Name: Nancy Scott

Age: 42
Occupation: Founder/Executive Director of Nancy’s Hope
What was your favorite subject in school? Science: “As a kid I enjoyed different experiments, just being in the middle of doing things hands-on. I’m a hands-on person, so that's how I learn.”
What are you reading?: Hugs for Heroes by Larry Keefauver “It’s got some really encouraging stories, sayings and scriptures to encourage and inspire. I picked it up in New York on a field trip with the high school and I fell in love with it.”
Is there an event from local history which inspires you? Butte Fire Philanthropy: “I've seen the beautiful way in how people wanted to come together and help. That's what Tuolumne County is all about. It was inspiring to see how many people wanted to help.”

Name: Jordan Reiser
Age: 37
Occupation: Educationally Related Mental-Health Clinician, Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools
What was your favorite subject in school? English: “English, to me, was just an area that I was really strong in. I love to write, and I actually like doing research, which sounds kind of crazy.”
What are you reading? “Anxiety in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Connor M. Kerns”: “It’s just looking at different ways to work with children in all settings that have anxiety and getting them to develop skills so that they are able to function without stressing their life.”
Is there an event from local history which inspires you? Firemen’s Muster: “It's something that you go to and have a great time with your family, but you also learn about the history of the firefighters. And you get good food on top of it.”

Name: Jim Riggs
Age: 65
Occupation: Professor of Education at CSU Stanislaus
What was your favorite subject in school? Music: “It’s something I can excel in and enjoyed. I played piano and tuba, but my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are actually in music composition.”
What are you reading? “The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves by Eric R. Kandel”: “It is a very informative look at how our brains drive our behaviors. It certainly assists with how people also learn and what they learn.”
Is there an event from local history which inspires you? The Founding of Columbia College: “The founding principles on which the college was founded on in 1968 still ring true. It should be the basis of every school.”

Name: Erik Andal
Age: 52
Occupation: Columbia College Program Coordinator/Instructor
What was your favorite subject in school? History: “I think it was just interesting to discover our past in general. I’d like to get so romantic with all of that, but I think back then I was still too young to draw connections that I understand now.”
What are you reading? Case studies: “Having completed law school, I did not initially have intentions of practicing law, but since then I’ve been determined to take it past the bar to become eligible to practice.”
Is there an event from local history which inspires you? The Gold Rush: “What better place do you have to dig in and learn about the past? There are plenty of opportunities here.”

Name: Michael Garrett
Age: 47
Occupation: Lineman with AT&T
What was your favorite subject in school?: History “I just love everything about what happened hundreds of years ago leading up to where our country is today. I just find it very interesting.”
What are you reading?: Nothing “I don't read very much except the local newspaper and about history.”
Is there an event from local history which inspires you?: The Mother’s Day Parade “It's been going on for years and years. It’s great to see everyone from the community come together for the day in celebrating a great Mother’s Day Rodeo weekend and supporting the community.”

Five candidates vying for three open seats on the Sonora Union High School District Board of Trustees intend to pivot the board toward an era of transparency.

The board needs a radical transformation, said the candidates — Nancy Scott and Jordan Reiser for Trustee Area 1, and Jim Riggs, Erik Andal and Michael Garrett for two vacant seats in Trustee Area 2 — but the group was far from a monolith in their solutions for the district’s financial stability and on surplus properties such as Wildcat Ranch.

“I’m not in it for my own agenda. I’m in it for the students and the staff outcomes. I feel that I want to make a change,” said Scott, an executive director of the nonprofit Nancy’s Hope.

Reiser, an education related mental-health clinician for the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools office, contended that it was “not a position that should be taken lightly.”

“It’s something I’m passionate about in regards to being in education and being able to give back,” she said.

The Trustee Area 2 candidates have all met with their constituents, they said, which has guided their declaration of candidacy and platforms.

“I have met with a number of faculty members and other staff. There’s really a lack of transparent decision making. There are basic operational needs that need to be addressed,” said Riggs, a professor at Cal State University, Stanislaus.

Andal, a Columbia College instructor, said “rebuilding relationships” should be a new board’s utmost priority.

“I’m very interested in having public schools run in a way that maximizes student learning, and I’d like to be part of creating policy to those ends,” he said.

Garrett, a construction splicer for AT&T, said he has watched the current board dig the district into a “hole.”

“I saw Sonora High go on a deep decline in education, sports and flat-out accountability. I can’t complain if I’m not going to do anything about it, so I signed up,” Garrett said.

Trustees Kathy Ankrom, Rob Lyons and Jeff Norstrom have not sought reelection and will be replaced in the Nov. 6 election. New trustees will be seated at the first board meeting in December, Superintendent Dr. Mark Miller said.

But for all that the candidates agreed on — delaying a sale of the Wildcat Ranch until they are seated and surmising the financial health of the district — their priorities set them apart.

Low test scores were rampant at each of the district schools, and everyone from the superintendent down should be held accountable for that, said Scott.

Reiser said student instruction and lowering class sizes must be evaluated, but only after the school budget was brought under control.

Riggs said he would set out to repair internal morale and foster a collaborative dialogue to focus a limited budget where it was needed most.

For Andal, the school’s budget was the preeminent crisis facing the district, but added that seeking salvation in the sale of the Wildcat Ranch would be a grave mistake.

Garrett said the district should focus on conserving funds for career and technical education courses rather than splurging on new property improvements for tennis courts.

The school’s teachers’ union and the classified employee union have both endorsed Reiser, Riggs and Andal. Both Scott and Garrett each said the endorsements did not reflect the equal contributions they could make to the board.

Candidate forums were hosted at the Sonora High School library on Sept. 19, with Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Margie Bulkin as host, and on Oct. 15 with former Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele as host. Garrett was not able to attend the first forum due to a death in the family and the second forum due to a work obligation.

Nancy Scott

Scott, whose daughter is president of the ASB Student Council, said she learned from the “inside-out” that district students were lacking direction.

“All these kids, it doesn’t matter if they’re at Cassina or Ted Bird, they’re children. They’re falling through the cracks. It’s really important for me to see these kids thrive and become our future leaders,” Scott said.

Scott said the current board failed to promote staff unity and focused, precise goals for improving student achievement.

“I feel like people are putting everything else in front of the low test scores. We need to get the students involved in things that they feel gifted in,” like the CTE program, she said.

If she were seated on the board, Scott said she would encourage additional research on strategies to implement academic success in the classroom.

On the budget front, Scott acknowledged the school was in a “rut.” The new board should be responsible for defining specific areas of financial need, she said, and delegate the search for grants to the superintendent and other officials.

“The board can be there, not as a micromanager, but just be there to give ideas to the superintendent so things can change with the students,” she said.

Scott said that she was involved with 4-H and Future Farmers of America, two groups associated with campus agriculture. The prevailing consensus among the agriculture community was that the current board intended to force a decision on the ranch before the new board’s tenure, she said.

“I think they are just done. They want to be done with it,” she said.

If elected, Scott said she would seek to dispel any uproar and find a “happy medium to make everybody happy.”

Scott is founder of Nancy’s Hope, a nonprofit organization that has a thrift store in Columbia. From 2005 to 2008, Scott taught at Busy Bees Preschool in Columbia and, before that, was a daycare provider out of her home.

Scott is a candidate in Trustee Area 1.

Jordan Reiser

Reiser said her background in education prepared her to lead on prioritized spending for new programs and new staffing once the school was fiscally sound.

“We can have the nicest campus and a beautiful pool and a beautiful football program, but if we don’t have the right teaching staff and the right class sizes, the students aren’t going to benefit,” she said.

If elected, Reiser said she would commit to a thorough evaluation of the district budget in order to free up money to specific needs in classroom instruction.

“Once we have an idea of where the money is and how much there is, we just need to look at the priorities,” she said. “Until we have an idea of where every single penny is going and how much it is, it’s really hard to talk about improvement.”

Rieser acknowledged the current board’s efforts to implement enduring revenue supplements, such as the energy conservation agreement for campus improvements with Johnson Controls Inc. Additional grants or funding should also be explored for more funding, she said.

Reiser was critical of the current board on the Wildcat Ranch, and said they could “save face with community members, stakeholders and staff” by tabling a decision until the new trustees were seated.

“We need to see what else they can bring to the table and collaborate with the two that will still be there,” she said. “As a trustee, you’re not going to make everyone happy. But it’s important that they feel like they can trust the board.”

If elected, Reiser said the discussions over the future of the ranch would seek to reverse the public perception that the board was not considering other options or hastily seeking an agreement.

Reiser works as an education-related mental health clinician with the county schools office and provides special education counseling services at Jamestown Elementary School.

Reiser is a Sonora High School graduate, has a masters degree in psychology with a marriage and family therapy emphasis from Chapman University.

Resier is a candidate in Trustee Area 1.

Jim Riggs

Riggs said the Sonora Union High School District should be run like Columbia College, with an emphasis on shared governance that fosters input from staff, student and community stakeholders.

“There’s a pattern of not really focusing on the core instructional needs of the high school,” he said. “People feel like they have little or no input into those decisions.”

Riggs said he researched the financial state of the district and read through the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team report prepared during the district’s 2016 financial crisis.

His research has generated optimism in the district’s fiscal future, he said, with a growing reserve and a balanced budget.

“When the budget is balanced, I think there is a number of unmet needs in the budget,” he said. “I want to provide support for a teaching, learning environment.”

The board should eventually seek to reverse the “major cuts in instructional supplies and books and cuts to instructional equipment” and increases in class sizes that were mandated after the FCMAT report, he added.

Riggs said he was not opposed to the Park Foundation’s proposal on the Wildcat Ranch, but said local groups such as the Farm Bureau felt excluded from the discussion because other groups have not had the opportunity to generate their own bids.

“The Park Foundation has good intentions, but they’re not going to go away. Their resources are not going to go away,” he said.

Instead of enforcing a “rushed, closed-door decision,” other proposals on the property should be vetted by the new board for the good of the students, he added.

“If it’s the best decision, then like-minded and caring people are going to come to the same solution,” he said.

Riggs has an approximately 40-year career in education and teaches in the doctoral program at CSU Stanislaus on educational leadership. He served as president of Columbia College from 1997 to 2007 and has lived in Tuolumne County for about 21 years.

Riggs grew up in Wenatchee, Washington.

Riggs is a candidate in Trustee Area 2.

Erik Andal

Andal said he was trained, taught and practiced in educational leadership, so it was time to put those tools to work for the Sonora Union High School district.

“I guess my nature, being trained in school governance and administration, I’m interested in it. I’ve always participated in some volunteer activities throughout my adult life, and I suppose this would become my new volunteer activity,” he said.

The primary goal of the new board would be to reinvigorate the fiscal strength of the district, but the only way to pursue that goal would be to find “a large inventory of options” from all the board members and the general public.

“I want to let people know that not only are they invited to give input, but their input would be valued. They would be heard,” he said.

Much of what has plagued the current board was the perception that they were excluding the public from guiding the district’s future, he said.

“There’s a lot of relationship repair that needs to be done between the board and the community, the teachers, staff,” he said. “Decisions are being made in a vacuum. Campus morale needs to be high to maximize student learning.”

Andal also questioned the “urgency” of the current board to seek out a deal with the Park Foundation on the Wildcat Ranch.

“Unless there is a timely issue, I think it’s a little bit hasty for the current board to obligate the district in a contract for sale before the new board is seated,” he said.

He proposed that the district seek out additional partnerships on the ranch with Summerville High School and cautioned against any deal as a budgetary quick-fix.

Andal has worked in the same position since 1997 when he moved to Sonora to work as a program coordinator and CTE instructor at Columbia College.

Andal has served in multiple leadership positions at the college, has a master’s degree in education administration from CSU Stanislaus, and a Juris Doctor from Humphreys University.

Andal is a candidate in Trustee Area 2.

Michael Garrett

Garrett doesn’t have an educational background, but he said that didn’t inhibit his vision to reverse policies that prioritized “good grades” over a “good education.”

“I don’t think any further education makes you a better candidate,” he said. “We need these kids in our workforce when they leave high school. Without this labor workforce, we’re going to fall apart.”

Garrett framed his candidacy as a part of his overall advocacy for CTE education in agriculture, workshop and trade classes at district schools.

“I just would hope that we could make the smartest decisions going forward. We don’t need to spend extra money on tennis courts or parking lots. We need to save money and put it into our school, into other departments that are failing,” he said.

The current board has failed the district in its representation of all it’s employees, which included teachers and maintenance, cafeteria and transportation employees, he said. All the energy that was put into “unnecessary projects” should have been focused on providing for their needs too, he added.

“I just think they’ve made a lot of bad decisions. The decisions they’ve made have taken us a step backward, not forward,” Garrett said. “The only thing the current board I’ve seen do is put us further and further in debt.”

One example Garrett provided as a money-saving plan was to move the Shaws Flat special education campus to the Sonora High School campus.

The Wildcat Ranch was just one more example of the “irresponsible” fiscal policies of the district, he said. Garret advocated for “hearing more options” to determine how much would remain for the agriculture department before any deal was solidified.

“This decision should be left up to the board members that are coming on, not the ones that are leaving in a few weeks,” he said.

Garrett is a Sonora High School graduate who has lived in the area for 40 years.

He currently works as an AT&T construction splicer, working repairs on phone lines, damaged cables and underground cables. He previously was an electrician.

Garrett is a candidate in Trustee Area 2.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com .

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