Editor’s note: Ahead of next week’s election, Voice of OC is publishing a series of candidate surveys for the various races. Click here to see all of the surveys.

Orange County voters have the power to shape a new majority on the county Board of Education in the coming days, in one of the only races that will be decided this June without moving to a runoff election. 

Voice of OC reporters reached out to all nine candidates and sent them a list of 12 questions, several of which were submitted by Voice of OC readers in response to a public invitation for questions.

One of the biggest questions is what the board of education’s role in Orange County is:

Will they continue their role that focuses on approving charter schools and school district transfers? Or take greater control of the Orange County Department of Education’s budget and other policy? 

Seven of the nine candidates responded. Each was allowed up to 50 words per answer, to keep the total length reasonable. 

Here are their answers, separated by voting area:

Board of Education, Area 2

1. What are your opinions on the lawsuits between the county Department of Education and the Board of Education over control of the budget?

Mari Barke: “The board is elected to assist in holding the department accountable to the voters. As the superintendent continued to undermine the authority of the board, we realized a judge had to get involved. We have oversight over approving the budget.”

Martha Fluor: “The OC Superintendent is an elected officer with authority over the Orange County Department of Education budget. The Board of Education’s role is to ensure our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely according to priorities and policies. Lawsuits over job roles and responsibilities is irresponsible and our students lose.”

Christopher R. Ganiere: “The OCDE spends too much money. When the OCDE does not submit to the elected authority of the OCBOE, there are not many options and filing a lawsuit is one valid option.”

2. What do you think the role of the Board of Education in Orange County should be? What are your thoughts on charter schools?

Barke: “The board oversees the department budget and acts as an appeals board for charters, inter-district transfers and expulsions. Students have different learning needs, charter schools offer a free public alternative to help meet the different needs of students. Charters provide options for our most vulnerable students.”

Fluor: “OCBE educates our most vulnerable student populations. The Board serves as an Appellate body ruling on student & charter appeals and as an Advocacy body, keeping our stakeholders informed on educational issues. Charter Schools offer families educational choices. I support well-managed, fiscally sound charter schools that provide high-quality educational programs.”

Ganiere: “Citizen / Political oversight of the OCDE. District schools should not be exempt from the charter school requirements. Charter schools offer a valid option to students for learning.”

3. Do you think it should be up to local school districts to determine if a charter school is right for them or the county Board of Education?

Barke: “I think it is great that both local school districts and the county board of education can authorize new charter schools. I believe the system is working well in our county.”

Fluor: “Local school districts and their communities know the needs of their students and families. Students win when a charter school is developed locally with district parents, teachers, and community involvement. What I am opposed to is publicly funded, privately managed charter schools.”

Ganiere: “Local School Districts should have no say in whether or not they may have competitors. The same way one dentist cannot exclude the opening of another dentist office.”

4. What changes, if any, do you want to make in education as an elected member of the board?

Barke: “Over the last four years I have helped parents connect with their districts and their child’s education, and tried my best to be a voice for their successes and concerns. I will continue supporting our schools, parents, teachers and students over the next four years.”

Fluor: “Re-establish trust, confidence, and leadership in public education. Research, develop and implement innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Expand Career and Technical Education partnerships with business, industry, and the trades. Address social, emotional, mental well-being of students and staff. Attack learning loss across K-12 system.”

Ganiere: “Make transfers so easy they can be accomplished in 24 hours. Parents need the choice to get away from bullies, prejudiced teachers, or schools that do not serve their needs.”

5. Should members of the board be allowed to serve on other elected panels such as city councils?

Barke: “A board member should be able to serve in two places if there is no conflict of interest and if it’s in the interest of the voters. Multiple members of our board have served on other elected panels and we haven’t ever seen an issue.”

Fluor: “Yes. The Political Reform Act, does not prohibit you from holding multiple public positions, either within a single agency or different agencies.  We have many elected officials within Orange County that serve on more than one elected panel, including Water, Sanitary, Transportation, School Boards, City Councils, Special Districts, etc.”

Ganiere: “Voters are the ultimate deciders. I want fewer professional politicians and I don’t want to forbid it.”

6. How do you plan to connect with constituents to hear their thoughts on the issues in front of the board?

Barke: “One of the exciting pieces of redistricting is that I have many new constituents whom I’ve never met, and it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the job. I’d love to invite anyone who would like to connect, to email me at mari@maribarke.com.”

Fluor: “I have a well-documented history of actively engaging my constituents. I will continue to visit schools regularly, participate in study sessions, forums, attend school and districts events. I will be available by phone, text, email, or in-person.  Students, families, schools, and districts will know they have a voice.”

Ganiere: “The comments must be in front of the board during board meetings. The system of public comment at OCBOE is one of the better systems across Orange County.”

7. Given that local school districts control curriculum, what are the countywide issues you think the board should be focused on?

Barke: “The board should be focused both toward the department assisting our school districts and towards our parents and constituents by listening and communicating their concerns. We are in the unique position to compile the experiences and concerns from all our districts to analyze what’s working and what we can improve.”

Fluor: “As a result of the pandemic, students are experiencing significant learning gaps. Our students and employees are struggling with social, emotional, behavioral, and long-term health issues. The OCDE should be taking a leadership role in providing up-to-date, fact-based, scientifically researched information on these critical educational issues.”

Ganiere: “Helping local school districts teach more in less time. Less homework so students can sleep and go on vacation. De-fund systems that are no longer necessary or wasteful.”

8. During the pandemic, the OC Board of Education was an active voice on many pandemic issues like masking, including suing the governor. Do you agree with that approach?

Barke: “We want to give districts and parents the freedom to reopen schools safely and responsibly. They know what is going on in their particular district. The pro-bono (free) lawsuit against the Governor is to remove the state of emergency, so there can be local control rather than mandates from Sacramento.”

Fluor: “The Board must uphold the laws of the US and California. The collective responsibility was to ensure the health and safety of our students and get our kids back into school. Money wasted on this lawsuit should have gone to protecting our students and their education.”

Ganiere: “The OCBOE could have taken additional approaches in addition to the lawsuits. The governor acted illegally. The state health department did not prove their case.”

9. What was your experience with the local education system, and how far did you go in that system?

Barke: “I was completely educated in the local public education system and then went on to get my Bachelor of Science degree from California State University at Northridge.”

Fluor: “I attended elementary & secondary CA public schools. Graduated from San Diego State University. Earned two California Credentials – Elementary and Special Ed – LD. Taught in Orange Unified & was a bi-lingual instructional aide in Newport-Mesa. Served on the Newport-Mesa USD School Board for 29+years, retiring in 2020.”

Ganiere: “I went thru K-12 in Orange County. It was prison like – many students feel the same. I attended OCC, DVC and BYU study abroad before graduating from the University of Southern California.”

10. Do you believe the last presidential election was stolen?

Barke: “As an elected official, I wouldn’t be running if I thought elections were rigged.  That being said, the government could certainly do a better job of making sure the community feels there is more voter integrity.”

Fluor: “No.”

Ganiere: “Elections are not personal property and cannot be stolen. I find it hard to believe that the Joe Biden team got more votes than the [Barack] Obama team or the Hillary Clinton team.”

11. What are your thoughts on the debate around Critical Race Theory (CRT) and K-12 schools?

Barke: “CRT examines history through the lense of either being an oppressor or being oppressed. The terrible moments of US history need to be examined so they are never repeated, but CRT in K-12 schools is not the answer.”

Fluor: “According to the California School Board Association, there is no evidence that CRT is widespread in K-12 education. The consensus is that CRT is not included in K-12 curriculum & rarely taught in K-12 schools. It is unfortunate that the current OC Board has confused CRT with ethnic studies.”

Ganiere: “The lens of critical theory is not for young people. It is a more advanced method of study. Critical theory does not limit its teaching to historical fact or teaching respect of people that are different.”

12. Do you support or oppose COVID vaccine mandates for children under 12 years old who attend public schools?

Barke: “These decisions should be left to the parents. Every family has a right to quality education even if they don’t  get vaccinated for personal or health reasons. I am grateful that children are at the lowest risk to both spreading and being affected by covid 19.”

Fluor: “Currently there is no COVID vaccine mandate for children under 12 years old who attend public schools. We must continue to keep our communities informed about this changing issue, presenting them with fact-based, scientifically researched information. Families should on rely on medical science, their Drs. & facts, not politics.”

Ganiere: “Vaccines are a personal medical decision best left to families and their religious, political and medical advisers. Mandates are not necessary and in opposition to the California Constitution.”

Board of Education, Area 4, Short Term

1. What are your opinions on the lawsuits between the county Department of Education and the Board of Education over control of the budget?

Tim Shaw: “Obviously no one wants lawsuits to happen, but in this case we had no choice. The board is able to vote on the budget, and common sense would then suggest that the board should have the power to amend the budget before voting on final adoption.”

Paulette Chaffee: “Lawsuits filed by OCBE trustee over budgets are wasteful of taxpayer dollars and have no purpose. On 5/13/22, OC Superior Court judge Gooding threw out a lawsuit brought by OCBE regarding the 2019 budget. Lawsuits like this do nothing to help educate OC children, and cost taxpayers millions.”

David M. Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Ellisa Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

2. What do you think the role of the Board of Education in Orange County should be? What are your thoughts on charter schools?

Shaw: “The board is able to approve inter district transfers and can approve charters for charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that have the freedom to adopt different approaches to education. Many charter schools provide specialized education to students. Education shouldn’t be ‘one size fits all’.”

Chaffee: “A major role of OCBE is to educate OC’s most vulnerable children such as those in foster care, those struggling with severe physical and mental challenges, and those in the justice system. OCBE also deals with expulsions, requests for district transfers, and acts on an appellate body on charter schools.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

3. Do you think it should be up to local school districts to determine if a charter school is right for them or the county Board of Education?

Shaw: “Yes, local school districts have the option of chartering a charter school. The county board can also charter schools under our oversight. Both agencies should continue to retain the rights to approve new schools for Orange County students.”

Chaffee: “Local control is very important for each local school district. The local districts know their students, parents, teachers and schools very well. Local school districts are in a much better position to determine the right fit for a charter school with their boundaries than OCBE.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

4. What changes, if any, do you want to make in education as an elected member of the board?

Shaw: “I want to continue to help parents navigate the bureaucracy and make choices that are best for their students. I’ve been honored to help parents navigate interdistrict transfers and help open new, high-performing schools across Orange County.”

Chaffee: “I want all children to receive quality instruction, no matter their zip code. Schools can become better by eliminating educational gaps and increasing student achievement. It is important too focus on student and staff culture, managed school leadership, specific instructional planning, data driven instruction, observation, feedback, and professional learning.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

5. Should members of the board be allowed to serve on other elected panels such as city councils?

Shaw: “The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) says you can’t hold two offices where there is a ‘significant clash of loyalties’. In my 13 years as a City Councilmember and several years as a Trustee, there was never a ‘significant clash of loyalties’. This has never been fully adjudicated.”

Chaffee: “No. A 2018 California Attorney General opinions found that holding two comparable elected offices simultaneously to be unlawful. This is because the person holding two offices cannot put all their effort, time, and service in two offices simultaneously. The potential for conflict of interest is enough to make this unlawful.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

6. How do you plan to connect with constituents to hear their thoughts on the issues in front of the board?

Shaw: “I keep a pretty rigorous schedule of meetings with my constituents so I can understand exactly what they would like to happen on the board of education. I would encourage any constituent who reads this to reach out to me at tim@shawforschools.com.”

Chaffee: “As I have been doing for many years, I am out in Area 4 constantly. I meet with parents, students, teachers, administrators and others on a regular basis. My website, paulettechaffee.com, sets forth all the connections I have in Area 4, which will continue after the election is over.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

7. Given that local school districts control curriculum, what are the countywide issues you think the board should be focused on?

Shaw: “The board should be focused on helping support parents and our school districts throughout Orange County. We can do this by helping parents understand what is in their curriculum and how to communicate well with their schools and districts.”

Chaffee: “Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, students’ mental health needs have increased dramatically. More mental health programs are needed in our schools as well as social/emotional learning. The $6 million taxpayer dollars wasted on OCBE’s frivolous lawsuits could have been spent on such programs and assistance for our children.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

8. During the pandemic, the OC Board of Education was an active voice on many pandemic issues like masking, including suing the governor. Do you agree with that approach?

Shaw: “The board of education joined a coalition in suing the governor for unilaterally closing the schools years into the pandemic without a vote of the legislature. We were represented pro-bono. The board’s position was that parents should have the choice to mask their child if they wished.”

Chaffee: “The current OCBE board majority wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on lawsuits, which is wrong. The focus of the current OCBE board majority is not on education. They put their own ideology in the forefront to the detriment of Orange County’s children, schools, and taxpayers.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

9. What was your experience with the local education system, and how far did you go in that system?

Shaw: “I currently live a few minutes drive from the elementary, middle, and high schools I attended as a young man. I graduated from a California community college. Today I am a professor at Rio Hondo college. I am a parent of 6 kids all in public schools in our neighborhood.”

Chaffee: “I attended local public schools in Fullerton where I grew up through graduation from Troy High School. My experience with local public schools as a student, and parent of 2 children has been positive. I remain involved with public schools through PTSAs, OC Children’s Partnership, and kids arts programs.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

10. Do you believe the last presidential election was stolen?

Shaw: “Oh goodness I hope not – I won a decisive victory in that election!”

Chaffee: “No.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

11. What are your thoughts on the debate around Critical Race Theory (CRT) and K-12 schools?

Shaw: “The terrible events in US history need to be examined so they are never repeated, but there is no need for a curriculum that teaches young people they are either oppressors or oppressed. CRT was a theory originally presented in graduate school, and should be kept there.”

Chaffee: “There are no classes in Orange County public schools K-12 which teach students only Critical Race Theory. Some Orange County folks want to create fear among parents and scare them with misinformation. This is harmful. Education leaders should focus on a commitment to equity and excellence for all children.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

12. Do you support or oppose COVID vaccine mandates for children under 12 years old who attend public schools?

Shaw: “Oppose. Supporting mandates like these means removing students from classrooms who cannot – for whatever reason – get vaccinated. I could never support any student being removed from classrooms because they weren’t able to get vaccinated for health or personal reasons.”

Chaffee: “Parents and guardians of children under the age of 12 who attend public schools should make the decision on vaccinating their children.”

Choi: (Didn’t respond.)

Kim: (Didn’t respond.)

Board of Education, Area 5

1. What are your opinions on the lawsuits between the county Department of Education and the Board of Education over control of the budget?

Lisa Sparks: “The board is charged with overseeing and approving the budget. For years though, the superintendent has done whatever he pleased with the budget with little to no oversight. We obviously never want disputes like this to go to court, but one person should not have unilateral authority.”

Sherine Smith: “It’s fiscal malfeasance. The Board majority has squandered over $7 million in taxpayer money on needless lawsuits, which they initiated. They won none. That money should have gone to our students, especially those served by the Orange County Department of Education, who face significant challenges and need additional support.”

2. What do you think the role of the Board of Education in Orange County should be? What are your thoughts on charter schools?

Sparks: “We have many roles from overseeing the budget to communicating with parents and even approving inter district transfers and charter school applications. Charter schools help thousands of students throughout Orange County get passionate about learning due to their unique approaches to education. Charters can be valuable assets for any community.”

Smith: “The Board should have a cooperative and supportive working relationship with local school districts. They should collaborate with the superintendent to support the vision, goals, and policies of the Orange County Department of Education. They should advocate for public education. Charter schools are an alternative choice for parents.”

3. Do you think it should be up to local school districts to determine if a charter school is right for them or the county Board of Education?

Sparks: “Both local school districts and the county board should jump at the opportunity to approve new charter schools. The county board, being an appeals board, is well situated to work to manage charter schools if their districts would prefer to focus on their current schools.”

Smith: “Local school districts have a duty to ensure that charter applications meet the state legal criteria and approve them if they do. They work closely with applicants to help them meet the criteria so the school will be academically and fiscally sound. The Board should support their decisions.”

4. What changes, if any, do you want to make in education as an elected member of the board?

Sparks: “One word: transparency. I get calls and emails all the time from people asking me what textbooks we recommend, what their kids are learning, or where their money is going. These next four years I want to bring parents back into the equation making the department as transparent as possible.”

Smith: “I would like to showcase our local schools and districts by inviting teachers, students, and principals to highlight their exemplary programs, including County programs, by making presentations to the Board. This would highlight the impressive achievements attained by our students and build support for public schools.”

5. Should members of the board be allowed to serve on other elected panels such as city councils?

Sparks: “We currently have a board member who sits on the Tustin City Council and the Board of Education. While I don’t think it has ever been fully decided or litigated, board members should be treated equally in the eyes of the law regardless of their party preference.”

Smith: “Yes.”

6. How do you plan to connect with constituents to hear their thoughts on the issues in front of the board?

Sparks: “I have a pretty large district and after redistricting it looks relatively similar to the past four years. I’m excited to continue connecting with many of the parents and constituents who email and text me regularly. If you haven’t reached out yet please do. I’d love to connect!”

Smith: “The Board should act transparently and conduct all business publicly. It appears the current majority has violated the Brown Act on occasion. I would encourage people to address all Board members about matters before the Board so we can attend to concerns ethically and openly.”

7. Given that local school districts control curriculum, what are the countywide issues you think the board should be focused on?

Sparks: “The board should be focused on serving parents by: 1) providing curricular and budget transparency, 2) guiding parents in how to navigate educational bureaucracy, and 3) cutting waste so we can maximize dollars spent in the classroom.”

Smith: “The board has two important roles: as a neutral appellate body to hear appeals regarding transfers, expulsions, and charters, and as an advocate for public schools. It should focus on fulfilling those roles with fidelity, integrity, and enthusiasm.”

8. During the pandemic, the OC Board of Education was an active voice on many pandemic issues like masking, including suing the governor. Do you agree with that approach?

Sparks: “Yes. The board was given the opportunity to sue the governor pro-bono to re-open schools after he kept them closed and forced children back into zoom classrooms. Parents were outraged and had no voice in the matter as their children’s education was held hostage. We made the right decision.”

Smith: “The Board has no expertise or decision-making authority regarding these issues. They intentionally misinformed the public, creating confusion and mistrust. Instead, the Board should have collaborated with Superintendent Mijares and the local school districts to constructively navigate the challenges schools faced during the early months of the pandemic.”

9. What was your experience with the local education system, and how far did you go in that system?

Sparks: “I am a product of public education from K12 to ultimately obtaining my Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma. As a top ranked scholar-teacher in higher education, I am grateful for the fabulous public education I received from my home state —Oklahoma!”

Smith: “I was born and raised in California and attended public school from kindergarten up through college at Chico State. I was a teacher, middle school principal, high school principal, and deputy superintendent in Capistrano Unified School District and served as superintendent of Laguna Beach Unified School District.”

10. Do you believe the last presidential election was stolen?

Sparks: “I wouldn’t waste my time running for office if I thought everything was rigged already. Regardless of the last election two things need to happen. People need to vote and the government needs to work to restore trust in our electoral process.”

Smith: “No.”

11. What are your thoughts on the debate around Critical Race Theory (CRT) and K-12 schools?

Sparks: “CRT has no place in K-12 schools. It’s antithetical to what this country stands for and forces students to believe they are either victims or victimizers. It’s a terrible binary perspective to force young people to see each other as the enemy instead of loving their neighbor.”

Smith: “CRT is beyond the scope of K-12 education; it belongs in higher education. History must be taught factually. Students should understand our democratic creed, which originates in the universal ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Ethnic studies are an important part of the curriculum.”

12. Do you support or oppose COVID vaccine mandates for children under 12 years old who attend public schools?

Sparks: “Children make up 0.0% of the US covid deaths, yet the governor closed schools far longer than necessary. Advocating for government mandates means you don’t trust parents to make the best decision for their children. Holding education hostage from kids that can’t get the vaccine is abusive and despicable.”

Smith: “Board members are ethically and legally required to follow the law. The vaccine    mandate does not go into effect until 2023, which allows all FDA review and approval processes to be completed. It is vital that we keep children in school, and vaccines help ensure we do.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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