PD Editorial: An experienced leader for Santa Rosa school board

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Santa Rosa’s school board, like the City Council, is making the transition from at-large to district elections, beginning with the upcoming vote Nov. 6.

The objectives are laudable: ensuring representation from all parts of the school district and promoting competition by reducing the cost of running for office.

Yet just one of the three seats up for election in November is being contested — a disappointing start for the new electoral system.

However, in Area 4 — the district encompassing the Doyle Park area and much of southeast Santa Rosa — voters have a choice between two informed and capable candidates.

Frank Pugh is the longest serving member of the Santa Rosa school board. His opponent is Omar A. Medina, a community organizer making his third bid for a school board seat.

Pugh, an instructor and counselor at Santa Rosa Junior College, was first elected in 1990 and offers a deep reservoir of institutional knowledge on a board that is losing two experienced members this year.

Pugh is the current president of the National School Boards Association. Through his activities with the state and national associations, he has provided local school officials insight — and early warning — into what’s coming from Sacramento and Washington. Pugh also has secured grants for training programs to help new board members get up to speed.

He was a proponent of two major changes in Santa Rosa schools: the shift to district elections and new high school graduation requirements aimed at making all local students eligible for admission to the University of California or California State University.

Medina is a product of Santa Rosa schools. He attended Lawrence Cook Middle School and was in the first graduating class at Elsie Allen High School. A former president of the North Bay Organizing Project, he works at UndocuFund, providing assistance for undocumented immigrants affected by the October 2017 fires.

Medina ran for the school board in 2004, while he was a student at Sonoma State University, and he tried again four years ago. He decided to run this year to give Area 4 voters a choice. “We need a different cultural perspective,” Medina said. “We need somebody bilingual on the board.”

He believes the district can increase enrollment by doing a better job of marketing its schools. Medina, like Pugh, supports district elections and the new graduation requirements, which took effect with this year’s freshman class.

It’s too bad voters in Area 2 and Area 6 didn’t get contested races like this one.

Both candidates have solid credentials, but Pugh’s experience sets him apart.

Three of the seven board members were elected for the first time in 2016. With Bill Carle leaving the board after 20 years and Ron Kristof stepping down after eight, the most senior member after Pugh has just six years in office.

Santa Rosa City Schools is the county’s largest district, with 16,000 students and a $180 million budget. And it has big challenges ahead: union contracts; reconciling the budget with post-fire enrollment losses and rising pension costs; managing a capital improvement program funded by voter-approved bonds; and filling a board vacancy in the district representing Northwest Santa Rosa.

That’s a packed agenda, and the board would benefit from an experienced hand. The Press Democrat recommends Frank Pugh for Area 4 on the Santa Rosa school board.

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