The ballot will also include candidates for the new school board — its five members would replace the present school board in 2011, if voters decided to split with Tracy Unified by passing Measure A.
Approving the measure would eventually lead to the creation of a high school in Mountain House — land on Mascot Boulevard has been reserved for the school, which Superintendent Dale Hansen estimates could cost about $80 million to build and equip.
Forming the unified school district and building the high school is something each candidate endorsed.
“Vote,” school board candidate David Pombo said. “It’s your right. It’s your privilege. It’s your civic duty.”
Pombo, the only candidate who represents the rural Tracy area, serves on the Lammersville Elementary School foundation and school site council. He and his five children all graduated from Lammersville School.
The two-hour forum gave the candidates a chance to talk about their experiences and why each of them is the best person for the job. They also had the opportunity to field questions from the public. About 25 people attended the forum that was hosted by the Tracy Press at Wicklund Elementary School.
Pombo, a local farmer who has lived in the district all his life, said keeping test scores high will be “tough,” and the district needs to continue hiring the best teachers possible. He said he has visited all the district’s schools and noticed how much the teachers and staff enjoy working there.
As a small-business owner, he said he understands budget constraints and managing money. He also said his “ability to think outside the box” allows him to figure out ways to spend money most effectively.
“I’m not a politician,” Micaela Vergara said in her opening remarks. “I am an elementary school teacher and a mom.”
Vergara, a fourth-grade teacher in Dublin and the only woman on the ballot, said she wants to increase parent involvement in the schools and make sure the diverse population in Mountain House is represented.
“We’re building our community, and the schools are the cornerstone of the community,” she said.
She said keeping test scores high will be a challenge going forward, but she plans to make sure the curriculum is strong by using materials that will give the “biggest bang for our buck.”
“We have to have board members who have knowledge of the educational funding structure and how it works,” Ben Fobért, current school board member, said.
Fobért, a vice principal in Pleasanton, has served on the school board for two years and worked in education for nine years. He said his experience as an administrator has allowed him to work in many areas of education, such as curriculum, discipline and management of buildings, and has given him the ability to shape policies and procedures.
He said giving kids a “wide variety of choices” so they can follow their passions and hiring qualified teachers is an important part of keeping the curriculum and schools strong.
When asked about the district’s decision to build Questa Elementary School before Altamont Elementary School, he said the board is faced with difficult decisions that sometimes “are not popular.”
“There’s no hiding the face that we’re building a school in Questa instead of Altamont,” Fobért, 33, said. “That was a very difficult decision to make.”
Fellow elementary board member Atul Khanna said the past issues with construction money and decisions to build Questa were a learning experience.
“What I’ve learned from that is the moment something comes up, lay it all out,” Khanna, 40, said. “Don’t try and cover things up.”
Khanna, a local pediatrician, has served four years on the board and said his experience working with children and teens of all ages is one of many strengths he brings to the board. He said he wants to work with the community to build the high school curriculum and help students make a smooth transition into high school.
School board president Shane Nielson mirrored much of Khanna’s sentiment about past issues with school construction.
“A lesson was learned,” Nielson said. “The problem has been resolved, but that doesn’t change what happened.”
He said the board corrected problems and is moving forward, but he learned a “hard lesson.”
Nielson, a paralegal who has sat on the school board six years, said his experience on the board and leadership in the community are among the many things he would contribute to the new school board. He said it has been his “mission” to keep the level of education high in the district, and he plans to continue that by keeping up the things that are successful and finding ways to improve things that aren’t working.
“The kids in this school district like to be challenged,” Nielson, 39, said.
He said the district has talented teachers and administrators who have been essential during this state budget crisis, but he said it is part of his job to read every document available to him to make sure money is spent appropriately.
“It’s important to remember that the board still has to keep that oversight,” he said.
Current school board member James Hiramoto said the most important thing he learned from past problems with school construction is “accountability.”
“If things aren’t right, we have to let the public know right away,” Hiramoto said. “It has to be out there so that we can address it, and you have to take the hits when they come.”
Hiramoto, 40, has served 1½ years on the school board. He said that to unify the community more, he would want to have middle and high school students spend time with senior citizens.
He said his experience working as a school psychologist is one of many things he offers to the board. He also noted that creating a nurturing environment for students and identifying strengths and weaknesses is important.
Lammersville School District has three elementary schools, with a fourth under construction that will open in fall 2010 and another planned to open 2012. The district has about 1,800 students and a budget of nearly $19 million.
Matthew Balzarini, a police officer in San Francisco for 10 years, served 2½ years on the elementary school board and now sits on the Mountain House Community Services District board of directors. He said he wants to use his safety experience “to make sure all the campuses can be as safe as they can be.”
Balzarini, 34, said it is important for trustees to be visible at the schools. When he was on the school board, he said he visited the school campuses frequently. He said he makes public safety presentations at the elementary schools every year and continues to work with the school district as a member of the school committee of the community services district.
“My experience would be an asset to the new board,” Balzarini said. “I’m dedicated to this district.”
He also stressed the use of new technology in the schools.
“Kids learn differently now,” he said. “Teachers are aware of that, and they are adapting.”
Mountain House newcomer Jake Johnson said he was drawn to Mountain House because of the small-town feel.
“One of the main things that drew me to Mountain House is its schools,” Johnson, 33, said.
He said his business and marketing experience would help the district with long-range planning during the state budget crisis.
Johnson said he wants to continue to improve and develop the curriculum to keep test scores high. He also said he hopes to prepare children for the future by helping them set career goals.
“The best thing you can do for a child is give them focus,” he said.
• Contact reporter Jaclyn Hirsch at 830-4269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.