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5 Candidates Compete For 3 School Board Seats

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday August 18, 2006

The Nov. 7 local office elections will see five candidates competing for three open seats on the five-member Berkeley Board of Education. 

First time candidates David Baggins and Norma Harrison are up against incumbent School Board directors Nancy Riddle and Shirley Issel and challenger Karen Hemphill, who previously lost a bid for the board in 2004. Issel is finishing her second four-year term, while Director Nancy Riddle is finishing her first. 

Baggins, a professor of political science at California State University, East Bay, announced his candidacy Aug. 10. He holds a doctorate in public administration, a Juris Doctorate, and has authored three books, including Drug Hate and the Corruption of American Justice and The Question of Privacy in Public Policy. 

“I made the decision to run at the last minute because I want to bring up issues that I feel are not being addressed enough in the elections,” Baggins said. “The heart of my campaign is a call to keep what’s wonderful about Berkeley schools while admitting honestly what is not. I particularly hope to address the issues of violence in the schools, the problem of historic under-enforcement of residency for registration, and the need to help low-performing students without holding back the other bright and inquisitive youths of Berkeley.” Baggins’ campaign slogan reads “The Best Schools for Berkeley’s Kids.” 

Baggins’ goal is to engage the community in a discussion about the potential to make Berkeley’s schools as fine a place as the city itself.  

He says Berkeley’s registration system has serious flaws which need to be corrected. “Berkeley cannot credibly claim to be an example to the nation in governance until it achieves safe and excellent schools,” he said in a press release. “As a city we are generous to our children, matching state funds with local money. However ignoring the failure of the registration process undermines this generosity and threatens the schools. We cannot be the alternative choice available to the East Bay through ineffective registration. At a sum over $65,000 local taxpayer money per pupil (K-12) this is not a trivial concern.” 

Baggins also wants to address how expensive it is for teachers to live in Berkeley. He says the city needs to develop moderately priced public housing for the teachers so that they are able to live where they work.  

“While Berkeley is asking itself what kind of public housing it wants,” Baggins said, “I think we should pursue the idea of a teachers’ village, where we give them modest rent.” 

Baggins’ wife Teddi is a volunteer with WriterCoach Connection at Martin Luther King Middle School and also serves on the Board of Citizens for East Shore Parks. Their two children are currently enrolled in Berkeley public schools. 

Norma Harrison, 71, is a self-employed realtor and former public school teacher who has never run for public office.  

“I want to make available a discussion to try and determine why we don’t like schools and to determine what we want,” Harrison said. “I want to understand how we want to live here and enjoy it.” 

Harrison added that the root of the word “education” is “educere” which means to bring forward ideas from people and to encourage “forward thinking.” 

“Children come to schools as vessels to be filled,” Harrison told the Daily Planet. The board so far has addressed only structural matters and the PTA is also very stymied. I want to create a forum for discussion where we can learn how to enjoy our learning instead of commodifying it.” 

Karen Hemphill, an assistant to the city manager in Emeryville, will become Berkeley’s first new African-American School Board director in years if she goes on to win one of the three open seats. Hemphill has previously held posts on the City of Berkeley’s Civic Arts Commission and the City of Berkeley’s Committee on the Status of Women. 

As a parent of two sons in Berkeley schools, Hemphill wants to see BUSD grow into a model urban district that uses community resources to prepare its students for the 21st Century.  

“I want to develop my knowledge of organizational development and budgeting to ensure that the student achievement plan is tied to a sound fiscal plan—a plan that includes partnerships with government, private foundations, and other such organizations,” she said. 

Hemphill’s biggest priority is to try and deepen the school district’s relationship with the community. “The school district does not have a district- wide student achievement plan based upon data. This creates a negative impact on students of color. I want to address this issue in particular.” 

Shirley Issel, a clinical social worker, has served on the School Board for the last eight years. “I pledge to continue using my skills as a professional social worker and educational reformer to build on the progress we have made and to critically improve teaching and learning,” she said. 

Issel also wants to improve support for students with learning barriers and to train staff to measure student progress. 

Nancy Riddle, chief financial officer for Monster Cable Products, is currently finishing her first term. She seeks to continue working to remove barriers in education and to bolster a transparent and open budget process that reflects the values of the Berkeley community. Riddle is currently away on vacation and was unavailable for comment. 


Tax measure renewal 

In other matters, the School Board’s tax measure renewal is also coming up in the November elections. These two existing special taxes which are up for renewal are altogether worth $19.5 million. Although the current tax measure expires in December, the money is carried through to June. 

“It is important to remember that this is not a new tax, but one that replaces the dollars that we get from BSEP of 1986 & 1994 and Measure B of 2004. They pay for almost one third of the teachers in the BUSD, most of the music program and our school libraries, both materials and staff, as well as other enrichment in the classrooms,” said BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan.