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Galt residents join forces with district for new high school

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Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2005 10:00 pm

When Galt resident Art Oelsner decided in 2003 to vote against a bond to build a second high school, there was only one other person he knew who shared his views -- his wife Stephanie.

Their two-person campaign quickly grew as they asked Galt voters to read what they thought was a poorly written and confusing Measure G bond. That bond failed just four months later with less than 45 percent of the vote.

Now that the Galt Joint Union High School District is testing the waters for another possible bond election in November, Oelsner has stepped up to resume the role of local activist. But this time, he is willing to work with the district to pass a bond and get a second school built, and he is enlisting the help of others.

On Wednesday night, a cross-section of about 30 Galt residents and parents turned out at the Chabolla Center to support a new political action committee being led by Oelsner that they feel may change the face of district politics and end Galt High's four-time bond losing streak.

Members of Parents Demanding Accountability plan to take an active role in local politics. Some will form a panel for interviewing future school board candidates while others sit in on City Council and school board meetings or participate on bond committees.

Galt High Superintendent Thomas Gemma, who attended Wednesday night's meeting, talked to the group about a new era of openness at the district level and invited their input during the planning stages of a bond campaign.

"If you have a question and I don't have an answer, I'll get it for you," he promised the audience.

The superintendent, who began as district head in January, stepped outside during the meeting to get from his truck the drawings proposed for the new high school to be built off Marengo Road, as well as plans for a new Estrellita Continuation High School on the same property.

He spread them out for people to look through and offered to answer any questions. Before he left the meeting, Gemma set a pile of business cards on a table by the drawings and invited anyone with questions about the district to call him for an appointment.

Art Oelsner speaks at the first meeting of a committee designed to be a watchdog of the Galt Joint Union High School District at Chabolla Center in Galt on Wednesday. Oelsner is the head of the committee. (Mike Graffigna/News-Sentinel)

Galt High parent Raquel Lemieux said Gemma is making a smart move by being open with the public.

"He's putting his foot in the right direction," Lemieux said. "He's definitely a positive face for the high school."

Lisa Steele sits on the board for Arcohe School, a K-8 site that feeds students into Galt High. She voted against the last bond measure because she did not trust the high school board to spend the $15 million bond money properly.

If a bond passes this time around, she hopes that a citizen's oversight committee, with at least one acting PDA member, will monitor how the district spends bond funds.

So far, about 40 people have paid for membership in PDA. Included in the list are former high school board members Ann Ullrich and Gary Silva, current board member Norman Pearson and Perry Hariri, vice president of YCH Communities, which has offered to help the district fund a portion of the new high school.

Kent Pollock, a media specialist and the district's hired hand, said he paid the $10 membership fee for the group because its founders have the same goal as the district -- to see a second high school built.

According to Oelsner, however, the group could change its course midstream if members still feel a lack of confidence in the district come election time. PDA, he added, could become a force of opposition to any bond not written with the public in mind.

Kent Pollock

But for now, Oelsner said the group's focus is bringing together what he sees as a triangle of influence in the high school district -- administration, school board members and the public.

And with a beginning participation rate of more than 20 times what he started with in his anti-Measure G campaign, Oelsner feels confident he can help make a difference for the better of Galt's children.

"I desperately want this group to be a positive movement and an attempt to see good schools in Galt," he added.

Contact reporter Sara Cardine at sarac@lodinews.com.

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