On school boards, which often face complicated budgetary and personnel issues, longevity is important. Tapping the institutional knowledge of longtime board members is critical.
But fresh voices also benefit elected bodies as they provide a different perspective and can help existing board members see problems from a unique angle.
This November, voters in the Petaluma Joint Union High School District have the opportunity to select both experience and change. With three open seats, voters should choose incumbents Mike Baddeley and Sheri Chlebowski and newcomer Caitlin Quinn from among the seven highly qualified candidates.
The choice is not easy in a race with so many fantastic community members willing to serve on the board of Petaluma’s largest school district, but Baddeley and Chlebowski stand out for their combined more than 16 years of excellent service on the board.
Baddeley, a Petaluma attorney who grew up in the city, is the longest currently serving member of the board, having been appointed to the seat in March 2010. A past board president, he has a deep understanding of the district’s $74 million budget.
While relations with teachers soured on his watch, including a work stoppage last year, the climate seems to have improved after the district hired new administrators and the teachers union received some concessions in a new contract. With contract negotiations again looming, his experience will be invaluable.
Chlebowski, also a Petaluma attorney, was first elected to the board in November 2010. She has spent time in Sacramento lobbying to change the education funding formula so that Petaluma City Schools can receive a larger share of money.
She said she would like to continue those lobbying efforts and said she would like to find more money to keep teachers’ pay equitable with other districts. She was instrumental in hiring Superintendent Gary Callahan, who has provided adept leadership for the district since he was hired in 2015.
Phoebe Ellis, the other incumbent in the race, has done a commendable job in her five years serving on the board. She was key to the district’s rollout of its one-to-one technology program and in planning the spending of the district’s $90 million in school bonds. But, in the interest of adding a fresh young face to the board, we recommend instead voting for Quinn.
At 25, Quinn has already gained valuable leadership experience. A graduate of UC Berkeley, she works for a nonprofit that represents victims of sexual assault, and she understands that those issues are all too common on school campuses.
She was raised in Petaluma schools and knows the district well, having attended school board meetings and studying the budget. A member of the city’s Youth Commission, she is closer in age to the students than any of the incumbents or other candidates, and she can be an advocate on the board for a student’s perspective. She is also endorsed by the Petaluma Federation of Teachers.
While she would have a steep learning curve, she will benefit from four other qualified incumbents on the school board. Her energy and enthusiasm will help her get up to speed.
There are other solid candidates in the race. Mady Cloud is a retired Casa Grande High School teacher who has served on several district committees. Joanna Paun received an outpouring of community support when she was let go from her counseling position at Kenilworth Junior High in March. A highly educated youth adviser, she quickly found a niche at St. Vincent high school. Kimy Ruiz Seitz, a local analyst, did not respond to our questions.