The term is unusually brief and the issues heady, but the candidates seeking a spot on the Oxnard School District board say they’re up to the challenge.
Three men of varying perspectives want to fill the remaining two years of the term vacated by former trustee Ray Gonzales, who resigned last summer shortly before pleading guilty to transporting cocaine. Roy J. Caffrey and Theodore “Ted” Cartee, both systems engineers, and businessman Tom Nielsen are all vying for the job.
It is the only contested seat on the board in the Nov. 7 election. Trustee Francisco Dominguez is unopposed for another four-year term. Trustee Bill Thrasher, appointed to fill Gonzales’ seat pending the election, is the only candidate for the four-year seat now held by Trustee Susan Alvarez. She has decided not to seek re-election.
The election comes at the same time that the board is asking for approval to annex 14 acres of farmland to the city of Oxnard to build a school officials say is desperately needed for 1,200 children. And the three candidates have different takes on the issue: Caffrey is opposed to the site; Nielsen is in favor of it; and Cartee is in the middle.
Caffrey said he opposes placing schools on farmland, but that he knows of no other site for the school.
Cartee said the decision should depend on the options. “If it comes down to that after full consideration of the alternatives, then we have to move ahead,” he said. “If the state and local people are seeing three or four other sites as being closer to matching the need without busing and without being in a farm belt, then clearly the options are better.”
Nielsen, who served on a district committee that evaluated sites around Oxnard for future schools, said this is the best place for the proposed Juan Soria School.
“It’s a clean, tucked-away site that is a good site for a school,” he said.
Furthermore, he said, using the site for a school for children far outweighs the site’s current use to produce of sod.
“Children are more important than crops,” he said.
Both Nielsen and Cartee favor using bilingual instruction in both Spanish and English for limited-English speaking children, the predominant method in the school district. About 8,000 children, half the district’s enrollment of 16,000, have limited-English skills.
But Caffrey backed Proposition 227, the state initiative that curtailed bilingual instruction unless a student’s parents sign a waiver.
“I don’t think teaching children in Spanish is the way to go,” he said. “These children live in homes where their parents speak Spanish, they play with children in their neighborhood who speak in Spanish, and then they come to school and they’re taught in Spanish. Somewhere along the line they have to learn English and the time to teach them is when they’re young.”
Cartee, though, said he is impressed with the bilingual method as it is used in the district. Children are taught in both languages and make the transition to full English instruction by third grade, he said. “I think it’s the best of both worlds,” he said.
Nielsen said he supports a certain degree of bilingual instruction because the students need it. Their parents are young, new to the area and often lack the skills to help them with their schoolwork, he said. Full immersion in English may work in more affluent areas, but not in Oxnard, he said.
“It would certainly scare the parents half to death,” he said.
All the candidates boast years of experience preparing them to be the new trustee.
Caffrey, a self-employed systems engineer, said his background as a 32-year teacher would benefit the school system at a time when it is tackling both overcrowding and student achievement. He is now retired from the Hueneme Elementary School District, where he primarily taught fourth through eighth grades.
“I know what sort of experiences teachers face in their everyday jobs,” he said.
Cartee said he has been prepared for the challenge by 20 years of experience as a teacher in England and the East, as well as three consecutive terms as a board member of the Ojai Valley Sanitary District. His record shows that he can get things done, an approach that he would like to lend to the Oxnard schools, he said.
One example is modernization of decades-old campuses, which Cartee sees as a priority for the district, along with instruction and learning.
“I am taking a proven record of working with people and agencies to move the process effectively and rapidly,” he said. “I have done it again and again in this county.”
Nielsen is a longtime parent leader who now serves as president of the parent-teacher organization at Frank Intermediate School. He has been heavily involved in school affairs, serving on district committees both in the elementary district and the Oxnard Union High School District.
He is a member of the committee that developed a strategic plan for the elementary district, and has served on technology, budget, boundary and site selection committees as well as panels involved in hiring administrators.
“I’ve got a lot of practical working experience and know how the system works and what the programs are,” Nielsen said.
As a board member, Nielsen said he would help reorganize the district’s central office so it would function more efficiently and effectively. He also wants to take on repair and maintenance of school facilities.
— Kathleen Wilson’s e-mail address is [email protected]
City of residence: Oxnard
Occupation:Self-employed systems engineer and retired teacher
Education: Bachelor of arts in elementary education, Mankato State College, Mankato, Minn.; master of science degree in curriculum development, Chapman College in Orange.
Family: Married; two grown children.
Years of residence in Ventura County: 38
Political mentor: None
City of residence: Oxnard
Education: Studied psychology and mathematics at California State University, Sacramento, and the University of California, Los Angeles. Has completed advanced studies in the Soto religion, Zen Study Society. Studied chemistry and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Texas.
Family: Married; three grown stepchildren.
Years of residence in Ventura County: 24
Political mentor: Nina Shelley of Ojai.
City of residence: Oxnard
Occupation: Owner of a small business, Energy Systems Inc., which installs electrical power systems.
Education: Bachelor of arts degree in political science from California State University, Northridge. Master’s-level courses in leadership from the Army Reserve.
Years in Ventura County: 21
Family: Married; three children, ages 25, 17 and 13
Political mentor: Nao Takasugi