Three will vie for two seats on school board

Challenger says he decided to run after trustees approved ‘Kite Runner’

The Thousand Oaks Acorn
By Anna Bitong  

Tony Dolz

A local parent upset with the school board over a 12th-grade reading selection will look to unseat one of two incumbents in the race for the Conejo Valley Unified School District Board of Education this fall.

Tony Dolz, whose two children attend Weathersfield Elementary in Thousand Oaks, joins incumbents Betsy Connolly and Peggy Buckles in vying for two seats on the school board, a five-person panel that governs a district with more than 20,000 students.

The business owner said he decided to run for office in February after the board majority approved “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini as an option on 12th-grade reading lists.

Dolz agreed with trustee Mike Dunn, who voted to exclude the book from classrooms because it depicts the rape of a child.

“In general it shows bad judgment on the part of the sitting board members,” Dolz said. “Because of their actions I just don’t trust them. I’ve seen the debate going back and forth. I felt someone had to do something.”

The school board candidate said the book’s adult content is inappropriate for school curriculums and wants parents to decide what their children may read in school.

“I would like to see parents in the community make their own book recommendations,” he said.

Connolly, who is seeking her second four-year term, voted in favor of the book.

“(Twelfth-graders) benefit from tackling tough subject material that causes them to reflect on their values, the consequences of action and inaction . . . (and) how the failure to act when you know something is wrong can follow you into your adult life.”

The veterinarian and college professor said she’s proud of the work she’s done in her first term on the board.

“I think that the school board and superintendent are working well together to address the challenges and opportunities that the district faces. We are the right team to carry efforts forward,” said Connolly, who teaches horse science at Pierce College and zoology at Moorpark College.

But Dolz said the current board’s fiscal proposals have not been conservative.

Dolz opposes the construction of a $12-million learning center that would house Conejo Valley High School, the district’s only continuation school, and Century Academy, an online learning program.

“I want the money instead to balance the budget and protect the (high) level of education,” he said. “Although our schools are among the best in the nation, we have seen too many cuts.”

If the project moves forward, Dolz said, a bond measure on a future ballot could help pay for it.

“If parents choose to build a high school, let them say so on a bond issue in 2014. Let voters decide,” he said.

On the issue of finances, Connolly said the district’s challenge amid state budget cuts is “to keep our fiscal house in order so our community remains in control of our school district,” she said.

Despite the district’s financial problems, it has opportunities for advancement, Connolly said.

“Not everything is about money,” she said. “It is a mistake to get so obsessed with wringing our hands over the fiscal crisis we forget we can still focus on improvement.”

If reelected, the trustee said, she would continue to fight to protect athletics and fine arts programs.

“The board and the superintendent need to remember that our biggest asset is the wide variety of programs that keep students loving school. We can’t let that go because of tough financial times,” she said.

Connolly would also work to improve communication among students, teachers and parents because, she said, “there is no more important thing in achieving student success.”

“Students and parents expect to go to a website when they have a question,” she said. “They get frustrated when the answer is not there. I see a future where we provide the technology necessary for two-way communication and the training necessary to implement it.”

Buckles, who is running for her fourth term on the board, said she wants to bring more technology into the classroom and replace outdated instruction materials with e-reader textbooks that can be updated monthly.

Because o f reduced spending, “some classes have been using the same textbooks for four year s , some for 10 years, (and) it’s really not our fault,” she said.

The trustee said she also wants to encourage business and arts academies at middle schools and develop more elementary magnet schools while restoring programs cut by budget reductions since she was elected to the board in2008.

“Our class sizes are still the smallest in the county, (but) I want to get all class sizes back to where they were,” Buckles said.

In June, the school board voted to raise English and Algebra I class sizes in grades eight through 10 from 25 to 30 to save the district $500,000.

Working within a smaller budget would be one of Buckles’ main areas of focus during another term.

“We have to be conservative and not waste resources,” she said. “We’ve been good at that. . . . We need to continue to put students first.”

The election is Nov. 6.

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