Group calling on all qualified candidates to run for Visalia Unified Board of Directors
“Visalia students deserve a better education” is the clarion call on a flyer distributed by a group of concerned citizens trying to recruit high-quality candidates to run for the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD.)
The group responsible for the flyer is made up of “private sector leaders” who care about Visalia students and the quality of their education.
“Lack of quality is a particular disservice to socio-economically disadvantaged children. 68% are eligible for discounted meals or their parents did not graduate from high school,” said group member Jerrod Jensen.
He said Dinuba Unified, with a fraction of the student body, beats Visalia in several academic categories, but Visalia’s board shows no sense of urgency to resolve the issues.
The group’s goal is to have at least one or more challengers to stand against each incumbent and “spark the debate”.
Of the seven seats on Visalia Unified’s Board of Directors, five are eligible for re-election.
“We’re not campaigning for or against a single board member,” Jensen said.
Their objective is to acquire a diversity of experiences within the Board of Directors.
“A healthy debate will force people to defend their decisions and spark discussion about the future of this neighborhood,” he said.
And what Jensen means by experience is someone who has a background in the business world, such as managing a private company or a senior executive in one of the major companies in the Visalia industrial park.
“They would bring an outside view to the board of how to run a business,” Jensen said.
The group’s flyer points out that the district is the county’s third largest employer with a budget of $400 million with 3,000 employees and 28,000 students.
The group believes that having board members with a business background will prevent another Measure A ‘debacle’ – the group says the public has been misled about the feasibility, or need , the construction of a fifth high school by Visalia.
The five council members up for re-election are Council President Juan R. Guerrero of Zone 2, Council Clerk Walta S. Gamoian of Zone 1, Catalina Blair of Zone 4, Joy M. Naylor of Zone 3 and Randy Villegas of Zone 6.
Two of these board members, Villegas and Blair, were not elected but appointed.
Guerrero has served on the board intermittently for about 16 years and Gamoian and Naylor have just completed their first terms.
According to the Tulare County Registrar of Electors, the nomination period to run for the Visalia Unified School Board is July 18 through August 12. These dates will be extended to August 17 in districts where incumbents do not show up to show up.
Interested persons can access the nomination portal on the Tulare County Registrar of Electors website to schedule an appointment at the Registrar’s office to file their documents and take the oath.
The registrar’s office waits until after the June 7 primary to put the nomination period on its website’s calendar to avoid confusion.
Visalia’s unified council would show a lack of urgency
The quality of education is the group’s number one issue, but they are concerned about the council’s alleged lack of urgency.
Jensen said that Lindsay Mann, the former CEO of Kaweah Health, heard more and more about Visalia Unified being a hindrance to the hospital’s ability to recruit doctors due to low quality of education. in Visalia.
He said that the subject of the district also comes up in discussions on the development of the industrial park.
Companies are able to recruit blue collar workers but cannot attract senior managers for the same reason, he said.
An example that Jensen gives is the fact that 67% of Dinuba Unified High School students graduate by meeting the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) admission requirements. But only 24% of Visalia Unified high school students are eligible to apply for a UC/CSU.
Visalia high school students come second-to-last in Tulare County only behind Lindsay Unified with a 21% qualification, he said.
Redwood has an acceptable 55% of its students meeting UC/CSU admissions requirements, which is above the state average of 52% — but Jensen says Mt. Whitney, El Diamante, and Golden West are coming in last in Tulare County.
Golden West had only 2 seniors meeting college requirements out of a class of over 300 students.
Jensen said a council member disagreed with his numbers, but he said those are the numbers the district submitted to the state.
“The final breaking point for our group,” Jensen said, “was when this board again delayed the requirement of [students to take] 3 years of math to graduate. VUSD was to make this change for the class of 2022 – then postponed to 2024 – postponed again to 2025 – and now postponed to 2027.”
“It’s simply a breach of their responsibility to graduate well-behaved children.”
“The public was misled on measure A”
The group does not want to question Measure A, but felt that a board member with business experience would have informed the public that there were not enough funds embedded in the bond to pay a fifth secondary school.
On the other hand, measure A received 60% of the votes on the belief that a new high school was going to be built.
Jensen says that not only was there not enough money in the bail, but Visalia’s declining birth rate did not justify the need for an additional high school.
“The public was misled,” Jensen said.
Measure A was a $105 million bond measure that sought to allocate $30 million for upgrading existing schools and $75 million for building a new high school. The new high school was expected to cost $150 million, and former superintendent Todd Oto assured voters the state would match the district’s $75 million.
In reality, the state was only going to match the school district for about $40 million because the state doesn’t match funds for swimming pools, community auditoriums, stadiums, etc.
“Voters were seriously misled by campaign demands that were not a specific legal requirement in the official language of the ballot,” Jensen said.
When the time came for the board to hear a presentation by Mangini Associates of four designs to choose from for their new campus, they “postponed” the agenda item. In the end, the board never even discussed the designs.
But not before Visalia Unified paid Mangini Associates $1 million for their work.
“What we want are candidates for the board of trustees who really care about the quality of education at Visalia,” Jensen said.