Overseeing southern Sonoma County’s largest school district is a great responsibility. Serving 7,400 students, the Petaluma City Schools’ district employs 875 people in 15 schools with a $77 million annual budget. Its five-member board of trustees is charged with deciding policy and spending priorities, and supporting the efforts of Superintendent Gary Callahan.
To do the job well, members must be willing to volunteer at least 15 hours a week and stay well informed about district finances, curriculum issues and personnel matters.
On Nov. 8, voters in the district will select two of three candidates to fill two seats on the board, one of which is being made vacant by retiring trustee Troy Sanderson. The other seat is occupied by Mary Johnson who was appointed to the board in March and is seeking election to a four-year term. With ten years of service, Sanderson is the longest tenured board member; his leadership and extensive institutional knowledge will be missed when he departs later this year.
Many difficult decisions will face the board over the next few years. Among them is how to best deal with declining school enrollment; prioritize spending from a $21 million bond measure approved by voters in 2014; renegotiate labor contracts with the district’s employee unions; and manage the ever-present financial troubles that have left the district with inadequate reserves.
After interviewing the three candidates individually, we feel they are all intelligent, dedicated community members who want to make Petaluma public schools the best they can be. Johnson, a mother of three boys with a background in business administration, is joined by candidates Frank Lynch, a former Petaluma High School principal with extensive experience in school administration, and Ellen Webster, an English and drama teacher at Tomales High School for the last 27 years.
Mary Johnson was appointed in March after longtime board member Mary Schafer stepped down. With a wealth of experience as vice president of sales and business development at a large company, coupled with many years of volunteer service and leadership positions on parent-teacher associations at Petaluma elementary, junior high and high schools, she has quickly gotten up to speed on school district issues and demonstrates an impressive understanding of school finances, programs and policies.
Passionately committed to learning everything possible about school and student needs, she visited 10 schools in six different counties to research best practices for the rebuilding of the football field at Petaluma High School.
When some parents voiced concerns about the level of electromagnetic radiation being emitted from wireless routers in classrooms, she volunteered to meet with parents and is currently serving on a committee formed to study the issue.
Her priorities include working to increase the number of graduating students who are eligible to attend a four-year state university, in part so that more students can get the kinds of jobs that will enable them to earn enough money to continue living in their hometown.
Candidate Frank Lynch brings 36 years of public school experience in California, most of it serving as superintendent or principal at schools in Petaluma, Sebastopol, Lompoc, Berkeley, Crescent City and King City. Such valuable experience on everything from modernizing and building new schools, to budgeting, curriculum development, managing personnel and dealing with declining enrollment make Lynch an extraordinarily good candidate for school board.