Round 3: SBUSD Board Wannabes Debate Hilda, Equity & Racism, Charters, Literacy & Qualifications
The three contenders for the District 1 seat on Santa Barbara Unified's school board on Monday night sparred over whose life experience best qualifies them to help address the seemingly intractable disparity in education achievement between Latino and white students.
In what has emerged as a marquee local race in the November 8 election campaign, retired educator Efigenia Banales, student affairs professional Gabe Escobedo and non-profit executive and parent Dan La Berge met, virtually, for a third time, in a debate co-sponsored by Newsmakers and Josh Molina's "Santa Barbara Talks" podcast.
As a political matter, the three-way campaign in the recently created District 1 is significant, not only as the most high-profile demonstration of SBUSD's new neighborhood district voting system, but also as the contest that will decide representation for the only one of five districts with a majority minority population, speaking for much of the Eastside, Westside and downtown.
Fittingly, much of the discourse focused on the challenge of improving the academic performance of Latino pupils, as each of the rivals offered a different perspective on the key underlying problems.
Banales argued that it was a shortage of classroom "resources," calling for teachers to be supported and backed up by classroom paraprofessionals;
Escobedo pointed to "systemic racism" in the public education delivery system, proposing a series of changes, beginning with new standardized tests that reflect the lived experience of minority students;
La Berge traced the gap largely to differences in "parental engagement," with privileged white families having more time and resources to be involved with their kids' schools and study.
The three each portrayed themselves as personally best qualified to serve as a school board member:
Banales said her decades of work in classrooms and close ties to the neighborhood would allow her to channel the concerns of families of students who need the most help:
Escobedo said coming up as a once-struggling minority public school student, as well as his record of political activism, provides him empathetic insight and clear understanding of the mindsets and challenges of minority students;
La Berge said the board badly needs the viewpoint of a parent with kids who attend SBUSD schools -- Laura Capps, the only current parent/member will depart in a few months following her election to the Board of Supervisors.
The candidates also tackled questions on a batch of other critical issues, including the future role of charter schools, the most effective means of teaching literacy and the mass departures of district administrators since the arrival of Superintendent Hilda Maldonado.
There were no injuries.