The League of Women Voters of Alameda (LWVA) hosted its third candidate forum of the year on Thursday night, featuring candidates running for the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Education. Incumbent Gary Lym was joined by Ryan LaLonde and Maria Elena Moreno van Maren. Candidate Leland Traiman was unable to participate in the forum.
LaLonde discussed his position as Chair of AUSD’s LGBTQ Round Table and pledged to continue the group’s efforts while working to address weaknesses in the District’s special education system. Lym declared that he would continue advocating for mental health and wellness efforts in schools and for expanding dual-enrollment opportunities with the Peralta Community College District (PCCD). Van Maren mentioned her organizing efforts to reopen schools and promised to bring more parent voices to the table.
Questions for Board of Education Candidates
What can be done to help students overcome academic and social issues caused by the pandemic? How will you address meeting students’ needs at all levels of the learning spectrum?
Each candidate agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in learning loss for students. Both Lym and LaLonde said they support increasing the service hours of mental health professionals in schools. Van Maren suggested better nutritional support and more funding for tutoring.
Please share your thoughts regarding vocational education, its place within the Alameda school system, and how it should be funded.
LaLonde and Lym highlighted the importance of Career Technical Education (CTE) programs to expand opportunities for students. Both suggested a collaboration with the College of Alameda to offer programs that could include electric vehicle repair (mentioned by LaLonde) or pathways to public safety careers (mentioned by Lym). Van Maren didn’t address vocational education, instead she discussed removing masks in classrooms so students can better understand their teachers.
The new Office of Equity seeks to ensure that all students have the academic, social, and emotional support they need to prepare for college, career and community success in the future. Do you support efforts made so far in Alameda? How should they be modified?
LaLonde and Lym heralded Shamar Edwards, Senior Director of AUSD’s Office of Equity, for leading efforts to organize engagement activities with the community to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) of all parents and students in the District. LaLonde highlighted a recent graduation ceremony for black and multi-ethnic students, while Lym suggested the program could expand to include AUSD administrative staff. Van Maren broadly discussed the importance of equity in the classroom to make sure all students feel welcome.
A new gender and sexuality curriculum was introduced in elementary schools last year. Do you support this program?
Lym announced his ardent support for the curriculum, since “children need to feel safe…to know who they are, and…to understand that they’re welcome.” LaLonde agreed, emphasizing his own identity as a gay person and highlighted the positive feedback from teachers regarding the book-based curriculum. Van Maren disagreed, suggesting that discussion of sexual orientation is “something parents can do because each family has their own values…culture and background” as is the case with religious topics. Schools, she posited, should stick to academics.
What resources would you recommend to help support teachers in and out of the classroom? Please address difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified teachers given the cost of housing in Alameda.
LaLonde and Lym focused on ensuring mental health support and professional development for teachers. They also called for more competitive wages and criticized a recent court ruling to strike down Measure A, a school parcel tax approved by voters in 2020. Van Maren suggested connecting with teachers and providing greater funding to support after-school and summer programs.
Would you be in favor of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for school board elections?
Lym tentatively supported RCV, while LaLonde was “curious and intrigued.” Both candidates suggested more research and education. Van Maren had not previously heard of RCV, though she voiced approval for moderator Crane’s subsequent explanation of the voting system.
What are your priorities for using the fiscal resources available to AUSD? How does special education funding impact these?
LaLonde recounted his own experiences in navigating AUSD’s special education program with his own child and called for greater spending efficiency. Lym echoed those sentiments, and both candidates noted that transportation costs comprise 30 to 35 percent of total spending for special education services. Van Maren prioritized bringing parents’ voices to the table, budget transparency, and tutoring for students.
What do you hope to accomplish during this next term?
LaLonde pledged to be an advocate for foster families, as he is part of one himself, and for expanding ethnic studies along with gender and sexuality programs to reach more students. Lym reiterated his pledge to develop additional dual-enrollment and mental health programs, and Van Maren expressed her desire to be a leading voice who collaborates with teachers and parents.
Van Maren closed by promising to be a community leader. Lym summarized his efforts in his past two terms on the school board and emphasized the need for continued Asian-American representation. LaLonde vowed to be a communicative boardmember and highlighted the representational impact he would have as an openly gay man elected to the Board of Education.
The LWVA AUSD Board of Education Candidate Forum was hosted by Anne McKereghan and moderated by Anna Crane. Their website is lwvalameda.org. Video of the event is available on YouTube.
Ken Der is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Ken-Der.