By Collin Breaux
The circumstances behind the special election in the Capistrano Unified School District are certainly unique, and perhaps underscore the tone of the race.
Former Trustee Pamela Braunstein resigned from her position as the representative for Area 2 on the Board of Trustees earlier this year over what she said was harassment for her support of COVID-19 restrictions.
Debates over whether students should be required to wear masks and get vaccines have ramped up since the pandemic began, though neither requirement is currently in place in CUSD.
A special election in November has been called to fill the vacancy in Area 2, which covers Ladera Ranch. Two candidates are campaigning for the seat: Michael Parham and Kira Davis. Jessica Hubbard, who initially ran as a third candidate, has since announced she is stepping away from the race and will be voting for Parham.
Parham is a father of four children who served as a trustee for the Irvine Unified School District’s governing board from 2006 to 2012.
“A solid public school system is the bedrock of our society, and we all benefit when every child has an opportunity to learn on a level playing field. This requires shrewd leadership without playing politics with children and the limited resources available,” Parham said.
“I have been an advisor to CEOs and boards of companies for over 25 years as an investment banker and CPA,” he continued. “I understand how to manage money, allocate resources and develop appropriate long-term strategies to make organizations operate more effectively and efficiently. CUSD is lacking in these areas, particularly at the administrative level, and I hope to change that.”
Parham is endorsed by the Capistrano Unified Education Association, the local teachers union. He has previously spoken against vaccine mandates, though he and his family are vaccinated.
Davis is a writer who has reported on education issues for more than a decade, small business owner and “CUSD mom in Ladera Ranch for 15 years.” Davis writes for RedState, a conservative outlet.
“Our CUSD schools have a reputation for excellence, but they have not been delivering on that for our children,” Davis said.” I’m running to represent the concerns of CUSD parents and to ensure our schools are devoted to education, not special-interest agendas hidden as curriculum.”
“I am pro-student and anti-mandate,” Davis added. “Parents are the best people to make decisions about the education and medical needs of their children.”
Davis has frequently advocated against mask and vaccine mandates and voiced those opinions at board meetings. The CUSD Board of Trustees decided not to act on a mask-choice measure that Davis had placed on a recent board meeting agenda. Davis has gained the support of some parents who are also against mask and vaccine mandates.
Parham addressed questions on how he would approach funding shortfalls for facility upgrades, an ongoing issue in CUSD—particularly for Dana Hills High School. CUSD trustees are currently considering if and when to place a bond measure on a future election ballot in order to obtain necessary funding for Dana Hills High facility upgrades.
“Regarding our facilities in CUSD specifically, the dysfunctional approach to spending and raising of bond revenue is the main culprit, alongside poor long-term master planning by staff,” Parham said. “I intend to work closely with many of the same advisers that helped us build more than 10 new schools and upgraded many more with state modernization funds while I was on the Irvine board.”
“I intend to put a cap on bond and CFD costs paid by taxpayers and rely more on developer fees and such modernization funding that is not paid by local taxpayers,” he continued. “This will also require good communication with the public, strong alliances with local municipalities and working together with interested developers. The end result will be a master plan that greatly enhances our schools and facilities with a prudent use of tax dollars.”
Davis said funding accountability is an issue.
“CUSD will need to break the status quo with real solutions without burdening taxpayers,” Davis said. “However, we cannot address financial issues effectively until we reestablish trust with parents.”
Two other seats are up for election on the Board of Trustees: Area 4 and Area 7. Area 4 covers Laguna Niguel, and Area 7 includes Mission Viejo.
Jim Glantz, Gary Pritchard and Darin Patel are running in Area 4. Current Area 4 Trustee and Board President Martha McNicholas is not running for reelection.
Two candidates are running in Area 7: incumbent Trustee Judy Bullockus and challenger Jeanette Contreras.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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