In a surprising development Robert McKnight, an African American studies teacher at Berkeley High School, did not file papers to run for the Board of Education by the city’s Wednesday deadline.
A new candidate, emergency room physician Lance Montauk, was among those who did meet the deadline this week, rounding out a field of seven who will vie for three slots on the five-member board in November.
The final slate of candidates includes incumbents Shirley Issel and Terry Doran, parent activists Derick Miller, Cynthia Papermaster and Nancy Riddle, recent Berkeley High School graduate Sean Dugar, and Montauk.
Incumbent Ted Schultz, who would be the third incumbent running this year, announced several months ago that he will retire at the end of his term.
McKnight could not be reached for comment Thursday, but other candidates expressed surprise and regret that he will not run for office.
“I feel it’s a shame,” said Papermaster. “He looked very promising in terms of providing some diversity on the board.”
The board is currently composed of four white members and one Latino, Vice President Joaquin Rivera.
Dugar, the recent graduate, said he was upset that McKnight had bowed out. But he said McKnight’s departure may provide his candidacy with a boost, since it leaves him as the sole African-American contender.
“Berkeley is not an all-white district,” Dugar said. “Berkeley needs to represent its people.”
But some say that one minority candidate is not enough. Earlier this year, a diverse group of reform-minded parents convened under the auspices of City Councilmember Linda Maio, in part to produce a slate of minority candidates who would join Dugar and McKnight in running for the board.
The group, which does not have a name, was unable to produce any candidates.
“It is a disappointment,” said Michael Miller, a school activist who took part in the group. “I can’t see that [the group of candidates who filed this week] will give the district what it needs.”
McKnight’s departure may also have an impact on the candidacy of Derick Miller, president of the PTA Council. Miller and McKnight had discussed running for the board as a team.
Miller could not be reached before the Daily Planet’s deadline.
Montauk said his chief focus as a board member would be improving the public school system to attract Berkeley families who have chosen private schools instead.
“Berkeley is, in my point of view, failing in that area,” said Montauk, who estimates that 20 to 25 percent of Berkeley’s school age children go to private school.
Montauk sent his two children to private school up through eighth grade, racking up bills in excess of $100,000, before enrolling them in Berkeley High School, he said. Both children have graduated from Berkeley High.
Issel, the current school board president, welcomed Montauk’s push.
“I think it’s a very valuable goal – we need some understanding about why parents choose to put their children in the private schools,” she said.
But Riddle raised some concerns about focusing too much on private school families.
“Our schools should be excellent for all children,” she said. “I’m not sure we should be doing special things for one group of kids to attend.”
Montauk has also voiced strong opposition to ballot Measure 3, which if approved would increase school board members’ salaries from $875 per month to $1,500 per month, effective in December.
“It’s like rewarding Enron and WorldCom executives... before their companies go belly-up,” he said, referring to the school district’s estimated $2 million 2002-2003 deficit.
School board member John Selawsky, the leading supporter of Measure 3, has argued that a raise is long overdue and that members could divert their salary increases to pay for board staff. The board currently has no staff to conduct research.
With the race officially underway, there is a new focus on the fundraising game.
As of June 30, the last filing date for campaign contributions, Doran led the pack with $1,500, including $500 total from mayoral candidate Tom Bates and his wife Loni Hancock, who is expected to win election as Berkeley’s representative in the state Assembly.
Issel was a close second with $1,248 in contributions. Nancy Riddle had $885.
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