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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

SB Teachers Union Endorses Alvarez, Capps and Sims-Moten in School Board Race -- Reid Misses Cut

Just in time for Labor Day, the Santa Barbara Teachers Association last week bestowed coveted endorsements in the wide-open SB Board of Education race, picking one challenger and two of three unelected incumbents.

The union, representing about 725 teachers in the SB Unified School District, picked board president Laura Capps and past president Wendy Sims-Moten -- both running for the first time after being unopposed four years ago -- as well as education administrator Virginia Alvarez.

"We had a very robust process," union president Karen McBride told Newsmakers. "It was not easy to narrow it down to the three, but in the end we feel very energized about it."

As a practical matter, the teachers endorsement is meaningful in the eight-person school board campaign, both as a signifier of the collective judgment of classroom educators, and as a source of crucial volunteer labor and mailers in this year's unprecedented, socially distanced campaign.

"We are going to help them in whatever way we can - volunteers, phone banking, a mailer, mail drops," McBride told us.

Political landscape. The union has not been active in recent SB school board contests. But the pandemic; high-profile local and national debates about whether, when and how to return students to classrooms; and widespread concerns about ways and means of optimizing online distance learning in the meantime -- have raised the political stakes.

At a time when conservatives and the Trump Administration - in the person of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos - routinely and spitefully bash teachers and their unions as emblematic of all that is wrong with public education, McBride said her group looked for candidates who are "open to two-way dialogue with us as educators" and who "use data to look at what’s best for the students in making decisions."

As a political matter, the teachers endorsement is a tactical victory for Alvarez, raising her profile amid the candidate field at an early point in the contest; at the same time, it represents a setback for Jackie Reid, the only incumbent the teachers did not endorse.

In 2016, Reid, Capps and Sims-Moten were the only three people who stepped up to run for school board for an election in which board retirements had created three vacancies. When the three took office in January 2017, former Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, hired by the previous board the year before, already had begun actively pushing his agenda for district schools, which the new board members inherited.

Last summer, amid a series of self-inflicted controversies and conflicts with some parents, Matsuoka resigned his post a year before his contract ended; now, as the three non-elected incumbents for the first time seek the support of voters, they must defend their records during the contentious Matsuoka era.

Reid and Sims-Moten most often went along with the wishes of the ex-superintendent; Capps frequently did as well, but notably pushed back on several key issues, including her opposition to the firing of former San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens; sharp criticism of the district's patchy plans for school shootings; and a push, against Matsuoka's wishes, for a formal, solar-based district energy program.

For the teachers, another key factor in making endorsements, according to McBride, was the candidates' commitment to addressing "equity issues," at a time when Latino students in particular lag in academic achievement scores and other metrics of performance.

Beyond the so-called test score Achievement Gap, she said, the higher incidence of Covid-19 among Latinos and Blacks; connectivity and other technology difficulties some minority students encountered during the implementation of distance learning programs; and concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement and protests all figured into the union's decisions.

"What's really important to us is that the (endorsed candidates) are equity-minded," she said. "There is so much going on with equity -- the Covid issues around equity...ethnic studies, Black Lives Matter and all these equity issues that have evolved out of the distance learning experience."

You can view Newsmakers' interviews with five of the eight candidates via the links below. Repeated efforts to contact Sebastian Antonio Fernandez-Falcon have been unsuccessful; Reid and Sims-Moten to date have declined repeated invitations to be interviewed.

Images: Teachers Labor Day (Facebook); Virginia Alvarez; Wendy Sims-Moten and Jackie Reid at a meeting at San Marcos High over the Ed Behrens firing; Karen McBride.

Newsmakers interviews with the candidates:

SBUSD board president and 2020 candidate Laura Capps is here.

SB realtor and candidate Brian Campbell is here.

Photographer and literacy advocate Monie de Wit is here.

School administrator Virginia Alvarez is here.

Health inspector Elrawd MacLearn is here.

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