By Michelle de Werd and Lou Segal
Recently, Bill Cirone, a retired Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, penned an op-ed piece making his case for why voters should re-elect county school board incumbents. This must have been a novel exercise for him because all these incumbents have served for decades without ever having to run for office. Until this election, they had no opposition.
Mr. Cirone, who served for 34 years without ever having to face an opponent, claims his handpicked school board incumbents are the people this county needs right now because of how effective they have been. Let’s take a look at the real state of affairs in which we find ourselves today with our public schools.
The one thing we can agree on with Mr. Cirone is that when he first assumed office over 30 years ago, our public schools were first-rate. Unfortunately, he and the school board incumbents have watched our schools decline, to the point where we are now witnessing a generation of kids from this area who are graduating without any of the requisite academic or vocational skills necessary to succeed in the workplace or life.
Now we would understand if some readers might think we are exaggerating this pitiful situation with our schools, so we are prepared to cite relevant information. In 2019, less than 30 percent of the students in the Santa Maria/Bonita school district were passing English or math. Things were not much better in the Santa Ynez Valley, as over 60 percent of students at Santa Ynez High School were performing below proficiency for math. Not to be undone by our neighboring districts, as little as 28 percent of students at Lompoc Unified met the standards for math and a paltry 44 percent for English.
How can Mr. Cirone praise county school board incumbents, when we are literally facing a K-12 meltdown that is committing a generation of kids to a life of poverty and inflicting other social problems on them, such as drug addiction?
It’s not going to be easy to turn this around, since it has developed over many years. There is absolutely no way it can be fixed when the same people who oversaw this sharp decline in our schools are now asking voters to keep them in office once again. In any other situation where performance is highly valued, these incumbents would have lost their jobs and certainly would not have the audacity to urge voters to reelect them.
Finally, since most voters do not know what the County Education Office does, we think it might be helpful to understand what this bloated behemoth has become under Mr. Cirone’s stewardship. His legacy is an agency which spends $58 million every year and employs over 500 people, many of them administrators, with a population of 175 students. This costs taxpayers $330,000 per student. Yes, they do some other things, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone, including the teachers in our schools, who would know what they are. Mr. Cirone could have used his position as superintendent to pressure the district schools to improve their performance, but sadly he didn’t.
The voters will ultimately decide if the school board incumbents deserve another term in office, but we think voters deserve better schools than what they are now getting. The citizenry can begin the process of reclaiming their schools by voting the school board incumbents out of office. Anything less is a vote for business as usual.
We are energized, ready to serve and will bring a fresh set of eyes, ears and ideas with a focus on reversing the downward trend in reading, writing and math proficiency. We will foster greater transparency and fiscal responsibility. We will emphasize innovative programs that engage, inspire, and prepare our youth to develop skills that are relevant in today’s economy.
Michelle de Werd, a Los Olivos resident, is a candidate for Santa Barbara County Board of Education, District 4. Lou Segal, a Santa Barbara resident, is candidate for Santa Barbara County Board of Education, District 6.