will attend Galt schools, and he wants to see improvements, he said.
Goethel, whose wife unsuccessfully ran for the same board two years ago, desires to bring financial stability to the district and end board micromanagement, he said.
A relative newcomer to Galt, he has served on several committees in the district, including the selection committee for the principals at both Liberty Ranch and Galt high schools. He has also served as a parent member and now as a community member of the Galt High School Site Council, and volunteered as a member of the bond oversight committee when Liberty Ranch was being built.
He sits on the Sacramento-Yolo Vector Control Board and, though now retired, worked in the fire protection insurance industry. His daughter graduated from Galt High in 2009, when she was the valedictorian.
Oelsner, who has lived in the community for more than 15 years, has operated the Galt Lady Hoops Basketball Club for the last 13 years. He also has two daughters that attended Galt High.
All three of Prouty’s children have attended Galt schools; one is a junior at Liberty Ranch High. He has also served as president of Galt Junior Warriors for two terms, president of Galt High booster club and past member of the board of trustees for two years.
Prouty, a product of local schools, has been a member of the community since 1974 and an active supporter of youth activities most of his adult life, he said.
But, he added, a significant amount of diversity and support for programs has suffered, especially in the last four years.
“As a graduate of the district, I want to make sure those opportunities that have gone by the wayside have an opportunity to be reborn, so that the youths of our community will have as many great opportunities as I enjoyed as a student of Galt High School,” he said.
Maple, who also previously served on the board for eight years, plus another six for the nearby Arcohe district, would like to put back into curriculum classes that allow high school graduates to obtain a job or head to a trade school as soon as receiving a diploma.
“My vision for (the district) involves improvement in the fields of academics; a broader curriculum that includes engineering, communications, arts and music, medicine, ag, computers, business management, consumer services, public service, job skills, life skills (such as) how to balance a bank book, read a contract and use credit wisely,” he said, adding that characteristics such as self-sufficiency and self-reliance are also important.
In addition to his time on local school boards, Maple has served as a swimming and baseball coach, and was inducted into the Lodi Sports Hall of Fame. He is also a retired U.S. Army sergeant.
Maple also says his leadership helped contribute to improving district graduation rates and generating more than $1 million in additional state funds when daily attendance rose.
Richardson, too, believes the board needs to address providing opportunities not only for those going on to college, but specialized career technical programs that allow graduates to get a job immediately.
“We can only address these issues by using our tax dollars wisely and getting the biggest bang for our dollar,” he said.
Richardson counts among his accomplishments the opening of Liberty Ranch and hiring Lee as superintendent.
“My six years as a board member allowed me to gain the experience and knowledge not available elsewhere,” he said of his current term and previous service on the board.
Balancing the budget
Both DaPrato and Oelsner believe the first issue the board must deal with is balancing the district’s budget.
The second challenge is bringing up test scores, most agree.
“This problem begins and ends with the teacher in the classroom. We have some terrific teachers in the Galt high school district, but we must face the cold hard fact that we have teachers who are not effective,” Oelsner said, adding that if they cannot improve, they must be replaced.
Goethel, too, sees raising test scores as a major goal. If elected, he said he would seek ideas from site administrators and teachers.
“They tend to get lost with all the committees, but they’re in the classroom on a daily basis,” he said.
He added that the district also recently put into place curriculum pacing guides for English and would like to see if they’re available for other subjects. He also wants to standardize the curriculum.
“I hate to teach to the test. If you want (grant) money, you have to,” Goethel said.
Beck said he also has an educational background and has taught various subjects including agriculture, math, science and shop. He also coached varsity football.
“I understand test scores. I think a lot of people that talk about them do not.”
Da Prato also wants to ensure the district is providing competitive salaries to teachers so they want to renew their contract and stay within the district while balancing limited funding.
“The board needs to start thinking of creative ways of how to raise money without having to cut programs and pink-slip teachers. I believe cutting programs and pink-slipping teachers are the easy way out to refurbishing the district’s debt,” she said, adding that there’s a need to create a position to research grants, file paperwork and pursue businesses for funds. “Despite our county’s economic status, there is money out there waiting to be claimed.”
Beck, a former teacher and now personal business owner, says his financial success running a cattle company is an asset to the board. “I also know the importance of a good education,” he said.
With cuts districtwide, he said he has seen a lot of programs being cut in favor of others. “That’s like stealing money out of one pocket to put in another. It’s easier to go to the big departments and just cut, but how can you have a successful program when you continue to cut?” he said, citing both the agricultural and sports departments.
Instead, Beck would like to see proportional reductions based on the size of the department and the number of students it serves. If elected, he said he would look at each department’s budget, then sit down with the department heads to determine what percentage is fair for an across-the-board reduction.
Richardson wants to fund programs and staff based on student enrollment. “All student programs should be evaluated for improving student achievement.”
Da Prato said there is a financial strain of adding another four-year high school to the district. “Before Liberty Ranch was built, the district was already having budget issues and now the hole is getting deeper. Galt needed another high school because Galt High was an old, overcrowded school. However, some of the funds have been mismanaged,” she said.
Da Prato said she would also like to see Galt High students be given the same opportunities as Liberty Ranch High students, adding that it can be a challenge to share resources.
“If Galt High has a great English department, it is the district and board’s responsibility to make sure Liberty also has a great English department. Ideally, people should not be saying Galt High has a great English department but Liberty has a stronger math department,” she said.
She wants to see the board put a program into place recognizing outstanding teachers by naming a district teacher of the month and recognizing him or her with a certificate or plaque.
“This could be a good public relations move for the board to inform the community of the successful educators we have on campus. Thus, the community could get to know our educators and perhaps be more willing to support higher wages for teachers,” she said.
Beck, who was born and raised in the Galt area, said he is qualified to be elected because of the way he conducts himself.
“Board members need to separate what they do as a board member in closed session with what they do in public,” he said, adding that it hasn’t always been that way. “They’ve been elected. Make the decision, and that’s it. I’m going to make a decision and that will be it.”
He added that he has a strong moral compass. “It’s OK if we disagree ... set it aside and take care of what needs to be taken care of. It’s not personal, it’s for students in the long run,” he said.
Goethel, who supports unification with the elementary district, feels he is the most qualified because of his unique viewpoint.
“I’ve been involved with the schools for over five years, and I’m still involved. It’s not like my daughter graduated, and I bailed,” he said.
He added that he doesn’t have an agenda to reinstate a program or re-hire a coach, for example. “I’m close enough to it to know what’s going on, but I have no agenda,” he said.
In the end, Oelsner feels there are some “great” people running for the board. “I respect anyone who would want to serve the community and participate in this process,” he said.
The Galt Federation of Certificated and Classified Employees Union Local 2219 endorsed Beck, DaPrato and Goethel.
Incumbent Terry Parker-Owning opted not to seek re-election for undisclosed reasons.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.