Citizens of west county have the opportunity this election season to vote for two new members of the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) Board of Trustees.
Winners of the election will take the place of Diane Landry and Ted Walker and join a board piloting the schools through a historically precarious era of natural disasters, a pandemic and a long-suffering budget.
The school district is in financial distress as enrollment continues to falter and funds run dry, to the point that the board is examining feasibility studies on the possibility of consolidating Analy, El Molino and Laguna high schools into one campus or consolidating numerous west county school districts.
The four candidates running for the challenge are Julie Aiello, Lynn Schallebaum Gleeson, Kyle O’Connor and Laurie Ann Fadave, with often similar ideas on addressing the issues.
Aiello is a recently retired public school teacher, who taught for 34 years. She taught at Sebastopol Elementary School for 31 years and is the parent of an Analy High School graduate.
While at the Sebastopol Union School District, Aiello served as teachers union president and chief negotiator for eight years.
“So, I have training in how to read a budget, and I understand it. But I think that on a school board, it’s important to have a teacher’s point of view,” she said.
Aiello said she understands why teachers advocate for the things they advocate for, alongside her perspective as a parent of an Analy High School graduate. “My main purpose was to advocate for the education for kids, so, you know, not just my kid, but all kids.”
She said as a board member, she would want to go through the budget “line by line” to unearth the details of more vague areas of the budget where a difference could be made to uphold the priorities of teachers, parents and students. Aiello wants to explore what cuts could be made temporarily instead of permanently and to inform the community of those possibilities.
Aiello said she wants budget cuts to be made as a community decision where those impacted can express what they feel makes a school run effectively, rather than a top-down administrative decision. More involvement in decision-making through committees and forums would give the public an opportunity to increase fundraising for the schools because they would be more aware of what was being cut and why, Aiello said.
In addition, she wants to promote a drive to increase enrollment with the three schools’ diverse programming as a draw for youth looking for an alternative education.
“I think a school board needs to have parents on it, retired teachers, you know, business people, it should reflect the community, and I think I am a person who can reflect a unique position in the community, and that’s of a teacher that dedicated her life to advocate for children,” Aiello said.
Lynn Schallebaum Gleeson
Schallebaum Gleeson is a retired nurse who worked in classrooms with disabled and medically fragile students in special education. She also hosted and recruited other families to host foreign exchange students for the EF Student Exchange Program.
“Being in the classrooms, being there, being a former Analy student, actually working at Analy was a really unique position to be in,” Gleeson said. “Working with administrators, getting to know administrators, and then also working with administrators the last three years, with my foreign exchange students that I’ve had either in my home or in other homes.”
Gleeson worked for 10 years as a public health nurse in communicable diseases, according to earlier reporting by Sonoma West Times & News. She assisted with communicable disease follow-ups then, and now has concerns about the quality of distance education and containing COVID-19 transmission when schools reopen, her paid candidate statement said.
Her candidate statement reads that she supervised staff, worked with managers to carry out budgets and planned future staffing needs. As a classroom nurse, she worked with schools and families on education plans for students.
As an Analy High graduate herself, Gleeson said she doesn't want to cut classes, but expand the courses and programs offered and increase enrollment. However, she said the board would need to think creatively and explore the feasibility study on consolidating districts.
She said she wanted community involvement in budget decisions to make cuts that would impact students the least, but COVID-19 and the fires challenge communication. While Zoom board meetings provide the community opportunities to engage, she said it wasn’t an ideal situation.
“But my hope is that this will subside and that we will have our kids back to school and that we will be able to have forums with teachers, parents, students, to be able to help make some decisions,” she said, looking forward to connecting with students in person once schools could reopen.
O’Connor is a local manufacturing business owner, Air Force veteran and former member of the Russian River Fire Protection District Board of Directors. A parent of a 2020 El Molino graduate, he said he believes his experience in both the public and private sector prepared him to serve on the school board.
O’Connor said he did not want the high schools to consolidate, but the idea of specializing each campus into different programs and moving students around to enroll in those concentrations interested him, according to earlier reporting by Sonoma West Times & News.
“The reality is we have to be able to look at everything, we have to be able to talk about everything, and not every conversation is a strategy to take something from someone,” he said. “Sometimes, we’re just trying to figure things out. We need to talk about it.”
He said he views enrollment as more periodic and up-and-down than static or permanent since the board only knows the current situation and near-future projections. He said more students might move into the district that the board may not anticipate in the coming years.
Yet, O’Connor said he thinks the board needs to face the reality that budget cuts that reduce services might have to happen and that the board must consult the community or face conflict. One of his main concerns was that people would form factions of administration, teachers, unions, parents and students, and refuse to work together.
“You have to have an atmosphere where people feel the freedom to express themselves and ideas without judgement, and that we look at everything intellectually and that we put everything out on the table, and we discuss it,” he said.
O’Connor said he wanted committees of board members, parents, teachers and administrators to research independently but still have as much transparency to the public as possible.
Laurie Ann Fadave
Fadave is a retired teacher of 40 years across high school and higher education. A parent of five Analy High graduates, she taught in the English department there for 17 years and served as department chair for eight years.
Fadave was also a mentor for years training teachers in what was formerly known as the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program, now called Teacher Induction.
“I have solid background in the classroom. And in my role as the department chair, I worked with the district office on a number of different assignments that they gave me,” she said.
The district assigned her to find ways to save money in either curriculum development or textbook adoption, Fadave said. “And we were able to save a lot of money working together with the district.”
Fadave said she was passionate about education as the foundation of society, and that schools needed to train future voters to think critically. She said she wanted to involve staff, teachers, parents and students in decisions and meet with stakeholders informally as well as during formal board meetings to hear their perspectives.
She said the possibility of consolidating high schools had to be considered very carefully and she hopes to find ways to keep money in classrooms and restore vocational education classes to attract inter-district transfers rather than cut classes.
Fadave said she’d like to regularly meet with students to hear their ideas. “And they also have concerns about their education, the value of it,” she added. “Particularly now, what are they going to do in the future? Because the whole educational scenario has changed so drastically because of COVID.”
Fadave said the experience of running an import retail business for 20 years, keeping those financial records and bookkeeping for her husband’s private practice in speech pathology also prepared her to work with a budget.