Five running for three seats on Rocklin school board
Rocklin voters will have the chance in November to significantly influence the direction of the Rocklin Unified School District with five candidates running for three available seats.
Terms for board members Todd Lowell, Wendy Lang and Susan Halldin are up for election this year and only Halldin is running for re-election. Dereck Counter, Mark Klang, Rick Miller and Tami Siegel are the other candidates.
Gold Country Media asked all five candidates six questions and their answers are below.
Were concerns regarding the special education adequately addressed in recent negotiations with the Rocklin Teachers Professional Association?
Counter: “The two groups have not come to an agreement on special education. We need to do better in acquiring and retaining special education teachers, staff and specialists. I’d like to see a more consistent experience across classrooms and campuses where expectations are agreed upon and consistently reviewed in our special education classrooms.”
Halldin: “I have been a strong advocate for improving our special education services since being elected in 2014. I am pleased that we have made good progress on special education issues during our negotiations and am hopeful that we will come to a resolution that benefits all the students served by our educators.
Klang: “No, teachers wanted their aides to look after their students from bus to bus and not bell to bell. Teachers wanted a cap on their SDC caseload. High school teachers do not want to give up their study skills classes. If they are forced, it will eliminate small class instructions. Funding for restraint training for teachers was not provided. In the end, none of the teacher’s requests were met.”
Miller: “No, the special ed contract language is still a matter of negotiations. I believe our biggest priority needs to be recruitment and retention of high-quality special education teachers. I fully support the idea of providing the least restrictive environment and also support doing so in coordination with general education teachers while considering impact on the classroom. I believe we must follow current law in regards to IEPs as it relates to employees ability to speak freely and be given appropriate release time. I support the proposed Special Education Communication Protocol and Special Education Solutions Panel.”
Seigal: “Not yet. Teachers need ‘major retraining’ to keep up with current laws that guarantee students with special needs their rightful place in an appropriate classroom. We have a robust budget for special education but remain unprepared. Many of those resources need to be spent on teacher training. Current contract negotiations have fallen short of holding the district accountable for such training.”
A strike by Rocklin teachers was narrowly avoided this school year. What steps could have been taken to resolve the issue before the school year began?
Counter: “Getting all parties together to provide respective expectations before the discussions begin. I expect the Rocklin Teachers Professional Association to understand it’s a zero sum game. We start with 100 percent and divide up the budget so we all agree on the divisions and understand where the money goes. Regular conversations and constant dialogue between all parties should provide the healthy discussion that forges partnership.”
Halldin: “I am pleased that we were able to come to a resolution to avoid a strike. Going forward, I think it’s imperative that we work on building trust and better communication between the district staff and teachers. Clearly, there were communication problems on the district side and I believe the district has learned from that.”
Klang: “The school board needed to show some leadership. They allowed the superintendent to place an advertisement in the Sacramento Bee before the school year began, offering to pay substitutes$425 per day. The board allowed the district to spend $20,000 to train these substitutes. They trained the substitutes at a hotel in Sacramento. At that time, teachers were not close to striking. The board should have prevented the superintendent from taking these actions.”
Miller: “Many Rocklin teachers do not feel valued and respected and I will make it a priority to address this. This starts with listening to teachers and better understanding their concerns and needs. It also includes a more meaningful inclusion of the teacher voice in district decision- making. Finally, I would push to move the district toward interest-based bargaining so negotiations aren’t built on competing proposal but on a proven method to prioritize the key areas both sides care about.”
Seigal: “It’s hard to say what may or may not have worked. Other districts surmount this issue by sharing best practices and keeping an open line of communication. The best thing that happened this fall was parents started to engage, research and pressure the district in a united front.”
What skills or characteristics would you bring to the school board that might help with Rocklin Teachers Professional Association negotiations?
Counter: “To engage people to make positive change in an organization, you’ll need consensus that the current process requires improvement. With facts, data and engagement, you have fertile ground for change. Communicating, working together and setting expectations will promote teamwork and achieve what is best for all the children in Rocklin schools.”
Halldin: “During my four years on the board, I have remained very engaged with teachers throughout the district and with parents. I regularly meet with teachers to understand their perspective and to bring that understanding to our board deliberations. I’m honored to have the support of the Rocklin Teachers Professional Association. While we don’t always agree, teachers have repeatedly told me that they appreciate that I am always willing to listen and have a dialogue on issues.”
Klang: “I would show the teachers some respect. Placing an ad for substitutes in the Sacramento Bee was very disrespectful to the teachers. I believe the school board should take a more active part in the negotiations and make sure the superintendent follows the board’s vision and not his own.”
Miller: “For over a decade, my career has focused on developing collaboration with large school districts and between entities that often disagree and ultimately come together to ensure students succeed. I think a new board can enter into this conversation from a different perspective and I hope to bring my experience with best practices implemented throughout the state to build a high-level culture of respect and trust.”
Seigal: “Knowing the law. Teachers have rights. Special education students and parents have rights. I’m a good communicator and am highly motivated to help Rocklin Unified move proactively to achieve a fair and safe working environment for all. We all benefit by learning best practices to support our students and teachers.”
Are you comfortable with the level of student safety at the campuses within the district?
Counter: “A tentative safety agreement was reached between Rocklin Teachers Professional Association and Rocklin Unified School District. There will be a two-part training that works closely with Rocklin Police and Fire. Collaboration got us here and I want to continue collaboration between RTPA, RUSD, Fire and Police to continuously improve the safety at our campuses.”
Halldin: “Working with the Rocklin Police Department and the Rocklin Fire Department, we have taken steps to improve safety for students and staff. At our Sept. 12 board meeting, we approved a number of improvements for our facilities and for staff and student training. The improvements include installing cameras on the exterior of all campuses to assist the Rocklin Police Department in the event of an emergency. On Sept. 25, we reached an agreement with the Rocklin Teachers Professional Association on safety issues included in the contract – a result of ongoing, positive dialogue between the district and the Rocklin Teachers Professional Association.”
Klang: “No. The board has not adequately addressed this issue. Over 70 percent of RHS students, who participated in a poll, believe there will be an active shooter on their campus. Our students and staff need to learn how to survive if this terrible event ever happened. The board believes it cannot happen here. Our schools need to be provided with the proper equipment. Teachers and staff need mental health training, so they know what to look for in a student that may be having issues.”
Miller: “Safety is a top priority for me and our community. The board just adopted a set of safety measures which I believe are a significant step in the right direction – including resources to train all staff as well as infrastructure improvements like improved and coordinated locking systems for all our classrooms. We need to continue our productive partnership with local law enforcement and be vigilant about ways to improve the infrastructure of our campuses to best protect everyone.”
Seigal: “School safety is important to me. Safety is a layered issue. We need to provide a proactive support system for our kids. We shouldn’t wait until something happens before we step up to help. We need to listen to our teachers who work with our kids every day.”
Do you have a special project or priority you would like to see addressed, if elected?
Counter: “Rocklin Unified is doing a great job modeling 21st-century learning styles with programs like Career & Technical Education (CTE), graphic design, broadcasting, computer science, ROTC, culinary arts, internships and community service. All of these provide graduating students the skills to succeed in the future.”
Halldin: “My top priority since I was first elected was to continue to push for improvement in our schools. While our schools are high-performing, we should never stop looking for ways we can better serve our community and help every child reach their potential – whether it’s a high-achieving student taking Advanced Placement courses, a student pursuing career technical education or students with special needs.”
Klang: “Safety is my biggest concern. At the last meeting, the board took a step in the right direction by ordering proper locks and some cameras for our schools. Also, RHS teacher Julianne Benzel was placed on administrative when she asked her students if the district should allow a walk out for every issue, such as pro-life. I will always support a teacher that asks her students to think. I will ask for a full investigation on this matter. Not one member of the school board or any other candidate has stood up to support Mrs. Benzel.”
Miller: “I would like to see RUSD increase focus on individualized education for every student. That includes things like more personalized instruction at the elementary level to building multiple pathways to success at the secondary level using programs like Linked Leaning, internships, and additional Career Technical Education options.
Seigal: “Do I have a particular pet project? No. I would like to continue to build better communication and stronger relationships between the teachers, administrators, parents, students, and the staff at the district office. I want to encourage leadership throughout each school site and to match resources to create excellent experiences for our students.”
What qualities make you a good addition to the school board?
Counter: “I have a background in analysis, problem solving and process improvement and these skills will be an asset to our school board. Getting all the parties to the table, facilitating the conversation, utilizing facts and data to reach agreements and understanding on what is best for the children in Rocklin is what I will do.”
Halldin: “I’ve been a parent with children in the Rocklin Unified School District for 16 years and since the beginning have taken a significant interest in my children’s education as well as how our district provides services. I served on the Rocklin Independent Charter Academy Site Council and as a parent representative on the district’s Strategic Planning Team in 2014. My background in business and as a CPA are helpful skills as we oversee a budget in excess of $100 million.”
Klang: “I have prior experience on the board. I served when we had good relations with our teachers, provided raises and had a fiscally conservative budget, while meeting district priorities. I do not believe the board should be a mutual admiration society. Difficult decisions need to be made and I am not afraid to make them.”
Miller: “As a parent of two Rocklin High students and the husband of a speech therapist at Rocklin Elementary, I’m running because I have spent almost my entire career in public education. I started my career at the US Department of Education in the 1990s before I returned home as a deputy state superintendent at the California Department of Education. I gained private sector experience working at Microsoft Corporation. I am currently a partner/owner of a small education policy firm where I work with school districts throughout California on how to better learn from each other and share best practices.”
Seigal: “I joined the Site Council at Cobblestone Elementary and as a volunteer on various RUSD committees. I have been involved in community organizing and volunteerism. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2011. I feel that I can directly represent a large portion of parents in our district.”