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Parents shun school board candidate

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Wednesday July 03, 2002

The Berkeley High School Parent Teacher Student Association resolved a tense, four-month fight over electing a new leadership team Monday night, appointing retired San Jose State professor Joan Edelstein to the vacant president’s post and naming several other high-level officers. 

The source of the tension is not Edelstein, who receives widespread praise, but PTSA auditor and school board candidate Cynthia Papermaster.  

“She makes everybody’s life miserable,” said one PTSA member, who asked to remain anonymous. “I think it would be a disaster if she were at the level of the school board.” 

But Papermaster says the critics are all longtime members of the organization who are just upset because she worked to shake up the PTSA leadership, creating a diverse team that would attract the entire school community. 

“I have bumped into people who want to hold fast to tradition,” she said. “Sometimes change is hard.” 

The conflict began in April. Papermaster, who also serves as parliamentarian for the districtwide PTA Council, an umbrella group for all PTAs, pushed Berkeley High PTSA to hold elections for next year’s officers this spring, in accordance with its bylaws, rather than wait for the fall, as it has done in recent years. 

Some PTSA members argue that Papermaster was too aggressive in pushing for spring elections. 

“She came in inappropriately,” said former PTSA President Cindy Cohen. “It was simply, ‘this is what you should do.’ She wasn’t even willing to have a dialogue about doing it any other way.” 

“Did I alienate some people? Yes,” said Papermaster. “But that was a byproduct of my desire to help the PTA function properly.” 

“Cynthia is a well-meaning person and not one time did she say anything that is untrue,” said Lee Berry, who was named PTSA Executive Vice President Monday night. “I have no knock on Cynthia. I love Cynthia to death.” 

Papermaster pushed for an official nominating committee, which sought out candidates in May, and the PTSA held elections June 4. At that meeting, the group elected parent activist Virgus Streets president, but he subsequently declined the election. 

Streets’s resignation made necessary the Monday night meeting and the Edelstein appointment. 

Papermaster said her work on the nominating committee helped bring in a larger, more diverse group of leaders, including Berry and another black member of the PTSA board. 

“I’m coming from a position of supporting and helping the PTAs to function so they are strong and inclusive and diverse,” she said. 

Even some critics credit Papermaster with increasing PTSA diversity.  

But detractors say Papermaster has a habit of stirring up unnecessary controversy – a habit, they say, that would not serve her well on the board.  

“Everywhere I go, she’s been driving people crazy,” said one PTSA member. 

“There are gadflies who are healthy,” said another PTSA member. “But Cynthia seems to need to be at the center of a storm, for reasons I can’t understand.” 

Papermaster said she only attracts criticism because she is “an agent of change.” 

In the end, she said, the PTSA has emerged with a committed, diverse leadership. Her critics agree. 

“I could not be more happy,” said Cohen, praising the entire board, and especially Edelstein. “She’s very skilled.” 

“We’ve all agreed to put aside any personal differences in order to work for the good of the parents, students and teachers,” Edelstein said.