Two incumbents, one newcomer vie for two seats on Oxnard School District board
By David Michael Courtland 10/18/2012
Three people — two incumbents and a newcomer — are running to fill the two open seats on Oxnard School District’s governing board.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said retired civil engineer Al Duff, a six-year veteran trustee of the elementary school board who is running for re-election.
“We need to upgrade and modernize some of the older schools with new technology,” said Duff, who noted that students are now frequently coming to class with tablet computers.
“We’re overcrowded, and it has an adverse effect on positive education,” continued Duff. “We need to build new schools, at least one or two.”
The district has a $90 million bond measure on the Nov. 6 ballot, but Duff said it’s likewise important for voters to approve the school funding propositions.
“(The bond money) will helps us, but if we get funds from the state, that will take it up to $200 million,” explained Duff. “That will let us do what we need to do.”
Duff, whose five children all attended district schools, said he brings a financial acumen to the board.
“Because of my background — I’ve been on the planning commission for 29 years, I’m on the board of the Ventura County Credit Union,” explained Duff — “I’m able to bring a balance to the board. We have educators on the board, but that’s not my forte.”
One of those educators is nine-year incumbent Denis O’Leary, who teaches sixth grade in the Rio School District.
“Our education is our economy, and we’ve made a lot of progress, but we have a long way to go,” said O’Leary, who noted that since he joined the board in 2003, the number of students scoring “proficient” in language arts and math has gone from 16 and 19 percent to 38 and 46 percent, respectively.
“We’ve brought our test scores and academics up,” said O’Leary, “but the goal is to have these kids compete for high-quality jobs with kids from other districts, and we are still working on that.”
O’Leary is also proud of having helped produce “one of the better budgets in the county. Even today we have no furlough days.” Moreover, he helped guide the district away from multitrack school years and supported the installation of solar panels at schools.
“My biggest frustration has been the non-cooperation of the city of Oxnard,” said O’Leary. “They have approved housing projects but haven’t had the foresight to realize a school will have to be built for that new project.”
The most politically vocal of the trustees, O’Leary doesn’t hesitate to take other elected officials to task, as when he criticized Assemblyman Das Williams for accepting a campaign contribution from Walmart.
O’Leary said the Facebook comment cost him support from the Ventura County Democratic Party Steering Committee.
“Apparently that rubbed a couple of people the wrong way,” said O’Leary, adding, “I think I’ve actually gotten a couple of endorsements because of that.”
Two labor unions — UFCW Local 770 and IBEW Local 952 — have endorsed O’Leary, as well as the Oxnard Educators Association and the Rio Teachers Association. O’Leary said he’s particularly happy with the RTA endorsement.
“They’re not endorsing me because they think I may possibly, down the line, vote to give them a raise,” said O’Leary. “They’re endorsing me because they appreciate good education for our children.”
First-time candidate Sergio Lagunas emphasized he isn’t totally new to governing boards — he was student body president at Oxnard College before transferring to University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was active on three other executive boards.
“When I went to UCSB, I got in contact with a lot of other people from all over the state,” explained Lagunas, a youth instructor in Blackstock Jr. High School’s after-school program, “and in our communications, they’d talk about schools where they were from closing down, and they’d ask, ‘Where’s the leadership?’ ”
As he began searching for elected offices through which he could make a contribution to the community, Lagunas also noted education had a particularly central role in the lives of people he spoke to.
“I saw it was important. I saw a lot of family and friends were showing support,” said Lagunas. “So I took the initiative and filed for candidacy.”
Having watched the fallout at recent Oxnard City Council meetings from a district attorney’s investigation, Lagunas said he wants to bring more transparency to the board and district finances that are generally discussed in closed session.
“You don’t know what the board’s intention is until they put an action item on the agenda,” said Lagunas, who sees his role as “making sure that money allocated to something is actually going there.”
Lagunas said he has encountered a lot of support from people as he walks door-to-door through the school district.
“A lot of people want a change. They encourage young people to take these leadership positions,” said Lagunas. “They say things like, I’m glad to see a young person stepping up and getting involved — that’s coming from people who have been her for 40 years.”