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Three seats to fill on RCSD board

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein The Press-Tribune
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Voters will get a chance to decide who will fill three seats on the Roseville City School District’s governing board come November in two separate races. Incumbent Susan Goto and appointed incumbent Stanford Hirata will face challenger Gary Miller for two four-year seats on the board. Meanwhile, appointed incumbent Brett McFadden is facing Scott Leavitt for a two-year seat. The term is truncated because McFadden was appointed with more than half of the original seat holder’s term remaining. The board oversees a district spanning 17 schools that has experienced rapid growth in recent years. Like many other districts, it’s also feeling significant financial pressures, and saw a high-profile spat with its teachers union over salaries last year. The district’s budget for the 2008-2009 school year is $63.7 million. Goto taught for more than two decades at district schools before retiring. Now running for her fourth term, she said her classroom and board experience sets her apart. “I am one of the seasoned board members,” she said. “And we have many young board members, so what I aim to do is make sure we are team players.” Goto said she is especially concerned about how the state budget crunch will impact district families, and said she hoped to work with the city of Roseville to establish a transit partnership that could keep bus costs down. “The transportation issue, because of the budget crunch and high fuel prices, that’s one of our areas of concern,” she said. “I was hoping one day we could have a partnership (with the city) for transportation. It might be a win-win situation for the city and school district.” On the issue of teacher salaries, Goto said she favors raises as long as the money’s available. “If there is substantial money in the budget, of course I would always give teachers a raise because they’re our important component of our education,” she said. Stanford Hirata, 39, first became involved in the district through the school site council at his children’s school, Blue Oaks Elementary. He later became president of the Roseville City School District Foundation, and was appointed to the board in September 2007 after a board vacancy. “This past year has given me a lot of the framework and helped me identify what I can do to help the district going forward,” he said. Hirata, a financial planner, said he wanted to focus on the district’s fiscal health. “My education and entire professional life is all in areas of business and finance, and especially with these challenging budget times we have, that background lends itself well to the board,” he said. Hirata said he also supports cost-of-living adjustments for staff. “I recognize that we have some of the best teachers anywhere, and in order to maintain that we have to make sure we take care of them,” he said. Gary Miller would be a newcomer to the board, but he spent nearly 20 years on the six-school Robla School District governing body in north Sacramento. “So I understand school finance, personnel, the mechanics of the board and what the relationship is between the board and the superintendent,” Miller, 59, a retired Sacramento County employee, said. “I don’t need on-the-board training.” If elected, Miller said he would focus on attracting and keeping top personnel and ensuring facilities are kept up. He also said he would focus on planning for the district’s future schools, slated to come online as west Roseville builds out. Dealing with the budget, he said, is “a balancing act.” “As far as staff is concerned, wherever possible I would like to make sure staff gets a cost of living adjustment that matches the COLA in our community,” he said. “If you don’t then they’re actually taking a pay cut.” Still, he acknowledged, “that’s not always going to be possible.” In a separate RCSD race, incumbent Brett McFadden is battling with challenger Scott Leavitt for a two-year seat. Leavitt, 53, is a former Roseville Police officer who worked as a school resource officer in RCSD schools and Woodcreek High School. Acknowledging the importance of budget pressures, Leavitt said parents and staff shouldn’t neglect student safety, and said that’s one issue to which he brings a wealth of experience. “If you have a safe campus, you’re going to have kids come to school who are going to learn,” he said. Leavitt said a background in on-the-ground student discipline and crime prevention gives him a unique understanding of what’s needed to keep kids safe. “I think I have an advantage,” he said. “I’ve been a little bit of everything – a police officer, counselor, teacher, a parent. Plus, living in the community as a police officer, I think I know a lot.” Leavitt said he’d approach the budget tug-of-war with an eye on what’s best for students. “I look out for kids first, and the money’s got to come for whatever they need for their education,” he said. “It’s not an easy process.” Brett McFadden said he’s running to keep his seat in part because he believes he can help the district navigate tough fiscal waters. He’s a consultant for the Association of California School Administra-tors, and said he specializes in financial management for school districts around the state. “Maintaining the fiscal integrity and the service level in the next three years is priority No. 1, and that should be of every board in the state.” Closing the so-called “achievement gap” is also a priority. “We sort of have a tale of two cities in our district,” he said, adding that lower-performing schools might “need additional resources and maybe different resources.” Acknowledging the importance of salaries and benefits for retaining and attracting top teachers, McFadden added balancing teachers’ demands with the budget is a matter of “students first, adult agendas second.” If offering a COLA is “in the best interest of students,” he said, “then by and large it’s a good thing to do. If it doesn’t, you’re best off in holding off or not making that decision.”