Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Misty Volaski
This is the first in a series which will examine several 2012 election races in and around the Ojai Valley, including: U.S. Representative for the 26th District, State Assembly Member for the 37th District, Ventura County Supervisor, Ojai Valley Sanitary District, Casitas Municipal Water District, City Council, City Clerk and City Treasurer.
If there’s anything about which Hank Bangser feels confident this election season, it’s that the four candidates running for the Ojai Unified School District’s board of education have the right motivations.
“These people want to give to their community,” said the OUSD superintendent. “I know each person is completely committed to the children of the school district.”
According to the OUSD web site, duties for board members include developing and adopting policies for academic expectations and for hiring personnel; hiring the superintendent; establishing budget priorities and adopting a budget; negotiating with teachers’ unions; making decisions and providing resources that support district priorities and goals; upholding board policies; being acquainted with and involved in district activities; and advocating for students, the program and public education; among more.
Four locals have declared their candidacy this year — incumbents Thayne Whipple and Linda Taylor, and newcomers Kevin Ruff and Bill Ansell. Come Nov. 6, Ojai Valley residents will choose two of the four, each of whom will serve a four-year term.
A longtime substitute teacher, occasional junior varsity football announcer and recent class advisor at Nordhoff High School, Ansell retired in June after working in education for 50 years.
He believes those years, and the variety of students he’s taught, make him a good candidate. At Nordhoff, “I’ve taught history, math, English, ceramics, music, whatever they needed me to sub for,” Ansell said. He also worked in “really rough inner city neigborhoods for a number of years” befoer coming to the West Coast.
In Philadelphia, he worked in a school for the blind, helping develop and train the students to use computers. The experience, he said, “… really honed my teaching skills. I needed to find a way to explain visuals to those who couldn’t see.”
He said he is concerned with maintaining “individualized attention” for each student, which, he acknowledges, is “harder to do with more kids in the room.”
As an advisor, Ansell said he worked closely with students — “I was always available to them.” It’s something he feels will help him to make better student-centered decisions should he be elected.
A lawyer and actor by trade, Ruf moved to Ojai five years ago. With two children at Topa Topa Elementary and his youngest at Monica Ros School, Ruf says “I feel like I have a lot to offer.”
As a lawyer, he successfully tried a labor case, Smith v. L’Oreal, in the California Supreme Court in 2005. “I am very familiar with very complicated financial documentation,” he said. “It’s one of the things I specialize in … so (with) budgetary issues, in terms of technical issues, I already have that expertise.”
Ruf was also on the board of Food for Thought for four years. “It taught me that there’s a lot of opportunities to supplement offerings in the public school system.”
When former board member Steve Fields moved to Oregon and resigned from his position in 2011, Ruf applied to fill the position. He made it into the top six choices before Whipple was eventually selected.
As a parent, he said he’s seen firsthand how the cuts are affecting students, and says, “I’d like to go back to the people and ask for a parcel tax.”
He also said, “I will not use any benefits, accept no compensation whatsoever” if elected.
Currently the board’s vice president, Taylor is seeking a third term. She started in the OUSD as an art teacher at Nordhoff High School before retiring in 2004. She still teaches art classes out of her home and is an active member of the Ojai Studio Artists.
She says she feels her experience in the classroom is one of the best things she brings to the table. “Having been a teacher here, I have an understanding of the culture of the district,” she says.
Although she fought to keep electives, particularly art — “We’re looking to educate everybody,” she said — Taylor acknowledges that the financial situation the district faces is unprecedented. “Class sizes keep going up … We’ve lost a lot of quality teachers because we don’t have the money. Our amazing staff is keeping things together, but at some point in the not-too-distant future things are going to start falling apart.”
One way to make things better, she says, is to reexamine the idea of a parcel tax. “The last parcel tax failed by such a small margin. For such a small amount of money (per parcel), it would’ve made a big difference.”
Out of nine candidates, Whipple was appointed to the OUSD board in 2011 when Steve Fields moved out of state.
Prior to that, he was on the board of the nonprofit Ojai Education Foundation.
Whipple has four children, all of whom have been through the OUSD system; his youngest, Sage, is now at The Thacher School.
“I think the entire future of Ojai and our nation and our world depends on the education our children receive,” he said. “And I can’t think of anything more important that I could be involved with.”
He calls himself a question asker. “I’m really happy to find I’m really contributing something … I feel I’ve been able to provide a different perspective.”
Regarding the state of the budget, he said, “We’re facing a lot of very serous financial issues” in the OUSD. Whipple, who works with major companies to improve their online services, said, “I have to be financially creative in implementing projects.” He feels “my background in finance and business really give me breadth and depth in being able to analyze and speak to those issues.”