SAN MARCOS – The San Marcos Unified School District (SMUSD) has three open seats this November, and after a tumultuous few months, candidates told The Coast News they are eager to see new leadership and representation on the board.
The district’s Trustee Areas A, B and D are up for election this year. Trustee Area A covers the southwest portion of the district, Trustee Area B is the south-central portion of the district and Trustee Area D encompasses the southeast portion of the district.
The district’s leadership has faced mounting criticism and frustration from parents and families in recent months over the handling of school reopening plans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September, the district’s superintendent Dr. Carmen García abruptly resigned, seemingly as the result of disgruntled families, as well as two years of growing tensions with parents and teachers.
The new board will be tasked with appointing a new superintendent once seated.
Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Tiffany Campbell briefly served as acting superintendent but returned to her former position to focus on distance learning. The district then appointed Kevin Holt, the retired former superintendent of the district, as interim superintendent.
Joseph Lai, Leeanne Leon, Jay Ross and Carlos Ulloa are the four candidates running for Trustee Area A. Incumbent Janet McClean will not run for re-election.
Lai, a mortgage industry sales leader who has two sons in the district, told The Coast News that one of his top priorities is decreasing the education disparity gap between schools.
“When you look at our district, specifically at our elementary schools, we have about 12 elementary school sites. There are about six or seven that are really excelling and another four or five that would be considered below grade,” Lai said. “There’s a big gap there that we need to improve on if we want our district as a whole to get on that great level.”
In Trustee Area B, incumbent Pam Lindamood is running against two challengers: Brian Epperson and Sarah Ahmad.
Ahmad is an engineering portfolio manager who also has children in the district. She said she wants to see more collaboration with teachers, experts, and outside resources when it comes to reopening. She also hopes to reestablish the trust and communication that she says is lacking between the board and the community.
“I want to make sure that the parents who feel frustrated and unheard today can come to me and voice those opinions and know that someone is listening to them on the board and is taking their opinions and feelings into consideration,” Ahmad said.
In Trustee Area D, incumbent board member Victor Graham is running for re-election to his current seat against lone challenger Jaime Chamberlin.
Chamberlin, who has served as a board member and president of the PTO at her daughter’s elementary school, said she wants to see more parent involvement on the board, as well as in PTOs and PTAs across the district.
“I’m a parent and I think it’s very important to have parent representation on a school board, as well as teacher representation, and our board is lacking those things. We have five members and only one person is a parent on the board,” Chamberlin said. “Every decision you make as a parent affects your child, so you’re a lot more conscious of the things you’re voting for and the recommendations you’re making.”