Ojai Unified School District Board Area 2 candidate: Jeffrey Starkweather

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Photo courtesy Jeffrey Starkweather
Jeffrey Starkweather


Voters in new Trustee Areas 2 and 4 will choose two Ojai Unified School District Board members Nov. 3. Since incumbent Thayne Whipple in Trustee Area 2 is not seeking re-election, the two vying for his seat are Jeffrey Starkweather and Rebecca Chandler.
1. Do you support Measure K? Why or why not?
I always support school capital bond referendums that will increase local school funding. I support Proposition 15, which would require most commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on market value, rather than purchase price.
I will probably vote for the Measure K bond, but I am concerned that it’s not clear how it would attract students or improve educational outcomes. I am puzzled by the lack of marketing to explain its educational benefits.
I would not have voted to put Measure K on the November ballot. We are in the midst of two of the greatest crises: a pandemic that has closed our schools and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, causing untold hardship on working families and local businesses. At this time, it’s hard to ask those facing such hardship to pay more in property taxes, especially when there was no effort to seek public input on the proposed bond. More important, this bond referendum is not part of any strategic plan developed with communitywide input for improving our schools and expanding student enrollment. 
I would have proposed that we spend the time before the 2022 election cycle developing such a strategic plan (see answer to question 5). As the bond expert told the school board, it is possible to use a capital bond to develop stellar programs to increase student enrollment, if you have community support. We could still consider that for the 2022 election.  
Remember, the proposed Measure K would not go into effect until 2022. So, waiting to develop a strategic plan backed by the entire community would only delay the funding by one year. 


2. Do you support the lease of the district office property? If so, what would you like to see there?
Yes, but we need community input in envisioning the best use of this property. We should include affordable housing that can provide for our district teachers and staff. We need to continue the Skate Park lease, preserve the bus stop and possibly expand downtown parking.
3. Do you have any business interests in the district?
4. How should future district budget deficits be addressed?
The key to avoiding future budget cuts is to increase student enrollments, which would bring increased school funding. 
5. How should the district deal with declining enrollment?
We have to do more than “manage decline.” One in four children in the valley do not attend our schools. We are a “District of  Choice,” which means we can recruit students outside the Ojai school district. I propose engaging the whole community in developing a strategic plan to strengthen and innovate our schools. We could attract new students from the valley and beyond by creating unique magnet-type programs for each of our elementary schools, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), environmental, arts, and language focuses.  We could develop stellar programs in foreign languages, music, dance, drama, visual arts and environmental education in all our schools.  
Our diverse student population is a strength. We need to make sure every student can succeed by employing “deeper learning” strategies that link learning to real-world problems. This should focus on developing 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, citizenship, creativity and self-directed inquiry through project- and group-based learning, outside-the-classroom exploration, and nonstandardized test performance assessments.  
We should take advantage of three things that make Ojai a unique place to live and work — a world-class arts community, a wonderfully preserved natural environment and a communitywide commitment to environmental protection. By using the proposed city climate park, our many nature preserves and natural forests as outdoor environmental education classrooms, we could become one of the top environmental public school districts in the state. Likewise, if we were to come together through a bond referendum and private funding to build a performing arts center at Nordhoff and arts spaces at all our schools, and if we had support for a parcel tax to fund top-flight arts instruction that worked collaboratively with our local arts community, we could also become one of the best performing arts education programs..  
6. Do you support attracting interdistrict transfers to help address declining enrollment?
Yes, through the strategy outlined in my answer to question 5.
7. Has distance learning in OUSD been effective thus far?
It appears the administration has planned well with the hand they have been dealt. They have done a good job quickly pivoting to meet last-minute county requirements. It seems to be going as well as it can under trying circumstances. 


8. What is the role of a school board member?
The role of the school board is to be the voice of the community in setting the direction and governance of our schools in collaboration with the superintendent. There are five governance responsibilities of the board: establishing strategic direction and objective student success outcomes; providing policy direction and approval; stewardship of school funding, oversight and accountability, and community leadership. Seeking input from parents, teachers, staff, community leaders and residents, the school board, in collaboration with the superintendent, develops a long-term strategic plan, sets objectives and develops strategies for achieving them, such as increasing student enrollment.  The role of the superintendent is to implement those strategies.  
While professional educators are in charge of the day-to-day operations of the schools, board members with long-term ties to the community are needed to promote important changes in the schools, as well as raising funds for important initiatives. To do that successfully, they need to engage in shared leadership that recognizes others beyond the administration have a role to play in shaping decisions of the district. We need “buy-in” from all public-school stakeholders, including parents, teachers, local businesses and nonprofits, local officials, and residents.
9. Why should people vote for you?
I grew up in Meiners Oaks and attended our local public schools. As a community advocate living in my family home place, I have been working with local leaders on issues related to our schools, including affordable housing, climate resilience, safer biking/walking routes to schools, and environmental protection. City Council members Bill Weirick and Suza Francina have endorsed me. I spent nearly two decades serving on governing boards addressing public schools, including issues of economic development, arts education, employment development, and affordable/sustainable housing. As a retired attorney who focused on civil rights and education, and a former newspaper editor/publisher I have the knowledge, leadership experience and time to work on these issues. I would consider the school board position a full-time commitment.
10. If you have a candidate website, what is the address?
11. If you have a candidate email, what is the address?

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