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Responding to Laura Pearson's claims

Posted: October 29, 2009 2:46 p.m.
Updated: October 29, 2009 2:46 p.m.
First and foremost, I would like to thank The Signal's Editorial Board for endorsing my candidacy for the Castaic Union School District's Governing Board. I am humbled.

As The Signal's editors identified, this election is about so much more than the state's budget crisis; the 800-pound gorilla in the room is a Castaic high school.

Our community does deserve new leaders who are unburdened by the "group think" that has pervaded Castaic's political landscape, and I promise to bring a fresh approach to the process.

Not surprisingly, incumbent Laura Pearson disagrees. She wrote a commentary in The Signal ("Clearing the air about my campaign," Oct. 27) that attempted to explain away why she fought so hard to defeat Measure SA, the school bond which will fund the construction of a Castaic high school.

Pearson stated her opposition was based upon the fact that the William S. Hart Union High School District was unwilling the meet three conditions she put before them. These were:

n Buy land for a Castaic high school before the election;

n Change the language of the bond to read "in Castaic" instead of "for Castaic's students;"

n Promise to no longer divide our community between West Ranch and Valencia high schools.

On the surface, these might seem like reasonable requests. However, what Pearson failed to mention (in
her commentary) is that each of her demands were literally impossible for the Hart district to meet. It was already
mid-August and with the election just weeks away, this meant:

n There was absolutely zero time for the Hart district to find and buy land; you couldn't even buy a house
in that time frame;

n The bond had already been filed with Los Angeles County, and its wording could not be changed;

n Superintendent Jaime Castellanos explained that the district would soon be undergoing redistricting (done in September 2009), and until that happened, no promises could be made about where any of the Hart district's students would matriculate.

Let me just say many people, myself included, were angry when the Hart district decided to divide our kids between Valencia and West Ranch. But two years later, at the two Measure SA Committee meetings Pearson attended, she was so caught up in her own emotion that I worried she might spontaneously combust.

When I challenged her to stay engaged, to my amazement she muttered in disgust, "Why should I care anyway? My kids won't get
to go to Castaic High School!"

Despite reasoned counseling, she failed to recognize that by being proactive instead of reactive she could be part of the solution and help to forge the best possible result for the community she was elected to represent. Instead, she joined
fellow board member John Kunak in a highly public and fervent campaign to sink the bond.

I am sorry if what I'm about to say makes some people uncomfortable, but in my opinion it was unconscionable for these board members to publicly undermine a school bond that each knew would directly benefit Castaic's students.

I'm not picking on Pearson; this truly isn't personal. But her record shows she is either unable or unwilling to temper a visceral animosity toward the Hart district board, and has repeatedly allowed emotion to overwhelm logic.

For example, while serving as board president, I watched as she laughingly led Castaic's board to withhold support from a Hart district trustee who was seeking to represent our region (22) on the state School Boards Association. As a result the seat was forfeited to an Antelope Valley trustee, depriving all five of Santa Clarita's school districts a voice in Sacramento just when the
Legislature began contemplating the horrendous budget cuts we now face.

For several years now, Pearson has also refused to attend the regular meetings of the Santa Clarita Valley Trustees Association, which is comprised of all the school board trustees in our Valley.

Sadly, she fails to recognize her protest-by-absence only further isolates Castaic from the Hart district and the three other elementary districts in Santa Clarita, which are all collaborating to find solutions to the issues that confront public schools. I'm not making this stuff up; it is public record - her record!

I believe Castaic's children deserve better judgment, especially as we face such an uncertain future.

Furthermore, I believe, like The Signal's editors, that the perception of Castaic must be re-set within our valley. Pearson and outgoing board president Kunak have traded the top position between them for several years instead of rotating it among the entire board (as is traditional in school boards across this country), and as a result their divisive style has overpowered moderate board members such as Dave Huffaker and Angela Marler, who has bravely endorsed my candidacy.

Pearson stated in her commentary: "We are no closer this year than last" to building a Castaic high school, but that is simply not true. Thanks to the passage of Measure SA, the Hart district now has the money to build the school and they are actively pursuing a site.

While there are still obstacles to overcome, Castellanos and the Hart district board publicly reaffirmed their commitment at the Sept. 2 district board meeting to open the school in the 2013/14 school year.

A decade late in coming but coming nonetheless, something which certainly would not be possible had Pearson successfully defeated Measure SA. It would be great if more of our leaders would help the Hart district get this done instead of fighting them.

Pearson touts her involvement in community sports and PTA and PTSA, and indeed she should be commended for her volunteerism. But in listing her own accomplishments, she couldn't resist trivializing my leadership role in getting SA passed, and infers I haven't done much else since moving here nearly 10 years ago, which is patently false.

What I have done is just different from her, because I have been listening and participating as an involved parent for years, not months. I've been attending Hart and Castaic district board meetings - often I'm the only person in attendance not required to be
there - and in an effort to fill a leadership vacuum, I founded CUBS (Castaic United to Build the School).

In 2006, I walked our neighborhoods to collect more than 1,000 signatures during a petition drive, and organized and moderated multiple informational "Town Hall" style meetings which featured representatives from the Hart district, county Supervisor Michael Antonovich's staff, Castaic district board members, representatives of the Castaic Area Town Council and other key community players.

And I've done this while running and making payroll for my own small business, a charity event production company that has generated vast exposure and millions of dollars for various nonprofit organizations across America.

I've also been an active parent to two Castaic district students, and while my girls don't play soccer or cheer, I support them on campus and off, often taking one daughter or the other from school, to dance, to gymnastics and back again.

My wife and I have been PTA members since moving here in 2000, and shepherded such activities as the CE talent show and back-to-school teachers' lunch.

However it's not quantity that matters, its quality, and the fact that you show up to stuff doesn't make you the best person to serve others. I would argue that the quality of your decisions is ultimately what determines the success of your service.

In my profession you must be a problem-solver and remain calm while managing multi-million dollar budgets. As a result, I always look at things the way they are not the way I want them to be, and believe a challenge is something to be overcome not scream about.

If elected, I promise to bring a sense of optimism and energy to my responsibilities, actively share information with the community and then seek the input of students, parents and teachers alike.

No decision will be made without thorough analysis and before a consensus is built between the board and district staff. And yes, I will work with - not against - the Hart district to ensure Castaic's new high school meets our community's expectations.

I am running because I value public education and I believe Castaic's children deserve the very best.

John Zaring is running for a seat on the Castaic Union School District board. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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