Editorial: Three strong candidates for Contra Costa’s education board – The Mercury News | Team Cansler


Click here for a full list of our picks.


Most people in Contra Costa are familiar with their local school boards, which oversee K-12 education in their communities.

Less visible is the County Board of Education, an elected body of five key individuals. Its members take over the study courses of the district schools for imprisoned youths. They approve the budget of the County Office of Education, which is otherwise run independently by the separately elected County Superintendent of Schools.

And the Board hears appeals for student expulsions, inter-district transfers, and applications to charter a school. It’s this latter role that drives the politics of the board’s campaigns, because unions often target charter schools and look for ways to block their permits.

Currently, the Contra Costa Board of Education is controlled by a slim majority of union-backed trustees. The question for voters in the November 8 election is whether they want board members who work well with others and give charter schools a balanced rating.

If they do, they should vote for Rupy Krishnan in Area 2, Mike Maxwell in Area 4, and Annette Lewis in Area 5.

Rupy Krishnan

Area 2 – Rupy Krishnan

Krishnan, a mother of three, is a founder and past chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Lafayette Library, and a former financial analyst.

It supports charter schools as an educational option for underperforming traditional public schools and to provide specialized education for students with focused passions. And she wants to give excluded students a voice.

The incumbent is Sarah Butler, a former trustee of the Orinda School Board. When we endorsed her for district executive four years ago, she was the better of two bad candidates. During Butler’s four years on the Orinda board, she so irritated her peers that even her allies supported her opponents when she unsuccessfully ran for re-election in 2016.

Unfortunately, her performance on the Contra Costa board wasn’t much better. Most recently, there was her failed attempt last month to set up a school safety committee without first speaking to the superintendent, who oversees the schools that would be affected by new guidelines. And we remain amazed at her appallingly embarrassing repeated slaughter of the Pledge of Allegiance when chairing board meetings.

The other candidate in the running is Lisa Disbrow, a retired kindergarten teacher who has taken on conservative talking points about critical race theory and objects to schools that have signs saying their campus is “no place for hate.” This, says Disbrow, puts teachers in the position of “moral authorities.”

Mike Maxwell, Contra Costa County Board of Education candidate, Area 4. (Photo courtesy of Mike Maxwell)
Mike Maxwell

Area 4 – Mike Maxwell

In his eight years on the county board, Maxwell has developed a balanced approach to charter schools, recognizing the benefits and economic challenges they pose to traditional public schools. He sees himself as an advocate for teachers, students and families.

Maxwell is the former statewide director of the YMCA’s model legislation program for high school students and is currently vice president for an Aging-in-Place campus in Pleasant Hill, where he is leading the development of an 80-unit project for low-income elderly residents.

His opponents are Cheri Calcagno, who missed her scheduled virtual interview, and Anaite Letona, the teachers’ union-backed candidate who is an elementary and middle school teacher. Letona says board members should “oppose and disrupt systemic racism,” but it was hard to pinpoint what she saw as issues with the incumbent or county-run schools.

Contra Costa County Board of Education Area 5 candidate Annette Lewis is photographed Monday, October 22, 2018, in Walnut Creek, California.  (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Annette Lewis (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Area 5 – Annette Lewis

Lewis joined the County Board of Education four years ago with a solid educational background, as a parent, substitute teacher and longtime PTA activist who had served on the statewide board.

Since joining the board, she has had a measured approach to charter schools and a desire to increase monitoring of their successes and failures. She also has a clear understanding of the role of district school board members and the limitations of their powers.

Their opponents are Derek Carson II, who has not responded to several attempts to reach him, and Justin Brown, a television producer who manages his parents’ investments and undeclared work. Aside from being a parent, Brown, who describes himself as a community activist, has no background in education.

After running for the seat, he took part in a protest with teachers from the district school board, who were negotiating with the superintendent because, he said, he wanted to get his name out there. He said he would do it again if elected to the board.

Lewis doesn’t think that’s appropriate because “it’s not the job of a district board member to publicly challenge the superintendent” who is responsible for negotiating with teachers in district-run schools. Do we agree.

Those who want the board to represent the community and not just a specific interest should vote for Krishnan, Maxwell and Lewis.

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