School board candidates focus on budgetBy Neil H. Dempsey
San Bruno Park School District board candidates say they're focused on budget shortfalls and continuing the district's exemplary academic scores -- but admit a long-standing feud between two board members isn't helping the cause.
Though the district has accomplished much in recent years, arguments between board members Chuck Zelnik and Bill Henderson are stunting opportunities for further progress, candidates say. Incumbents Henderson, Russ Hanley and Brian Kramer and newcomers James Prescott and Jennifer Blanco are all vying for three four-year seats on the board this election season.
Challenger Prescott, a retired teacher, said that he'd like to "grow the district" by enticing private school students into returning with more after-school programs devoted to music and art.
Although the district has improved test scores recently -- six of eight schools have qualified as California Distinguished Schools -- Prescott doesn't think all members of the board are equally responsible for ushering in the success. Squabbles between Zelnik and Henderson oftentimes interrupt public meetings, Prescott said. "Imagine what goes on in closed session," he said.
With the district facing a $2 million shortage over the past three years, Hanley agreed it's important to keep test scores up while exploring ways to remain financially afloat during the statewide crisis in education. As for the bickering between Zelnik and Henderson, he blamed different management "styles," but admitted the disputes have been known to slow board progress on key issues. "It just takes a little longer sometimes," he said. "I've told them hundreds of times to just lay off it, because it just doesn't do any good."
Without naming names, Jennifer Blanco, currently a San Bruno arts and culture commissioner and a member of the county Parent Teacher Association, said improving the board's behavior is a top priority. "I feel that they behave in a very unprofessional manner," she said. "I don't know how they get things done." She'd also like to focus on improving services for at-risk children and finding creative ways to raise funds for the district.
Current board member Brian Kramer, who said his focus would be on the district's financial standing and improving Parkside Intermediate School, declined to say who should be faulted for the regular arguments.
"The rancor, that's of concern to everybody because they're tired of hearing it," Henderson said, acknowledging others' concerns about his disputes with Zelnik. Maintaining test scores, working on budget shortfalls and eliminating Parkside's negative reputation are important goals for the board in the coming years, Henderson said.
Saying his feuds with Henderson went back to before he was even elected onto the board, Zelnik said he disliked when the arguments became personal. "That has no place in the governance of kids," he said.
Copyright ©2005 Peninsula Examiner. Published 11/01/2005.