ELECTION 2014: Three vying for two school board seats

ELECTION 2014: Three vying for two school board seats

Michele Ellson
Board of Education candidates

Solana Henneberry, Gary Lym and Mike McMahon are running for seats on the school board. Photos provided by the candidates.

A school board veteran, a special education teacher and an accountant who helped start a local youth sports league are vying for a pair of seats on Alameda’s Board of Education this fall.

Mike McMahon is seeking his fourth term on the board, while teacher Solana Henneberry and Gary Lym, a retired accountant and professor, are also seeking a seat. Margie Sherratt, who is wrapping up her first term on the board, opted not to run for re-election.

The winners of the school board race will likely be tasked with hiring a new superintendent and also, prioritizing spending for the Measure I school bond if voters approve it this fall. They’ll also oversee continued implementation of the state’s new funding scheme and curriculum set to new Common Core standards.

Board members may also seek to address fractured relationships with residents who grew skeptical of the district’s budgeting after it installed a fence around portions of Historic Alameda High School and moved the district’s headquarters to rented office space in Marina Village – and with teachers following a bitter contract battle between the teachers’ union and the district’s former superintendent.

McMahon said he’d bring a wealth of experience to the school board, while Henneberry said her teaching experience and the fact that she has children in Alameda’s schools would provide a perspective the board is lacking. Lym said his accounting background and work as a professor will help him understand budgets and build relationships with schools staffers and the community.

McMahon has been involved with schools issues for two decades, he said; both Lym and Henneberry have served on school-based school site councils, which engage in school-specific budgeting and planning.

Both McMahon and Henneberry said they support Measure I, saying Alameda Unified needs the $179.5 million it would provide to modernize schools. Both also said schools leaders need to seek passage of a parcel tax to replace Measure A before it expires in 2018, saying the district would face painful cuts without the $12 million a year the tax provides.

“I support Measure I because our schools are in desperate need of repairs and infrastructure upgrades. Everyone deserves a safe place to learn and work,” Henneberry wrote in her response to The Alamedan’s candidate questionnaire.

Lym said he supports maintaining school facilities but noted that some have questioned the fact that the bond measure doesn’t allocate specific funding amounts to specific schools. He did not attend The Alamedan/Alameda Sun candidate forum where the question about the parcel tax was asked.

“The community has expressed apprehension to the language that these decisions will be made after passage,” Lym wrote of Measure I in his response to the questionnaire. “Our community deserves to know the specifics prior to voting for the measure as opposed to hoping for an equitable allocation after passage.”

Henneberry said she likes the idea of fixing up and reopening portions of Historic Alameda High School that have been shuttered due to seismic safety concerns – a move both she and McMahon said could also provide space for the district office, which Henneberry has said she’d like to move to less costly space. Henneberry said she doesn’t support the concept of a single high school because it’s too big for Alameda; McMahon said he’d keep an open mind but questioned whether the district could find an appropriate location for a new high school.

Both McMahon and Henneberry said they support keeping Alameda’s neighborhood elementary schools in place.

All three candidates said they support the district’s drive to create innovative and magnet programs, which the district initiated in an effort to retain families that wanted more school choice; the district has innovative programs at Bay Farm and Amelia Earhart schools, converted the old Washington Elementary into the Maya Lin arts magnet, and added the Junior Jets middle school program on the Encinal High campus, and it’s considering new programs this year.

Both Henneberry and McMahon expressed reservations about the rise of charter schools in Alameda, saying that they’re helpful in districts where the needs of specific populations aren’t being addressed but that they think the school district is doing a good job meeting all students’ needs. McMahon said charter schools were supposed to be “hotbeds of innovation” that generated lessons on learning that could be applied to the traditional schools system but that they have instead created a “free market scramble” for students; he wants state law that constrains school boards’ ability to reject the schools to be re-examined.

Henneberry expressed excitement for the implementation of Common Core standards, which she called “an exciting opportunity to provide more open ended instruction and the ability to foster more creative and flexible thinking for our students.” McMahon was more skeptical about the new standards.

“The development, implementation and assessment of curriculum has been done poorly by state and federal policy makers. As a result, school districts have been left with the job of making it work,” he said.

Lym said the district should work collaboratively with staff and families to implement the new standards and should also make sure teachers get the support they need to do that work.

As a sitting board member, McMahon has consistently voted in favor of more taxes for schools and was arguably responsible for engineering the compromise necessary to win the board votes needed to put Measure I on the ballot. He voted for allowing schools administrators to move the district’s headquarters into rented space and against new contracts that gave raises to teachers and schools staffers – contract votes that earned him the ire of schools unions.

But he also voted against a controversial contract renewal for former Superintendent Kirsten Vital, saying he wouldn’t vote for raises until state funding cut in recent years was restored – the same rationale he gave for voting down teacher and staff raises.

McMahon initially voted against putting curriculum in place to combat anti-gay bullying, saying parents should have the ability to opt their children out of learning it. But he ultimately voted in favor of a more inclusive literature list that sought to combat bulling of a host of groups.

He also originally voted in favor of a contract to put cell antennae on the roof of Maya Lin School. But he has since said that it’s clear families don’t want them and offered that additional cell tower contracts “will not happen” while he’s on the board.

Henneberry said she, too, opposes putting cell towers on schools, adding that she’d like to examine antennae placed on sites near schools as well.

Whoever wins November’s school board race will be faced with the task of restoring trust and relationships with community members, the district’s worker unions and fellow board members, who have engaged in some ugly, public tangles over the course of the past year. Henneberry, a teacher and union member who said her work entails reaching tough compromises, said the district has “created nothing but problems for itself” but that bringing in a well-regarded veteran as interim superintendent was a step in the right direction. She said she would do more to communicate with the district’s teachers.

Lym, who said his work as managing director of the Alameda Vipers youth basketball league requires him to respect the needs of a variety of stakeholders – said he would meet regularly with community members, visit school sites and would seek to make the school district more transparent and accountable to the community.

McMahon, who has personally engaged the community on school issues using online surveys and whose personal website offers an encyclopedic array of school board information, said securing stable funding and maintaining open lines of communication will help restore relationships with Alameda’s teachers. And he said he’d help the school board run more effectively by “being professional and respectful while focusing on building consensus for solutions that move the district forward.”

Additional information on the candidates and their views is available by clicking the links listed below.


Solana Henneberry:
Questionnaire answers
Candidate website

Gary Lym:
Questionnaire answers
Candidate website

Mike McMahon:
Questionnaire answers
Candidate website