Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Mendocino County 3rd District Supervisor and Superintendent of Schools Candidates Talk Issues at the Little Lake Grange

Lois Lockhart of the Mendocino Women’s Political Coalition delivers a Land Back Acknowledgement as incumbent Third District Supervisor John Haschak looks at her and challenger Clay Romero in the red hat sits to his left. [Photographs provided by Sarah Reith]

The candidates for Third District Supervisor and County Superintendent of Schools took questions at the Little Lake Grange in Willits on Sunday afternoon.

Incumbent Third District Supervisor John Haschak and challenger Clay Romero differed on most issues, though each expressed support for the local cannabis industry, and they agreed that they would prefer to keep the county museum in Willits open. Haschak has the endorsements of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance and the Covelo Cannabis Advocacy Group. 

In his opening remarks, Romero spoke about being “very critical of government-mandated lockdowns.” His website declares that masks have “very limited effectiveness,” and goes on to provide a popular piece of medical misinformation that wearing a mask for more than an hour will lead to other diseases.

Romero emphasizes the importance of promoting business and easing regulatory burdens and highlights his commitment to public safety by writing that, as a property owner along the Firco Road, he worked with CalFire on an emergency access route that would allow firefighters access to Brooktrails during an emergency.

The first question on voters’ minds at the grange yesterday was about how candidates plan to prepare for a long-lasting drought. Romero offered two points, saying, “A significant amount of the water that’s available is out at Lake Pillsbury. I would be in favor of raising Scott Dam to see if we could capture more of that water…but we do need to be prepared with what we have…I know that the rains will come again.”

Haschak does not expect wet conditions to return, due to climate change. He also spoke about funding for water projects, in the context of his work on the drought task force with Supervisor Glenn McGourty, including an ongoing project to draft a policy about extracting water from one location and trucking it to another. He said the county has received $23.3 million in state grants for various projects, but that, outside the Ukiah groundwater basin, “we haven’t had the knowledge of what we have in our aquifers and the quality of that water. So we really need to work on getting grants to get that kind of knowledge…especially in Covelo, Laytonville, Willits,” he reported.

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The candidates have decidedly different views on climate change, with Romero expressing reluctance to allocate county money to counter or prepare for it. “I think it’s probably ill-conceived,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake to be addressing something like this and identifying money to be spent on something that ultimately would lead to no fruition at all…because when you’re talking about the globe, what about the incredible environmental damage that’s going on in China? They don’t seem to be even remotely concerned with what we’re calling climate change.”

Haschak is a believer in climate change, saying, “If we don’t do anything, we are all going to perish from it.” He said he was proud of the Board of Supervisors’ unanimous decision to allot $2 million to carbon reduction initiatives like solar panels. He added that he serves on the Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG), which is working on installing more electric car chargers, and that he and Supervisor Dan Gjerde are working with Sonoma Clean Power to get customer rebates for energy-efficient appliances.

Some questions went unanswered by either candidate, with Haschak taking up his allotted time to explain the complexities of an issue and Romero providing answers that were lean on detail. One question, about whether or not the candidates would enforce state laws, even if they disagreed with them, referred directly to frustration over pandemic restrictions and their as-yet unquantified fallout. Haschak said that, “Certainly, if a law is passed, we have to abide by it because it’s a state law. But the process is, we try to amend it, make it so it serves our needs way beforehand.” As an example, he added that  the state budget has just come out, “and there were some things, such as the elimination of the cannabis cultivation tax, which the County of Mendocino had promoted and lobbied for.”

Romero provided a counterpoint, assuring the public that, if elected, “I would really much rather be representing and looking out for the interests of the people I represent, over some meddlesome state agency. I’m here to represent you. And I’m certainly not going to be put upon by any agency, whether it’s state or federal. Now, I may not have a choice in the matter. Maybe they’ve got something over my head, as surely as a rock hitting me in the head. But ultimately, when it comes right down to it, I’m still a citizen of this county, of this state, of the United States. And I will pen a letter that will be in the best interest of the people, that they are not put upon by a law that I find harmful or detrimental to you.”

 The Race for County Superintendent of Schools 

County Superintendent of Schools candidates, incumbent Michelle Hutchins, on the right, looking at challenger Nicole Glentzer. Moderator Sherrie Ebyam is in the background.

Incumbent Michelle Hutchins and challenger Nicole Glentzer are both former school superintendents, and each brings a wealth of endorsements to the race. Hutchins counts state leaders, two county supervisors, retired sheriff Tom Allman and the Mendocino College president among her supporters. Glentzer has the backing of the school labor unions, including the employees of the Mendocino County Office of Education, four school superintendents, and two other county supervisors.

In her opening statement, Hutchins spoke about building a new system at MCOE, saying, “Before my first term, the Office passed state money directly to districts, instead of providing the services prescribed by the California Department of Education. This resulted in outdated resources and low student achievement. I changed that. I created a new management team and built the capacity to serve all twelve districts and twelve charter schools effectively and efficiently.”

Glentzer said if elected, she would foster more local collaboration. “I would be much more targeted in reaching out to our district leaders and to our charter school leaders,” she said, recalling that when she first became the superintendent of the Potter Valley School District, she was introduced to key people and assigned a mentor. “They provided so much support. And that’s an area I would like to change,” she declared.  

Hutchins identified stagnant educational scores as her most pressing concern and spoke about how she is addressing the problem. She said that currently if one sub-population of students falls behind, the state provides the County Office of Education what is called differentiated assistance, an approach she regards as reactive, rather than proactive. “That needs to switch to a more preventative approach,” she said; “where we’re not waiting for students to fail, and instead guiding districts with an improvement mindset from the beginning.” She said all 58 county superintendents of schools have asked the State Legislature to change the way differentiated assistance is funded. “And that successfully made it into the May revise,” she concluded.

Glentzer doesn’t believe any of the issues can be addressed without adequate staff. “So we need to work on recruitment,” she emphasized. “We need to work on the mental health of the people who are currently in our school districts. And we need to give them the support that they require…I’ve kind of defined the last several years of my career in supporting the adults in our educational system.” She added that schools provide students with things they don’t all get at home, asserting that, “One of the strongest indicators of student achievement is the family. Do they come from money? Do they speak English? Do they have a house? Those are not things that schools can control, though. But that has the biggest influence on student achievement. So that means that the role of the school is to be the great equalizer for students, to focus on equity.” She said Fort Bragg and Ukiah school districts provide students with “really cool tools…so that the cool things that wealthy kids get, poor kids get, too.”

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When the candidates were asked if they had supported students returning to school in 2020-2021, Hutchins provided historical context for her advocacy. She reminded the public that MCOE had crafted a “road to reopening” workbook, that laid out how the schools should return to in-person learning. Then, the day before Ukiah Unified, the largest school district in the county, was scheduled to reopen, the Governor retroactively placed the county in the purple tier, which shut down all reopening plans. “We called the Governor, and we made a big stink,” she said. “So much so that it was recorded on EdSource, and you can see the interview…so it made state-level news. Unfortunately, the Governor held firm, and would not allow those school districts to open, despite the noise we made.”

Glentzer highlighted her work on implementing safety measures, including vaccine clinics. “I was definitely part of pushing hard to get students back into school,” she said. “We had work with our unions to do, and we had work with our parents and students to do. It was super challenging.” She said that, as a bilingual Spanish speaker, she helped families register for vaccinations, to bring staff and students back safely. “It was very apparent that through remote learning, students were really suffering,” she said. “And we needed to do everything we could to get them back into school.” 

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Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith is a radio and print reporter working in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, focusing on local politics and environmental news.

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