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School Board Candidates Show Much Common Ground in Forum

Hopefuls unanimously support the local school funding measures on the November ballot and agree on some other issues during a Saturday gathering.

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The four candidates in the West County school board election appeared to be general agreement on most issues during a forum hosted on Saturday by the El Cerrito Democratic Club.

Incumbent Antonio Medrano and challengers Robert Studdiford, Randy Enos and Todd Groves all said they support a school bond measure for school reconstruction and the extension of a parcel tax, .

All of the candidates advocated more open use of school facilities by the communities in which they're located and support for adult education programs, school safety and teaching evolution in schools.

The candidates are running for the two seats on the five-member board of the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

Each of them gave three-minute opening statements, followed by a session with questions submitted from among the 100 or so members of the audience at El Cerrito High School.

The group presented individual nuances on some issues, such as how to improve student performance, and tailored their messages in opening statements.

In his introductory remarks, incumbent Medrano said that the district needs to address the high number of graduating students who attend community colleges, only to take remedial English and math classes. He said schools such as Collins and Lake elementary schools remain in need of reconstruction and he praised some "gems" in programs like the Ivy League Connection and the academy system with its emphasis on multi-media, performance arts, environmental studies and hospitality.

Medrano lauded the district's emergence from the burden of state loans earlier this year and said the bond debt used to reconstruct district schools has been managed well.

Studdiford, an active PTA president and member of the district's Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee, said in his statement that he's attended every school board meeting for the past six years. He said he understands "where our tax dollars go" for infrastructure and the intricacies of the revenue that the state gives to the district. He emphasized his knowledge, leadership and willingness to listen to staff and teachers and constituents.

Enos, a retired school teacher and principal, said a lot of work is needed to improve school safety, student performance and "community collaboration" needed to make improvements. He called these "affect our students greatly." He commended the school board out the debt owed to the state, which he called "a huge accomplishments for all of our students."

Groves, a parent and El Cerrito schools volunteer for 16 years, said has worked to fill gaps in student learning by introducing effective programs, such as individual student support in "writing and critical thinking skills." He'd also like to improve achievement levels in math and science at the middle schools and treat children as "individual learners than our current approach of a one-size-fits-all curriculum."

Groves also drew wide applause and laughter after answering a question about teaching evolution to students. The audience chuckled at the question, the last among several in a "lightning round" that allowed for one-word or one-sentence.

"I support evolution in our schools, not only teaching evolution," Groves said.

The Democratic club members cast votes for election endorsements following the forum. Only Groves received the necessary 60 percent of votes cast to receive an endorsement, getting 68 percent from voting members. Medrano and Studdiford both received support of 45 percent, followed by Enos with 21 percent.

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