PVUSD Area 4: Two newcomers challenge board veteran


Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a series of interviews with candidates running for seats on the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees.

•••

Daniel Dodge Jr.

In deciding to run for the  Area 4 seat, Dodge said he hopes to fix the “disconnect” Pajaro Valley residents feel from the board.

“People don’t feel represented,” he said. “I want to do more. I want to speak with a louder voice for the kids and people who are afraid to speak.”

Dodge described his opponent Willie Yahiro as a “great man.”

“I’m not running against him because of who he is,” Dodge said. “I feel that I can speak a little louder for people who don’t have a voice.”

Dodge attended E.A. Hall Middle School and graduated from Watsonville High School in 2000. He studied political science at Cabrillo College.

He has worked for the past five years as a clinical technician at UC Santa Cruz. There, he assists with biotech engineering projects.

While the seat would be Dodge’s first elected office, he is no stranger to politics.

He previously served on the Watsonville Parks and Recreation Commission in 2010. He also served on the Measure L Bond Citizens Oversight Committee, which keeps tabs on how the school district spends the $150 million bond that voters approved in 2012.

Dodge also served on the Santa Cruz County Housing Advisory Commission.

He also is on the parent leadership committee at Ceiba College Prep Academy, where his older daughter is in the sixth grade. He served as president of the school site council at Mintie White Elementary School, when his daughter went there.

“I have a great rapport with teachers, parents and students,” Dodge said. “I have an idea of what’s going on at the schools.”

If elected, Dodge said he would work to build PVUSD’s athletic programs, many of which he said do not have enough room.

“People want more space for athletics,” he said.

Dodge pointed out that many of the residents of Trustee Area 4 are undocumented, and as such are reluctant to get too involved in their children’s education.

“Parents are scared,” he said. “They are scared to show up to school site council meetings.”

Dodge praised the district for increasing transparency with the public, and pointed to the School Accountability Report Card as an example.

He said that pushes to expand technology programs are important, but said he would look for ways to help low-income families access it.

“I was lucky enough to read, write and speak English and have internet,” he said.

•••

Jenni Veitch-Olson

Veitch-Olson declined to be interviewed for this story. She allowed remarks emailed to this newspaper to be her only statement.

“This has been a very hard decision for me. I was asked to file because I was assured that the race would be unopposed. PVUSD Trustees is too important to leave open, and I am willing to serve. That turned out to not be the case. I am not running a campaign. However, I took the oath that I would serve if elected, and I would absolutely serve wholeheartedly to the best of my ability as a trustee if elected in November.”

•••

Willie Yahiro

Yahiro has served continuously on the board of trustees since he was elected in 1990.

He taught at Watsonville High School for 12 years and coached athletics.

He said he was inspired to run when he saw low academic achievement and financial troubles he felt were plaguing local schools — and urged by friends to throw his hat in the ring.

“I don’t think academically we were doing what we could have been doing,” Yahiro said.

He helped guide the district as it weathered recessions, as the economy ebbed and flowed and as the board slashed salaries and programs in belt-tightening years and rebuilt when financially flush.

Yahiro said he met his first big challenge two years after he was elected.

That’s when the trustees approved teacher salary increases that he said helped lead the district into bankruptcy and subsequent takeover by California state regulators.

That soon turned around, but the challenge inspired Yahiro to stay to help fix the problem, and many others too.

It also set the tone for the rest of his tenure; Yahiro is often a financially cautious and conservative voice on the board during decisions on spending.

“Once you get involved there is always something you want to finish,” Yahiro said.

One of those problems was overcrowding. In the early ‘90s, student numbers were so high that PVUSD schools were running year-round, Yahiro said.

With a population currently topping 20,000, the problem of overcrowding and large class sizes has long been a bane for the school board.

To help ameliorate the problem then, the district turned to the public for help, and with the passage of Measure J in 2002, PVUSD officials began to chip away at the issue.

“Since I’ve been on the board we’ve added 15 new schools,” Yahiro said. “I’m very proud of that, because we solved the overcrowding.”

Measure J also allowed the district to finish Aptos High School and install an athletic field at Watsonville High School.

Yahiro also pointed to the passage in 2012 of Measure L, a $150 million bond that is currently funding a raft of maintenance, repair and upgrade projects throughout the district.

Both bonds, Yahiro said, were evidence of the trust placed in the board by the public.

“I was proud that we went from bankruptcy to bond,” he said. “It showed that the community — even though we went through tough financial times — that they support public education.”

More recently, Yahiro said that he is proud of changes to graduation requirements that mandate one year of career technical education, a cause he has long championed.

“I think it’s so important,” he said. “Not all kids go on to college, and we have to get them ready for future occupations.”

Still to come — and high on the list of Measure L projects Yahiro said he wants to see completed — is the long-awaited completion of the athletic field and performing arts center at Pajaro Valley High School.

Yahiro said he hopes to change the way PVUSD negotiates with its teachers during contract talks. The district recently completed talks with teachers that ended with raises, but led to the brink of strike.

“There has to be a better way to negotiate,” he said. “There has to be a better system or process. It should not be so adversarial.”

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