School Board Candidates Respond to Teacher Union Criticism
September 27, 2018
After a San Dieguito Faculty Association demonstration outside the district office in mid-September, SDFA president Tim Staycer explained why the union chose to endorse three candidates: Amy Flicker in Area 1, Rhea Stewart in Area 3, and Kristin Gibson in Area 5. He also expressed why they chose not to support Mo Muir in Area 1, Melisse Mossy in Area 3, Lea Wolf in Area 5 and Cheryl James-Ward. Muir’s response is published here. Mossy and Wolf respond below. James-Ward did not comment.
Staycer expressed concern over Mossy’s level of activity in the district. In an email, he said, “Mossy has not been connected to our schools the way Rhea Stewart has been. While Rhea Stewart has had 3 students graduate from SDA Mossy’s has one student in our district but has not been an active member of any of our parent organizations at the schools or at our school district level.”
Mossy responded, “I am someone who has experience in SDUHSD but also I have the perspective lens of school outside our walls.” Mossy also said, “I am an enthusiastic, energetic, creative problem solver with a current teen student in the district and a senior at UC Berkeley who is graduating a year early. We hosted an exchange student from New Zealand for one full year and she was our first child to graduate from Torrey Pines, so I have had experience with two students in the district, not one.”
Staycer said Mossy does not have a comparable amount of experience to the union endorsed candidate in Area 3. He stated, “Mossy has no school board experience while Rhea Stewart has served as president and ran for two terms on the Cardiff school board. Quite frankly, Rhea Stewart is by far the more qualified candidate.”
Mossy responded, “As a current California credentialed teacher, I care about and know first hand the needs of our students. For the last twenty-five years I have been rolling up my sleeves to give my all to students both in my own classroom and in those of others. In the educational arena I have worked diligently as a team member on the SDA Safety Committee, as a school district Strategic Planning Commission Member, Development Committee Board Member, Annual Fundraiser Committee Board Member, SDA and Torrey Pines Foundation Member, started a PTA and then volunteered numerous years in various volunteer board positions.” (Editor’s note: Mossy’s full statement is attached to the end of this article.)
Staycer also stated the reasons that the SDFA does not support Wolf. “Lea Wolf who is running in zone 5 prides herself as whistle blower, she has been disrupting every school board meeting from the dais by speaking on personal agendas (comments are only suppose to address school Board agenda items) and regularly asks questions from the audience without regard for decorum of school board meeting protocol,” Staycer said. “She seems to enjoy heckling from her seat in the crowd and has been warned more than once to keep quiet or be removed. While she is not a legitimate candidate, SDFA has no respect for her ignorance of governance and would consider it criminal to see her as a Trustee.”
Wolf responded, “I am, in fact, not offended but flattered by Mr. Staycer’s comments because I had not considered myself a ‘whistleblower’ until reading his comments. As an outspoken voice in support of student’s interests, the title is perhaps befitting. Mr. Staycer is right to be concerned because I dare to ask the tough questions.” Wolf went on to list her concerns with some of “the many issues that plague our District.” (Editor’s note: Wolf’s full statement is attached to the end of this article.)
In addition, Wolf sent The Mustang a link to the Del Mar Times opinion column “Education Matters: San Dieguito’s special relationship with its teachers union.” The column expresses concern over SDUHSD paying the full salary for the president of the teacher’s union, Bob Croft at the time, as well as hiring a full time substitute for him.
Wolf said, “That special relationship is resulting in limited checks and balances and conflict of interest.”
[This story was edited on October 1, 2018.]
The Mustang reached out to Mossy, Wolf, and Cheryl James-Ward for a response to Staycer’s statements. Mossy and Wolf wrote emails to The Mustang with their responses. Their comments follow:
Why am I running?
We have an outstanding district, and I am proud to be a part of it in many ways. I stepped out to seek election as a San Dieguito Union High School District Trustee for one reason… I love and believe in kids, and I want to do everything possible to give students the best opportunities for their future. My husband (Torrey Pines Class of 89 Alumni) and I have always taught our daughters that one person really can make a difference, and we must not sit on the sidelines when we can help another in need. I hope this is modeled and evidenced in how I have lived my life. I have no personal agenda other than to do what is right with integrity, transparency, professionalism, and to come up with real solutions where all stakeholders (especially students!) have a voice that is heard and respected. A recent survey found that only half of students report feeling engaged in school. Globally, researchers predict that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been created yet. In the U.S. almost 50% of teachers resign within 5 years. I have been passionately involved in education for more than half my life because of that strong desire to make a difference. I want to live out what I believe and I want to be part of creating positive solutions.
What is my experience?
As a current California credentialed teacher, I care about and know first hand the needs of our students. For the last twenty-five years I have been rolling up my sleeves to give my all to students both in my own classroom and in those of others. In the educational arena I have worked diligently as a team member on the SDA Safety Committee, as a school district Strategic Planning Commission Member, Development Committee Board Member, Annual Fundraiser Committee Board Member, SDA and Torrey Pines Foundation Member, started a PTA and then volunteered numerous years in various volunteer board positions. I am a former managing partner and board member of Rawhide Ranch- a multimillion-dollar 50+ year company that centers on outdoor educational experiences for children, and worked for a salary of 1.00 a month so we could make improvements.
Here are some additional examples of my work and the solutions that made a tangible difference in the past few years in the district, and around the world:
*After touring campus at SDA for the first time I was inspired by seeing the auto shop and had an idea to start a class for teenage students. I worked with automotive teacher Mr. Erales, San Dieguito Academy Principal Bjorn Page, and SDUHSD personnel to actually create and implement a Smart Start Automotive Awareness course for new drivers in the auto shop classroom on campus. We worked as a team to establish the curriculum, we created the marketing material at no charge to the school and then we invited student families to attend free of charge (including those of staff). Our family personally paid all costs involved including the extended salary for Mr. Erales as well as that of several professional automotive technicians to augment instruction. We drove in additional vehicles to use as student demos where parent/ child pairs could check oil, change tires and be prepared as safer drivers. We even provided Chic-Fil-A to make sure no one went hungry. Every class was sold out. We would have liked to continue the program however we were told it was no longer needed.
*I appreciate teachers and I want to help them have everything they need to be successful. Last year, when I learned there was a need for a drum set in instrumental music, we immediately provided funds for Mr. Wuertz to purchase a drum set of his choosing for his classroom, and he had it within the week.
*Last year, I volunteered to organize a fieldtrip, create curriculum, mobilize volunteers and personally teach 80 students for a Roger Rowe School walking through history tour of their town over two days.
*Donated all proceeds of all salary as a substitute teacher both at SDA and in Solana Beach.
*For the last 18 years I have contributed funds and/ or time to sponsor school fundraisers to local schools including the SDA Foundation on multiple occasions as well as the Torrey Pines Foundation.
*In the last few years I have traveled to Kampala, Uganda twice to the school Restore International to volunteer.
*Traveled to Katmandu, Nepal, to bring supplies to children after the 7.8-devastating earthquake where I then experienced a 7.2 earthquake and became stranded in the countryside.
Why is my background an asset to the board?
I believe in diversity, and that fresh, creative, open minded, and innovative new ideas are imperative to help guide policies that concern our creative, open minded and innovative leaders of tomorrow. Foundationally, I think it’s important to have a board where members are not all homogenous.
Our current leadership consists of trustees who have served over a combined 30 years on the board. I appreciate what they bring to the district and very much look forward to working positively with them as a team, but so much in schools has changed. Imagine the beauty of a healthy and functioning school board where the current seasoned members were coupled with members who have fresh new ideas. I am someone who has experience in SDUHSD but also I have the perspective lens of school outside our walls. When our eldest daughter was in a local preschool we were recruited to be a founding family of their new elementary school. We were given the opportunity to create the first PTA and work hand and hand daily with teachers and staff on curriculum and more. The class sizes were very low which helped our daughter overcome a speech issue and manage a learning disability. She went on to get a full scholarship to several universities. Every child deserves low class sizes and our district has increased them from 30 to an average of 40 in high school. I believe in equal access to a quality education for all students where they are known and noticed. Where kids are nurtured academically and emotionally so no one falls through the cracks or feels like a number. Together we can make a difference and come up with solutions to these challenges.
I am an enthusiastic, energetic, creative problem solver with a current teen student in the district and a senior at UC Berkeley who is graduating a year early. We hosted an exchange student from New Zealand for one full year and she was our first child to graduate from Torrey Pines, so I have had experience with two students in the district, not one as the article states. I am still her “Mum in America” and we recently traveled to visit her. She had a great experience.
I have numerous years of hands on experience in education and electing me would create perfect melting pot for positive momentum for our trustee board. We need people who are constantly in touch with kids if we are going to create policies that concern kids. We need “out of the box” thinkers who can take innovative ideas from outside the district to implement best practices policies at home. We need the best if we are going to continue to be the best, someone with no agenda other than to put students first and support the staff and programs that serve them.
Personally, what does this mean to me?
I was born to a teen-age mom who was pregnant her senior year of high school. She did the best she could to give me a stable life, but by the time I graduated from high school I had attended 18 different schools and even runaway. One teacher in particular changed the course of my life forever. Her name was Mrs. Sue Hays, she had a sweet southern drawl, and she taught 9th grade drama. She believed in me more than I believed in me at that point in my 13 year old life. She convinced me I had what I needed to follow my dreams and step out confidently even when I was terrified. I became an emancipated minor and managed to 100% pay my way through college through hard work, loans, scholarships and grants. I was independently able to graduate from USC, study Spanish in Spain where I unexpectedly met my husband of 25 years, and obtain my teaching credential in graduate school. (I have been accepted into an Educational Administrative Doctoral program, and completed my first course with an A, but decided to continue after our youngest is in college). I knew I wanted to be a Mrs. Hays in the lives of kids where I too could encourage and equip them to follow their dreams and make a difference. Being a school board member means not only helping even more students, but also supporting our wonderful staff and helping to build a sense of value and inclusivity for all in our community.
Listen. Learn. Do something to help. Bring people together and show them they are important and valued.
Thanks for reaching out to me. I read with amusement the comments about me by Mr. Tim Staycer, President of the teacher’s union (SDFA), specifically:
“Lea Wolf who is running in zone 5 prides herself as whistleblower…and regularly asks questions from the audience without regard for decorum of school board protocol…she is not a legitimate candidate, SDFA has no respect for her ignorance of governance and would consider it criminal to see her as a Trustee.”
I am, in fact, not offended but flattered by Mr. Staycer’s comments because I had not considered myself a “whistleblower” until reading his comments. As an outspoken voice in support of student’s interests, the title is perhaps befitting. Mr. Staycer is right to be concerned because I dare to ask the tough questions. His organization’s “special relationship” with the school Board majority has led to deplorable decisions made at the expense of students. Over the years, their actions have continued to undermine the safety and well-being of students in our District.
Unfortunately, many parents are largely unaware of the many issues that plague our District—the same issues that Mr. Staycer would rather I didn’t question.
Here are just a few:
▪ For years and until last year, former teachers’ union president, Bob Croft, did not teach in the classroom and yet was paid a full teacher’s salary from school funds to the extent of nearly $1M. Meanwhile, our students struggle for access to overwhelmed school counselors, whereby a single counselor is expected to serve 400+ students. I find this outrageous.
▪ Parents and teachers continue to voice concerns about the 2015 increase in high school class sizes from a strict limit of 32 to potentially 45 or more. This decision has overburdened teachers and compromised the quality of education provided to our students. You need not look further than to the steep decline in school rankings in the 2018 US News and World Report: In California, CCA dropped from #5 to #14; TPHS from #25 to #48; SDA from #52 to #110; and LCC, once #99 is no longer ranked. In a word, Shameful.
▪ Despite 14 student complaints filed against District teacher, Donn Boyd, for “unwanted touching and other behavior,” the District effectively told Boyd to learn from his experience and welcomed him back into the classroom. It wasn’t too long before Boyd resumed his predatory pattern and the District was finally forced to see him out. For the District to brush over the initial allegations and compromise the very safety of our students is nothing short of despicable.
▪ Suspension and expulsion rates are on the rise in our district. The Board, however, has paid little attention to establishing restorative justice programs that have seen significant reductions in suspensions and expulsions in California schools. The lack of seriousness about improving the health and well-being of students is evident.
▪ We have fabulous teachers in our District deserving of generous compensation. With salaries averaging over $100,000 compared with around $80,000 at other San Diego districts, they rank among the highest in the nation.
Unfortunately, our financial promise to teachers just isn’t sustainable. The District faces a $16M deficit over the next 3 years—the result of a massive 12.5% pay raise approved by the school Board. Administrators’ and top employees’ salaries saw even larger increases to the extent of 20-35%. Altogether, $6.5M is spent annually on these increases. At this rate, once reserves run out, the District could face bankruptcy. Meanwhile, our schools’ Foundations desperately seek donations from parents for curriculum programs, science equipment, basic school materials and supplies. The Board’s disregard for fiscal prudence is beyond irresponsible.
I will continue to question these and all those issues that jeopardize the education and well- being of our student community. Mr. Staycer seems more concerned about following meeting protocol than about the issues that impact students. He considers it “criminal” for his organization to see me as Trustee because, if granted this privilege, I will seek to put students’ interests first and ahead of any union agenda.
Meanwhile, outgoing Trustee, John Salazar, a frequent dissenter, strong student advocate and the only voice for reason on the Board has fully endorsed me as the only candidate having “the courage, commitment and integrity to be a student-centered Trustee.”
My campaign message to Empower Students translates into “putting students first”—and implies reducing class sizes, increasing the number of counselors and teachers, protecting the safety of students, and establishing a culture of fiscal prudence and plain common sense.
Mr. Staycer and I clearly have very different value systems. One thing is certain—students are not his priority. It’s time for a change.