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Incumbents Challenged In City Races: By J DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday August 10, 2004

Three challengers will be taking on two incumbents for two seats on the school board for the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) in the November elections. Norine Smith, a San Francisco native and 33-year-resident of Berkeley, will repeat her 2000 challenge to longtime incumbent Councilmember Betty Olds for the District 6 Berkeley City Council seat. Filing remains open until Wednesday evening for council districts 2, 3, and 5, and for four seats on the nine-member Rent Stabilization Board. 

These were the preliminary results after the initial round of filing closed last Friday evening for City of Berkeley elected positions. 

John Selawsky and Joaquin Rivera are the two school board incumbents running for re-election. 

Selawsky, a Brooklyn native, presently serves as president of the school board. In his official campaign statement, he says that while the district has been forced to make cutbacks “in this era of shrinking resources...during my term...we have restored fiscal integrity and rebuilt budget, payroll, and personnel systems, successfully preventing a state takeover.” Selawsky pledged to “continue to ensure fiscal and instructional accountability and improvement (and) advance legal and community defenses of our District integration plan...” 

Rivera, a San Juan, Puerto Rico native, also took credit for “significant progress during [his] last term; we adopted a fiscal recovery plan, balancing our budget without State intervention; [and] improved student achievement with several schools gaining recognition...” He said that during the next four years, “I want to lead our district as we develop and implement a strategic plan to: further improve accountability, restructure Berkeley High School; and adopt new strategies to close the achievement gap while improving the academic performance of all students.” 

Challenging Selawsky and Rivera are Social Policy Director Kalima Rose, City Clerk/Administrator Karen Hemphill, and community volunteer Merrilie Mitchell. Rose and Hemphill have listed each other as supporters in the election. 

Sacramento native Rose, who has served on the BUSD Healthy Start Collaborative and the BHS Small Schools Transition Team, cites her qualifications as 15 years of “nonprofit policy experience in low-income housing, community development and civil rights; my strong fiscal analysis skills; and my deep commitment to the success of all youth in this community.” Rose lists her goal as “to secure ... promising reforms and spread their successes to the other schools in the district.” 

Washington, D.C. native Hemphill has served on the District Advisory Committee and BSEP Planning and Oversight Committee. A parent of two sons in the district, she says she supports “creating a safe nurturing environment, facilitating parent and student leadership, and raising the level of accountability.” She says that “I believe my long involvement in various school and BUSD committees, my experience in public policy, public finance and organizational development...and coming from a family of teachers prepares and qualifies me...” 

Oceanside, New York, native Mitchell has served on the Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Association and the Council of Neighborhood Associations. She says “we need serious change on the school board—less politics, and more possibilities.” She wants to reduce class size (which she says is critical in order to retain our fine teachers) and “ to improve the quality of life in our school neighborhoods especially in South and West Berkeley where conditions may be scary, stressful, violent, and where polluted air causes asthma in youngsters.” 

Five challengers (Jesse Arreguin, Jon Crowder, Jack Harrison, Seth Morris, and Jason Overman) have already filed for the four open rent board seats, along with incumbent rent board commissioner Eleanor Walden.