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Seeking 2nd Term, Capps Jump-Starts SB School Board Race

School board President Laura Capps will run for a new four-year term as a Santa Barbara Unified School District trustee, she said in an interview, portraying herself as a "community voice" who has demanded "accountability and transparency" from administrators.

"With this pandemic, nothing could be more important than how our schools are run, not just for parents and kids and families and teachers, but for the entire community," Capps told Newsmakers. "I am committed to what’s best for the kids in this county."

Four years ago, there were three open seats on the SB board and only Capps and two other current members -- Wendy Sims-Moten and Jackie Reid - registered to run; this put all three on the board by default, without having to seek support from voters.

Capps, who plans to make a pandemic-appropriate formal announcement on Monday -- via social media and email -- is the first candidate to declare her candidacy publicly. Sims-Moten and Reid both have formed campaign committees, according to documents on file at the county elections office, but neither responded to requests for comment last night.

Also considering a run is Monie de Wit, a parent who speaks frequently and passionately at school board meetings about the importance of literacy and programs for special needs students. In a recent op-ed published in the Independent, she complained about the high cost of getting a candidate statement printed in the voter handbook -- $10,604 for 400 words -- and also stated some of her reasons for her interest in the race.

"As a mother of two children in the district, I believe our district could do a far better job of addressing special needs students, teaching the neurodiverse, and dramatically raising the educational outcomes for all students, be they privileged or impoverished," she wrote.

"I am motivated to get involved because I truly believe that literacy is a human right. Literacy not only disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline, it builds self-confidence and self-esteem, and it enables every child the chance to reach for their true potential. Literacy is the essence of education," de Wit added.

Some parents associated with Fair Education Santa Barbara, a 501(c)3 education organization whose leaders often criticize the board for insufficiently focusing on fundamentals of learning and teaching and too much on "equity" issues, such as ethnic studies and contracts with non-profit vendors for "implicit bias" and other forms of anti-discrimination training, also are expected to get behind at least one candidate, but have not yet done so.

The deadline for registering to run is August 7.

"A lot has changed." For Capps, the school board race will mark her second political campaign of 2020, although this one is certain to be far less expensive, tough and bruising than her unsuccessful challenge to Supervisor Das Williams in the March 3 election.

After that contest, she told friends she was uncertain whether she would seek another school board term. However, she said in the interview that Covid-19 pandemic and its impact, including the shuttering of the schools, strongly influenced her decision to run.

"A lot has changed," since March 3, she said. "A pandemic has hit. My campaign for supervisor was all about what’s best for our kids. I am committed to what’s best for the kids in this county and with this pandemic, nothing could be more important than how our schools are run, not just for parents and kids and families and teachers but also for the entire community, because our economy is dependent on our schools."

She also has been energized by the recent arrival of new Superintendent Hilda Maldonado, Capps said, who replaced the embattled and now-departed Cary Matsuoka after a national search which she led.

She said Maldonado's "outward-facing" style and "collaborative nature" are more in line with her own values and beliefs about how the district and the board should operate.

"That's one of the reasons we hired her," she said. "She's inclusive of ideas and saying yes to (innovative) things and all of the good will that's out there...You can't get away with not being out in the community and being a community leader."

Capps acknowledged that crucial fundamentals in the performance of district schools have not changed much over the past four years -- test scores and the "achievement gap" between whites and students of color, for example -- but took credit for consistently challenging Matsuoka and other administrators in pushing for improvements.

"I've proven to be a school board member who’s ready and willing to kick the tires, push for accountability, push for transparency, not just be a rubber stamp, but be that voice of the community and say, 'hey what’s going on here?'" she said, adding that she has a "reputation that I've earned, from even people who may not agree with me politically, to say 'hey she’s paying attention, she’s listening and isn’t shy about making sure we have the kind of accountability we need to forge progress.'"

As the district prepares to begin the school year with distance learning, she said she is pushing hard to require teachers to carry out instruction from their classrooms.

This would be a significant change from last spring's much-criticized system, and one she said not only can raise the quality of online learning but also prepare for kids to return to the classroom as quickly as possible when the county gets off the state's coronavirus monitoring list.

"Teachers should be in the classroom," she said.

Political junkies P.S. Insiders and other hacks will be watching closely to see if Capps gains the local Democratic Party endorsement in the school board race, scheduled to be decided on Aug. 6.

Although she got the endorsement in 2016 (when it turned out not to matter), and is the scion of a prominent political family -- both her parents served in the House of Representatives - Laura's challenge of Williams, and her tough attacks over his cozy relationship with the marijuana industry, enraged pro-Das partisans, several of whom sit on the county committee and may look to deliver some payback.


You can watch our 15-minute interview with Laura Capps by clicking below...and the podcast version is here.

Images: Capps on Zoom; (L-R) Capps, Sims-Moten, Reid at school board meeting in 2017 (Santa Barbara Independent).

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