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Candidates for Mesa School Board Focus on Learning Center


One of the smallest school districts in the county has attracted one of the smallest races, with only one person challenging two incumbents for the two seats open on the board of Mesa Union Elementary School District.

Steven Torres, an insurance specialist, is vying for one of the seats, while incumbents Carl B. Grether and Paula Hoffman are running for reelection.

Located just outside of Camarillo, the school district has one school, 24 teachers and 553 students. The district serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Because of its size, educators say classes are small, parents are involved and students receive significant individual attention. However, because money is tied to student enrollment, the district often struggles to offer new programs or classes.

So when the district recently received developer fees to build a multipurpose center at the school, parents and teachers were thrilled. Now the school board is petitioning the state for $1 million to completely fund the project. The center will have a computer lab, library, performing arts area and science lab, and will allow the district to free up space for regular classrooms.

But if the district doesn't get matching money from the state, Supt. Sharon McClain said, the board may have to consider a bond campaign. "If we could not finish the building, we would look at other funding sources or we would have to scrap the idea," she said.

If everything works as planned, construction on the $2-million center will begin in late spring, and the building will open in the fall.

The incumbents, who have helped plan the multipurpose center, said they want to see the project through. Torres said he would help the district raise funds for computers and lab equipment for the new building.

All three candidates also stressed the need to continue raising students' test scores, which according to McClain have improved over the previous year. Hoffman said additional teacher training could boost scores even more. Grether and Torres said the school should expand its curriculum and offer after-school tutoring. But Grether warned that the district shouldn't expend all of its energy on the exams. "I believe in raising test scores, but I don't believe in teaching to the test," he said.

Grether, a 44-year-old rancher, has lived in Camarillo for 15 years. He has three children--ages 9, 12 and 14. He said he wants to expand technology, art and music programs. He also wants the district to complete renovation projects at the school. This is his first term on the board.

Hoffman, 44, teaches part time at Moorpark College and does volunteer work in schools and the community. She has two teenage children and has lived in Camarillo for 16 years. She wants to continue reducing class sizes. "Four years was not enough time to do all the things that need to be done at Mesa," Hoffman said of her first term.

Torres, 38, is a corporate insurance analyst and has lived in Camarillo for 33 years. He has three children--ages 3, 5 and 8. He is president of the Mesa Education Foundation, which raises money for arts, science and technology programs in schools. Torres said he wants to help the district form partnerships with local businesses.

"I'm hoping that if I get on, I'll bring some new blood and new ideas," he said. "And I've got a long-term vested interest in the future of the school because my kids are so young."

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