Debra Long and her colleagues on the Central Valley School board learned some tough lessons this year about politics and the complexities of state funding of public education.
However, Long believes the board did a good job of maintaining core programs despite a $12 million budget deficit that resulted partly from changes to the state formula for school funding and substantial pay hikes awarded to teachers and other certificated staff.
“I do not believe we could have done anything differently to avoid or mitigate the cuts,” said Long, who is running for a fifth four-year term in District 3.
Her opponent in the Nov. 5 general election, Susan Dolan, largely agrees, but hopes the board can find a way to “get more funding in the near future for nurses and staff development coaches while maintaining smaller class sizes.”
Dolan has stressed her experience in the classroom. She taught history and English at Central Valley High school for more than a decade before becoming a librarian at the school in 2003 before retiring in 2018.
“I cannot remember a time when a previous educator was on the board,” Dolan said. “I hope that my knowledge and experience of working in the trenches will prove beneficial.”
Like most districts, Central Valley was surprised at the dramatic effects of the new state education funding law prompted by the McCleary decision.
“If hindsight was allowed, I never would have advocated for a change in school funding,” Long said. “Passing and implementing the McCleary decision hurt all school districts.”
Long pointed out that the 14,000-student Central Valley district was particularly affected. While McCleary pushed more state money into local districts, in return it trimmed the amount of property taxes school districts could collect.
Long said the district was able to maintain class sizes along with its alternative and tech high schools, while staff cutbacks were made “with compassion.”
“I am very proud of the administration for the way they handled these budget cuts,” Long said.
Dolan agreed that the board faced some difficult decisions. However, she believes the district could use a fresh perspective. She also said she was disappointed by cuts to library services.
Since retiring, Dolan has been involved “on a variety of committees” within the district.
Both candidates hope for more financial help during the next legislative session. If that aid falls short, Long said a supplemental levy might be necessary to “ensure a quality education for Central Valley School District.”
“I can only hope that we are able to get more funding in the near future for nurses and staff development coaches while maintaining smaller class sizes,” Dolan said.
Dolan was noncommittal on the question of a levy. She said that passage of a higher tax would ensure a quality education for Central Valley School District, but “worried that it could make the cost of home ownership even more unaffordable.”
Looking ahead, Dolan said that staff and student safety is a primary concern.
“But that includes keeping class sizes smaller, adequate custodial staff to maintain buildings and nurses available when students need them,” she said.
Long said she’s alarmed at potential changes in sex education, particularly the proposed curriculum that’s sure to come up in the next session of the Legislature.
“It is my belief that human growth is a parent responsibility, not that of a school district,” Long said. “As a parent, I should be responsible for instilling my own beliefs and values in my children or have the ability to opt in and have the school district provide the education.”
Dolan’s major complaint is that while families have the ability to opt out of the curriculum, the courses are only available to preview on one night of the year designated by the district.
“Local school boards can do their best to meet the wishes of their local communities, but they have to do it while navigating the laws of the state and federal government,” Dolan said. “We are limited to the resources of all citizens by voicing our concerns and voting for those we believe best represent our beliefs and interests.”
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