With the deadline for applying to appear on the Nov. 2 ballot past as of Friday, six people are seeking to fill three seats on the governing board of the Lake Elsinore Unified School District.
Incumbents Tom Thomas, Kim Joseph Cousins and Stan Crippen are seeking re-election to the five-person board.
Crippen, who was appointed in June to complete the last six months of Sonja Wilson’s term, will be joined by three others who applied to fill the interim position. They are Amy McMahon, Heidi Matthies-Dodd and Ralph Hernandez.
The 51-year-old Cousins, who will complete his first term in December, said he is seeking re-election because he would like to see projects he started during his tenure reach fruition. One project is a traffic and circulation committee he steered to make access around schools easier and safer. Working with Lake Elsinore city officials, Cousins said the committee was successful in easing traffic flow around Lakeland Village School and is months away from receiving grant money to complete similar projects at Terra Cotta and David A. Brown middle schools.
Besides being a school board member, Cousins is the president and CEO of the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce. He said a motivation he has is to help the district continue to improve so the community will attract new residents.
“I’m very serious about the community. We have a great opportunity to change things,” he said.
Thomas, 61, was originally appointed as an interim board member six years ago and then re-elected twice. He currently serves as the board president. During the last four years he said he has seen the district go from 11th in test scores in the county to third.
“You have to give 95 percent of that to the teachers, but we’ve done so well and I feel like I’m a part of it,” Thomas said. “We’ve shown all kids can learn, no matter where they come from.”
Thomas is the executive director of Lake-Elsinore based Cops 4 Kids, a program that assists disadvantaged youth. He is also an active rotary club member. He said if re-elected he plans to improve vocational and career technical programs for high school students.
“Not all kids plan on college, and I don’t want them slipping through the cracks. We need to prepare them,” Thomas said.
Crippen, 57, admits he has shied away from politics in the past, but said the short time he has served in the interim position has inspired him.
“It felt more like a service, and that was nice,” he said.
He is in the process of building his campaign, but said he doesn’t plan on paying the registrar fee of $1,000 to put a candidate statement on the ballot.
“It is hard for me to justify spending a lot of money on a campaign during a recession,” he said. “I would hope to put that money in the classroom.”
After long and contentious labor negotiations last spring due to a budget shortfall, Crippen said he was glad to see the district and its labor unions work together recently. A 10 percent pay reduction for administrators was taken down to 7.25 percent, making it equal to the reduction taken by teaching and classified employees. The decrease will be seen in the form of furlough days this school year.
“It was the first time I’ve seen a unilateral decision,” Crippen said. “Everybody was looking out for everybody and that is what we need to have.”
A 16-year resident of Lake Elsinore, McMahon is a mother of three who formerly worked for the district as an office clerk and health clerk. She recently became a licensed vocational nurse. In the past, she said she often thought about becoming a school board member because she is passionate about protecting education. As a school board member she said she would work to promote equality among students and keep programs such as GATE and Future Farmers of America in place.
“The district is facing some terrible budget times. Some of these programs are in jeopardy and I want to be there to help,” said McMahon, 40.
Dodd has served on a district budget advisory committee and as the president of Lake Elsinore Council PTA. Her drive in being a school board member would be to promote parent involvement. During an interview process for the interim board member, Dodd said parent involvement is directly linked to student performance. Dodd is a mother of three; two of her children currently attend schools in the district. She has been a resident of Lake Elsinore for 40 years and works as a furniture sales manager.
Hernandez is a resident of Horsethief Canyon. He holds a bachelor’s degree in education, and has served as a school board member in the past for the South Whittier School District. He has children who attend school in the district, and has served as a soccer coach and Cub Scout den leader. Hernandez has said before that music and art deserve their place in public education.
Dodd and Hernandez could not be reached Friday for comments about their campaigns.
As of Friday evening, the Riverside County Registrar of Voters listed all six candidates as having completed the necessary paperwork to be on the November ballot. On Saturday, the registrar’s office will release a finalized list of candidates.
Once elected, the job of the governing board is to steer the school district, said Lake Elsinore Unified School District spokesman Jose Carvajal.