Seven candidates competing for two open seats on the Chino Valley school board have vowed to end the prayer lawsuit if elected.
Candidate Jody Moore, a pastor, had a prior commitment and did not attend but submitted a statement which was read at the start of the forum.
Paulette DeSoto Melton was absent because of a family matter and did not submit a statement.
Denise Hobbensiefken, John Pruitt, Jeff Vaka, Joe Schaffer, Christian Gagnier Don Bridge, and Brandon Blanchard made the promise at the Oct. 11 candidate forum hosted by the Chino Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The candidates had no advance notice of the 24 questions that were asked by moderator and chamber president Frank Ortiz at the Chino Community Building.
Mr. Moore's statement said (in part): “We need to focus on creating the best learning environment for children and parents.”
Don Bridge said if he had been elected to the school board in 2016, he would not have voted as Andrew Cruz, James Na and Sylvia Orozco did to appeal the court ruling that banned prayers from being said at Chino Valley school board meetings.
“It would have stopped right there,” Mr. Bridge said.
Mr. Bridge said he fell 743 votes short of beating Andrew Cruz in 2016.
He brought up the fact that he is the only former teacher running for school board in this election. Current board president Pam Feix, a retired Chino Valley school district teacher, is not seeking re-election to the board.
Mr. Bridge said he understands the district’s budget and operations.
“Our schools are outstanding, I would not trade them for charters,” Mr. Bridge said.
Addressing the prayer lawsuit, parent Denise Hobbensiefken said she would not continue the legal fight.
“I would much rather talk about test scores,” she said.
Mrs. Hobbensiefken said based on those, the district’s English as a Second Language program is not working.
She gave examples of shortfalls in the district’s special education program, and said she wants “meaningful conversations with parents” and to see more parent engagement in the high schools.
John Pruitt said he has “proven experience” of success from serving 2001 to 2006 as a Chino Valley school board member.
As examples, Mr. Pruitt said he helped enact a longevity clause to retain teachers, establish a 2.0 minimum grade point average graduation requirement, and helped remove a former superintendent without incurring any costs to the district.
Mr. Pruitt said he doesn’t think sex education should be taught in schools and that “outside forces” should not dictate those policies.
He said he is concerned with declining student enrollment and its effect on the budget.
Jeff Vaka said he deals with budgets and said the district needs to act immediately on its projected shortfall in three years.
He said the school board has “lost track” and that he is not afraid to have discussions with existing board members.
Mr. Vaka also said creative ideas are needed to help get students interested in math “to get grades up.”
None of the seven candidates at the forum said they would support a school privatization plan proposed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Christina Gagnier said the state has made an investment in public education and the answer is to fix the problems.
Mrs. Gagnier, a privacy law attorney, said she and her husband are personally invested in the community because they own a home here and plan to start a family.
Mrs. Gagnier said she has professional experience working on children’s cyberbullying issues, digital learning and with mediation and collaboration.
She recommends building partnerships between the district and organizations that will provide free services to help students with mental health issues.
Former police officer Joe Schaffer would like to see the district standardize its bullying policies and provide help to both the bully and to the students who are bullied.
To prevent school shootings, he would add rings of barriers at the schools and real time monitoring video cameras.
In his closing statement, Mr. Schaffer said he is invested in the district and in the community and that he would protect the rights of all students.
Current Chino planning commissioner and former Chino Valley school board member Brandon Blanchard said the school board needs to learn to work together.
He said he is a good listener, and that he accepts and works well with others.
Mr. Blanchard said to attract quality teachers the district must “show growth and opportunity to create excitement.”
He said mass shootings at schools are prevented by school resource officers who “get in front of problems.”
He would like to see industrial arts programs brought back to the high schools.
“Those things I learned still do me well today,” he said.