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Among the local contests to be decided on Nov. 8, few are as important as the Santa Rosa school board race. Here’s why.

After several years of acrimony on the board, culminating with the departure of Superintendent Socorro Shiels in December, Santa Rosa schools are facing a fresh start with a new schools chief, Diann Kitamura, and a new economic outlook. The fiscal picture has brightened considerably thanks to state funding increases, a new local funding formula and $229 million in voter-approved bonds that will materialize in some major campus improvements.

What schools need next is a fresh start for the Santa Rosa City Schools Board of Trustees. Decisions by veteran board members Donna Jeye and Larry Haenel not to seek re-election have provided some opportunity, although their retirements will be a loss for the district. During their 12 years on the board, both have shown themselves to be thoughtful and hardworking public servants.

That said, The Press Democrat recommends the re-election of Jenni Klose and the election of newcomers Ed Sheffield, Evelyn Anderson and Laurie Fong.

Klose is an attorney and product of local public schools, having attended Brook Hill Elementary, Herbert Slater Junior High and Montgomery High. Her commitment to school children is reflected in her dedication to the broad mission of the district and her attention to detail. Klose was the driver behind an initiative to change the district’s suspension policy after statistics showed that nearly three times as many Latino students were being suspended as whites, even though the groups are nearly equally represented in the secondary schools. In addition, she, along with Jeye, successfully pushed for the creation of college and career centers at each high school.

Sheffield would come to the board with extensive community involvement having served on the Sonoma County Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health advisory board, the Sonoma County Conservation Action board and other panels. He also would bring a healthy understanding of education policy, given his role as a staffer for a number of local legislators including Assemblyman Jim Wood, for whom he currently works. Sheffield’s priorities include reducing truancy, increasing graduation rates and promoting universal preschool.

While Sheffield has two children who are just about to enter the school system, Anderson has two on the other end of the spectrum. One recently graduated from the district and another is at Maria Carrillo High School. As a result, she comes to the board with extensive experience as a school volunteer, site council member and parent organization president. Her focus is on improving communication between the district and the community, supporting early childhood education and meeting the educational needs of all students with an emphasis on being open to learning strategies that have proven to be effective elsewhere.

Fong has worked 22 years as a teacher and 18 years as an administrator. Most recently, she served as principal of Montgomery High School. Given her knowledge of the district’s inner workings, she would be a valuable asset in a number of areas including improving communication and guiding the district on how to better roll out board-approved policy changes and programs so they don’t come across as top-down mandates.

Among the other candidates, Caroline Bañuelos is a community activist who recently chaired the county’s task force created in the aftermath of the Andy Lopez shooting. She is a strong advocate for underserved residents, but she lacks the direct school experience and knowledge of education policy as others in this race.

That brings us to Laura Gonzalez, who has served for eight years on the school board. We do not believe she should be re-elected. Gonzalez, a Windsor middle school teacher, is passionate about the issues of concern to her, but she is a divisive presence on the board. She frequently makes compelling arguments for change, but in her interactions with other board members and the community, particularly through social media, she too often sacrifices effectiveness for abrasiveness.

The Board of Trustees needs to move past all that with members who are dedicated to being as professional about their conduct as they are passionate for doing what is best for local school children. Toward that end, The Press Democrat recommends Jenni Klose, Ed Sheffield, Evelyn Anderson and Laurie Fong for the Santa Rosa school board.

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