Rio School District faces the prospect of an undivided school board for the first time in two years with the imminent departures of trustees Mike Barber and Tim Blaylock, who have each decided not to run for re-election.
Blaylock and Barber both took out paperwork for candidacy from the county clerk’s office but neither filed by the Aug. 10 deadline, triggering an automatic extension for other applicants to Aug. 15.
“Too much negativity,” Barber said shortly after the Sept. 27 board meeting when asked why he had decided not to run. “I’m so glad I decided to go for the two-year term instead of the four-year term, there’s way too much negativity here for me.”
Barber was elected in 2010 to finish the term of former trustee Brian Martin, who was sentenced to 17 years in jail for child sexual abuse. Blaylock, chief professional officer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme, was likewise elected in a 2006 mid-term recall election before winning a full term in 2008.
“I put in six really incredible years. The first four were really wonderful, the last two were really challenging,” Blaylock said, following the Sept. 27 meeting. “It’s time for me to go back to serving kids at the Boys & Girls Club. I think it’s just time for new leadership to emerge in the community.”
Blaylock went into more detail about his reasons for not running again in a later e-mailed statement.
“The Bylaws of the Rio School District require ‘Board members shall hold the education of students above any partisan principle, group interest or personal interests.’ This board majority has failed to uphold these standards, with Brown Act violations, fiscal irresponsibility and bowing down to the special interest groups and unions,” Blaylock wrote.
“Students and their needs are all but forgotten,” he continued. “Because of this dysfunction and my personal value system to help children in a more impactful way, I have decided not to run for another term on the board.”
Besides those reasons, Blaylock and Barber found themselves at odds with the board majority over the firing of former superintendent Sherianne Cotterell. They further lost an ally when longtime Cotterell supporter and board critic Lynette Lucas was pink-slipped by school administrators earlier this year.
Only two other people — Canoga Park principal Matt Klinefelter and Hueneme Elementary School District receptionist Celia Robles — applied, and so win by default. They will be sworn in at the first board meeting following the Nov. 6 election.
“I’m a high school principal in L.A. and a couple of people, parents who had concerns about what had been going on, asked me if I would be interested in running,” explained Klinefelter, who said the concerns were about the continued feuding on the board.
“I’ve worked in education for 15 years, so I feel very strongly that children should have the best education available,” added Klinefelter, who said his goal is to work with new Superintendent John Puglisi to help raise student test scores.
Robles, mother of three and grandmother of five, who has worked in the Hueneme School District for 17 years, also said the continued divisiveness among trustees had prompted her to run.
“I want to help get their focus back on the children,” said Robles. “I know we’re going through tough times with the budget, but I’d like to see smaller class size, less unnecessary spending and redirecting funds to the classroom.”
The prospect of a more unified board was welcomed by Rio Teachers Association President Rebecca Barbetti, who that noted Blaylock and Barber were the dissenters when the board approved a new contract with teachers earlier this year.
“I’m excited that the board is going to have a chance to operate as one cohesive unit instead of two separate entities,” she said. “I don’t know a lot about either of (the new trustees), but both seem qualified and interested in helping.”
Blaylock and Barber may have one more chance to leave their stamp on the district before departing when it considers a proposal for a charter school presented to the board at the Sept. 27 meeting. Blaylock was openly enthusiastic about the plan, which Puglisi said will be given a thorough vetting by staff before a recommendation is made to the board.
“I’m very optimistic when parents and community members rally to help their children and others gain the best possible education possible. I do not feel that charter schools are the enemy,” Blaylock wrote, explaining that he believes competition is good for educational institutions as well as business.
“Therefore, I’m not concerned that they have submitted a petition to our district for review,” Blaylock continued. “Anytime we can improve and help more kids, we should embrace that opportunity wholeheartedly.”