La Mesa-Spring Valley School Elections

Competing In Challenging Times

LA MESA -- Not long ago, La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board members Emma Turner and Bill Baber sat together in a local coffee shop contemplating this November's election with a reporter.

Turner (photo right) and Baber had already filed the papers to seek re-election and both were wondering if -- or more accurately why -- anyone would want to contest either of their seats.

In fact, serving on any school board these days is akin to sliding down the proverbial razor blade of life -- budget cuts, teacher lay offs, program elimination, class sizes growing to 1950s levels.

To be a steward of the public schools these days is an exercise in reverse engineering.

"People ask me why I want to keep doing it,'' Turner said, "but I think experience is more important than ever today. I want to finish this, get us through and out the other side.''

Baber (pictured right), also an incumbent, shared Turner's mission. Active in regional politics, Baber knows there are other opportunities out there, ones with higher profile and greater rewards, but he prefers, for his own service, to stick to the challenged schools.

Baber and Turner do differ on the way they think the education lobby should deal with Sacramento -- Turner negotiates while Baber favors open warfare with the Democratic leadership -- but both see the district as in urgent need for stable, consistent leadership.

"This is not the time to be breaking in new people to this situation,'' Baber said. "There are probably times for a change agent to come in and set a new direction. I don't think we are there now. We have to resolve the issues and put us in a position where we can move ahead. We're clearly not there yet.''

Yet as the last few days before the filing deadline, Spring Valley resident Jay Steiger, decided to challenge Baber and Turner. Steiger, active as a leader in Parent Teacher Association efforts, filed to run for the board he failed to win a seat in 2010.

Steiger (photo right) is a regular at school board meetings and is closely engaged in his children's education in local public schools.

Though they do not run as a slate, Baber and Turner clearly believe their board's performance warrants sticking with the incumbents at this time. In many ways, despite draconian budget cuts and class sizes that are racing through the 30s even in the lowest grades, this district has managed to avoid the sort of public protests one might have expected under these circumstances. They moved more quickly on down-sizing than other districts and made some tough decisions about moving sixth grades back to elementary schools.

Baber credited the relative calm amid this budget storm with the fact that the board members had "depoliticized" their operations by passing the panel's presidency on a rotating basis.

Both Turner and Baber praised Superintendent Brian Marshall for his strong hand in difficult times.

Baber, ever the political analyst, thinks Steiger faces a tough putt. Turner is the most popular board member with parents and teachers, Baber says, and Baber points to his own years of service and deep roots within district constituencies.

"If anyone runs against us,'' Baber said at the time, "it won't be easy.''

But today the race is on we'll see in November.

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Tags: Bill Baber, Emma Turnger, Jay Steiger, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, La Mesa-Spring Valley School District

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