Voters set to decide future of local school boards

DOWNEY - With just days to go before the Nov. 5 municipal elections, school board candidates are making their final push this weekend as voters prepare to decide the future and direction of local school boards. In the Downey Unified School District, incumbents Barbara Samperi, Nancy Swenson, and Martha Sodetani, who ran unopposed four years ago, will each face opponents in the district's first ever by-area school board elections.

Samperi, who was first elected in 1993 and now represents Area 7, will compete in a four-way race against Downey Library Commissioner Betty Monroy, retired LA County educator Bertha Valenzuela, and local teller Leslie Valencia.

In Area 5, Swenson will compete against electrician John Anagnostou, who has two daughters enrolled in Downey schools, and Sodetani is vying for the Area 1-seat against Victor Malagon, a 50-year-old industrial maintenance electrician.

Earlier this month, the union representing more than 1,000 Downey teachers, counselors, and speech pathologists announced its support for incumbents Samperi, Sodetani, and Swenson.

Downey Education Association President Lorraine Neal said the incumbents proved to have the best knowledge and commitment needed to lead the school district.

In the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District, three challengers are hoping to unseat one of four incumbents seeking reelection to the NLMUSD board of education.

Special education teacher Salvador Limon, field technical engineer Mark White, and government teacher Sean Reagan will compete against board members Ed Hengler, Darryl Adams, Margarita Rios, and Ana Valencia, who are all seeking another four-year term on the school board.

If reelected, Hengler will serve a fifth term while Adams, who was elected in 1993, will begin his sixth. Valencia has served on the board since 2001; Rios was elected in 2009.

Limon and Reagan, both local educators, are hoping to bring their youth and teaching experience to the school district while White, an active member of the PTA, believes he can best represent the voices of parents.

The four top vote-getters on Tuesday will join the board of education.

However, candidates elected to the school board receive more than just the opportunity to lead -- the position also includes monetary compensation and access to health care.

According to Estuardo Santillan, assistant superintendent of business services at the NLMUSD, school board members receive a stipend of $400 a month and have the option of accepting the same medical package offered to full-time employees.

"Some take the package because the benefits are better, but not everyone does," he said. "The district contributes $9,000 per member as it would for any other employee."

In total, Santillan said the district sets aside $96,600 that goes towards board members' stipends and health benefits.

Similarly, the DUSD provides a $498 stipend for board members every month.

"Some choose to take it and some do not," said Nancy Nien, assistant superintendent of business services for Downey Unified. "Health insurance is offered at the same rate that full-time employees get -- dental, medical, vision."

Downey school board members have the option of choosing one or all of the health benefit packages. "Most employees pay 10 percent of their plan," said Nien. "We offer a very generous health package here -- board members are entitled to the same benefits."

For board members elected before July 1, 1994, pensions may also be a long-term benefit if they opted into a CalPERS membership.

Prior to California legislation, which banned school board members from receiving pensions, appointed and elected officers of a school district, community college district, or public commission could receive a pension after leaving office.

Currently, DUSD school board members Donald LaPlante, elected in 1979, and Barbara Samperi have opted into CalPERS membership and both will receive a pension upon leaving office.

"I've been on the board for 20 years and it's at about $2,000 right now," said Samperi. "The stipend is only $400 a month so it's not much."

NLMUSD board member Darryl Adams was elected in December 1993, but he says he did not opt into the system.

********** Published: Oct. 31, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 29