DOWNEY - When they first ran for the Downey Unified School District board in 2005, Martha Sodetani (Area 1) and Nancy Swenson (Area 5), each with her own vision and reasons to help propel the district forward, had to contend with other well-qualified candidates.Sodetani and Swenson worked themselves to a frenzy and rode a wave of popular support from the educational community, and won. Barbara Samperi, who first ran in 1993 for the Area 7 trustee seat and was the veteran trustee of the three, ran unopposed in that same year. This year, no one came out of the woodwork by the filing deadline of Aug. 7 to challenge the three incumbents, who had filed early for the Nov. 3 election. No one was more thrilled by this nice turn of events than those in the know in the district. But first they had to hold their collective breath: had anyone challenged, the district would have had to spend a cool $120,000 that had already been allocated for the associated incidental election costs out of its general funds. Because of the nice turn of events, the amount represents, in the words of Kevin Condon, assistant superintendent for business services, "a reduction in our deficit," altogether a source of gladness amidst the financial gloom. The incumbents were unanimous in their angst over the ramifications of the tight district budget, exacerbated by the still messy condition of the state budget; they regard it as their No. 1 concern for these past few years. Samperi vented her frustrations thus: "I'm disappointed at how the state has been so insensitive to the needs of our students, as if the people in Sacramento were aiming to penalize the schools with their cuts. California is supposed to be among those with the greatest resources, and yet…how could they mismanage them so badly?" For Samperi, this will be her fifth 4-year term on the board. Among her accumulated perspectives: "I'm very pleased with the community's vote of confidence in us"; "The financial services people, superintendent Wendy Doty, the board, everybody saw the financial meltdown coming, so they pulled back and dug in…Wendy went to the schools and consulted with teachers on how to attain efficiencies and reduce costs all around. The community understood what we were trying to do…In any case, the district's conservative approach has paid huge dividends. The result? Downey has been very lucky. Some districts have floundered"; "Our students' test results are coming in, and the scores have improved…Our teachers, the whole district, have worked very, very hard to benefit our kids. I hope by next year there will be an easing of some of our problems, such as a halt in our slightly declining enrollment." Meanwhile, she says she is excited by the school construction going on: "Downey High's new theater is very nice. And the DHS cafeteria, when completed, will provide a much better atmosphere for our students; much, much better than when we were students." Swenson, who mentioned her recent promotion at her day job to supervisor of Raytheon's S (Space) A (& Airborne) S (Systems) - IT, said: "It was a great feeling to save $120,000 because we ran unopposed"; "The bond and camaraderie we have forged in our district among board members and district administrators, so that we share the same focus, is in sharp contrast to the situation in many other school districts. This fact emerged when we took our Masters of Governance course (to prepare them better for their board duties and responsibilities). We realized the other participants didn't enjoy the same camaraderie that we enjoy here at DUSD. I'd be nervous if we didn't"; "It's a shame the people in Sacramento don't seem to care about the kids. All they do is play politics. They want us to produce more with less"; and "If we didn't have such a fantastic team here, starting with the custodian up to the top, we won't be nearly as successful." Sodetani, who continues her multi-faceted volunteer work in the community, had a lot of things to say about her four years and her also running unopposed: "I think the community knows that the school board has been doing good work, that it has been steering the district in the right direction. If bad decisions had been made, there would have been an outcry"; "Our academic standards have been set very high, so that when our students apply for college, they get admitted readily. The community has seen this, and when we had to make budget cuts, a number of people stepped up to the plate to help…people such as Dr. Mary Stauffer, and a couple of people from OASIS, as well as from TLC, and so on as volunteers, as well as work by AVID and ASPIRE, all to help our kids succeed"; "I share Don La Plante's observation that the state budget has never been this bad"; "Bobbi Samperi once told me that it takes four years to get a grip on what the board is about. I've got a better sense now of where the responsibilities lie, and so I can respond more quickly. I'm eager to put what I've learned in the Masters of Governance program to good use, setting priorities, focusing on goals, interfacing with administrators and members of the community"; "I'm more tolerant now of giving a student a second chance rather than taking a punitive approach when he/she, say, is caught doing something wrong, or again, I realize now that there's nothing wrong with a student wishing to attend his school of choice rather than restricting his attendance in the area where he resides"; "In any case, we have such good students, they donate blood, they hold food drives, and so on. Our Character Counts program has something to do with this, I'm sure"; and "Just as my predecessors on the board have set high standards in place, my hope is that the same will be said of me, that we will have maintained a high level of quality in the district."
********** Published: August 14, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 17