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Class sizes, spending discussed
School board candidates fielded questions on everything from class sizes to fiscal responsibility Tuesday night during a forum sponsored by the Orland Chamber of Commerce.
Orland Unified School District Board incumbents Ben Kraemer and Vangie Porras were joined by challenger Connie Carter in the Carnegie Center for two hours of questions and answers as the public observed.
Glenn County Superintendent of Schools Tracey Quarne moderated the event by reading 18 questions picked from a basket.
Kraemer and Porras have each been on the school board since 2000 and emphasized the building of new classrooms and facilities in the district as a major accomplishment done with the aid of district voters who passed a $21 million construction bond measure in 2008.
Kraemer is a local business owner and Porras works as a legal aide, but holds a degree from California State University, Chico in social work.
Carter is a retired district employee who left her job as food service director earlier this year, and said she wishes to promote educational opportunities in Orland. She also has a bachelor's of science degree in business administration from CSU, Chico.
Not present were Board member Larry Donnelley and challenger Jeff Aguiar who also are on the ballot.
Three seats are up Nov. 6 for the school board that directs policy for the kindergarten through 12th grade classes in the district's six schools and an independent study program.
On the topic of class sizes, the candidates said the district tries to adjust them to lower levels where possible, but sometimes it is not possible to hire another teacher because of funding not being available during a given school year.
The district also works to adjust sizes for compliance as the school year progresses and enrollment stabilizes, officials said.
Another question centered on the candidates' responses if someone came to them asking for help regarding a student or the person himself.
"That has happened over the years," Porras said. However, she would listen to a point and then refer the person to a supervisor such as a principal or the district superintendent.
She added "As the school board, we are the last party to appeal to in the district. I would prefer to stay neutral."
"I would always be open to any member of the community wanting to discuss issues with me," Carter said.
But she added she would refer people concerned about labor negotiations to a site representative and never promise an "outcome to anyone."
Carter also vowed to find out the exact answer on district policy and provide it while being careful not give special treatment, she said.
If it were a parent, Kraemer said he would listen and refer them to the school's principal or teacher first and then the superintendent. As for employees, union contracts call for how those are handled.
A third question focused on the firing of teachers.
The citizen who wrote it apparently was concerned the teacher's union would prevent an incompetent teacher from being fired.
All three candidates suggested if a teacher is not performing he or she would not be with the district for long.
Performance reviews are done by the principal and sometimes peers, officials said, and those who cannot do the job normally are let go at some point.
Maintaining and passing on information about students was the topic of another question concerning the merger of Glenn County's Human Resource and Health Services agencies.
The citizen wanted to know if the candidates supported having information follow students and if the district would provide information to the county agency on individuals in the school system.
Carter said there is a computer software system in place that gives the food service department information on students who qualify for free meals through the Human Resource Agency.
Kraemer said he would support the information exchange as long as it benefits the students and district, and Porras said she needs more information since student privacy is a concern.
Highly unruly children was a topic brought up at the forum.
Again, Kraemer said it is up to the teacher and principal to handle the situation, but sometimes law enforcement may be called if the behavior is a serious problem.
"There are some kids that are challenges out there," Porras said, which is one reason she did not become a teacher even though she earned a teaching credential. However, there are strategies that can help.
Carter said changes in society have contributed to student behavior unheard of 30 years ago.
Families with alcohol and drug addition issues impact the children and often lead to challenging behavior where the school administration must step in.
All three said the district superintendent's job performance is reviewed by the board, but it would be up to him to disclose the results as it is a personnel matter requiring confidentiality.
When asked if they would take the district's health insurance as board members, Carter said she already has insurance through her retirement package while Porras said she has her own insurance.
Kraemer said he does take the insurance and pays $5,000 a year out of pocket for it, but he would negotiate dropping it if it were necessary.
The incumbents also expressed a desire to drop the federal No Child Left Behind law since they believed it is flawed and cannot be realistically achieved for all children.
Not all will go on to college, they said, and tests are not the only item to determine a student's education.
However, Carter said she would prefer the law be modified rather than abolished since it is important not to abandon any child's education.