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.

Could OC’s top education official get ousted?

That’s the question before voters as they decide between the county’s longtime superintendent of schools, Al Mijares, and challenger Stefan Bean.

We sent questions to both candidates for OC Superintendent of Schools – a position that governs the county Department of Education that oversees continuation schools, monitors local school district spending and provides legal services to public schools.

This is the first time in at least 20 years that voters have a choice for this position, which usually goes unchallenged on the ballot. Mijares is running to keep the seat he’s held for ten years, while Bean, a former charter school leader, says he’s the better path forward for OC. 

The biggest question facing the office of superintendent right now is their job – are they intended as a check on the Board of Education, or an instrument of their will? 

We also asked the candidates about what issues they wanted to see addressed and how they would handle charter school applications. 

Here are their answers:

1. What do you think the role of the county superintendent should be?

Al Mijares: “OCDE provides support for 28 school districts and directly serves the county’s most vulnerable student populations. The county superintendent must set a vision, allocate resources, empower staff and provide necessary oversight to ensure we are doing everything possible to ensure student success.”

Stefan Bean: “The role of the county superintendent is to work with the board of education to execute a dual vision for the department of education, supporting Orange County parents, schools and districts.”

2. What are your opinions on charter schools?

Mijares: “Quality charter schools fill voids in our communities and serve as incubators of innovation. I have helped develop and open seven charter schools in Orange County. I have also established a professional Charter Schools Unit that works in partnership with the 20 schools authorized by the OC Board of Education.”

Bean: “I was the superintendent of a charter school district and love what charters can provide to communities. Some provide vocational training, focus on the arts, or dual immersion in English/Spanish. I love the unique educational pathways charters provide for students that need or want a different style of education.”

3. Would you continue the lawsuits between the Board of Education and the superintendent?

Mijares: “I have not initiated any litigation against the OC Board of Education. The multiple lawsuits filed by the board majority against my office and various state leaders are diverting time, energy and financial resources from our students and programs to satisfy political agendas and dangerously misguided ideological interests.”

Bean: “No, I would work alongside the board to ensure the department acts seamlessly and with a unified vision.”

4. What is the largest single issue you want to address as superintendent?

Mijares: “Emerging from the pandemic, our students need accelerated learning, social-emotional interventions, counseling and wrap-around mental health services. OCDE must also continue to address the needs of educators and support staff through professional development opportunities. Additionally, through our website ‘The 101,’ we are helping parents unpack complex education issues.”

Bean: “Many charter school parents and operators I have talked to feel like the current office of the superintendent has dramatically limited their ability to operate smoothly and focus on the success of their students. I would closely collaborate and establish a direct line of communication with the charter community.”

5. Who do you believe has final control over the Department of Education’s budget – the board, or the superintendent?

Mijares: “Final approval of the budget lies with the state superintendent of public instruction.  Under California law, county boards must approve or disapprove budgets developed by county superintendents and their staffs.  The Education Code anticipates – and it has been my hope – that this will be a cooperative process.”

Bean: “The superintendent’s role is to execute the vision of the board. The board has final say over the budget – they are far more accountable to the voters. The superintendent has too much unilateral power to have that say and keep an accountable department.”

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

Mijares: “No.  The reality is that each of the 50 states submitted their electoral counts and the total was validated by Vice President Pence.”

Bean: “I wouldn’t be running for office if I thought elections were over before they began. Everyone should vote. Every vote should count.”

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

Mijares: “Each elected board of our 28 districts has the authority to customize its own ethnic studies curriculum.  Ethnic studies and CRT are not synonymous.  Ethnic studies, when taught with fidelity, expands students’ appreciation for the contributions made by multiple racial and ethnic groups as part of our American history.”

Bean: “As a Vietnamese immigrant who learned English and achieved the American dream,  I think it’s an awful idea to earmark every person as an oppressed or oppressors. I was brought in and cared for by my American family, regardless of my skin color. CRT ignores the reality I’ve experienced firsthand.”

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

Mijares: “There are currently no California laws mandating COVID-19 vaccines for students.  I believe that should the state revisit this subject and mandate vaccinations, there must be accommodations for parents to decide themselves whether they will have their children vaccinated, or adhere to the conditions of the accommodation.”

Bean: “Oppose. Children make up 0.0% of covid deaths in this state. We should take precautions but removing students from school who cannot get vaccinated is a terrible vision for OC schools. Parents know what’s best for their kids, this is not the school’s place to co-parent.”

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

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