Scotts Valley Unified School District candidates on teacher pay, mental health and declining enrollment

Scotts Valley High School.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Sixteen candidates are running for nine seats in five school districts across Santa Cruz County. Lookout sent questionnaires to all of them, asking about the most pressing issues facing their schools. Here, we take a look at Scotts Valley Unified School District.

Ahead of the Nov. 8 election, Lookout is taking a deep dive into school district races with a three-part series exploring the biggest issues in education.

This piece marks the second installment, looking at school board candidates, starting with Scotts Valley Unified School District. (Find our first installment, an analysis of the biggest issues in education, here.)

Voters must pick from four candidates to fill two open seats in the district. The candidates are incumbents Corey Warner and Roger Snyder, along with two new faces: literacy consultant Lucia Rocha-Nestler and nutritionist Patricia Adams. (Warner did not respond to the questionnaire.)

Students, parents and administrators previously told Lookout that they are most concerned about teacher pay and retention, equity, mental health, declining enrollment and learning loss from the pandemic.

We asked the candidates how they would approach each issue. Here are the highlights from their answers. Their full responses, edited for length and clarity, are also included below:

1. Increasing teacher pay

Main takeaways: Candidates are divided on the issue. Rocha-Nestler argues for placing a parcel tax or bond on the next ballot to help boost teacher pay. Adams wants to push for more transparency for taxpayers with the school district’s budget, while Snyder advocates for pressing the state to improve the funding formula.

2. Addressing student mental health challenges

Main takeaways: Candidates agree that student mental health is important and needs to be prioritized, but didn’t offer specific solutions. Snyder argues that recent investments by the district are starting to make a difference.

3. Closing the student achievement gap that widened during the pandemic

Main takeaways: Rocha-Nestler argues for greater support for the most vulnerable students, while Adams points to improving hands-on learning, including career and technical training. Snyder believes programs started with state and federal funds are already working to help close the learning gap.

4. Reversing declining student enrollment

Main takeaways: Candidates are divided on how to boost enrollment. Rocha-Nestler argues that the district needs to better support diversity and inclusion efforts, while Adams argues for giving parents more of a voice. Snyder says the district needs to continue working to attract and retain teachers.

5. Tackling equity and inclusion issues

Main takeaways: Snyder and Rocha-Nestler say school officials need to continue adopting the recommendations from a report by Inclusion Counts — a consultant the district hired to assess equity issues. Adams argues that schools need to emphasize similarities over differences and focus on creating equality of opportunities for students.

6. Discussing other issues that concern them

Main takeaways: Snyder says voters will need to pass another local bond to upgrade three of the district’s campuses and address deferred maintenance, while Adams says the district needs to address the concerns of parents if it hopes to prevent families from unenrolling their children from local public schools. Rocha-Nestler didn’t provide an answer.

Full questions and answers are below (edited for length and clarity):

Question: How important is it to your district to pay teachers and staff competitive salaries compared to other higher-paying districts? How would you propose increasing pay? If not, why not?

Lucia Rocha-Nestler: The teacher salary problem is really a huge deal for me. We have to find a way to pay teachers at least a living wage. Teacher salary is directly linked to teacher retention and attraction. That is directly linked to student achievement.

We also need to find a long-term solution to the problem. The current board is advocating for a change to the funding formula that is used by the state/federal government. But in addition to that, I think that as a community, we need to rally around our teachers and place a parcel tax or bond on the next ballot to provide long-term support for teachers and our schools. Raising the teacher salary will only impact students positively, as well as our community at large.

Patricia Adams: Three things are of utmost importance in our Scotts Valley schools. They are, not necessarily in this order: teacher salaries, student safety, and budget transparency. With our multimillion-dollar Scotts Valley budget, there’s no reason teachers should be paid so far below the standard. I know from being a business owner — owning both my current and former businesses — that certain things must take priority in a budget. Transparency will help so much and including, rather than excluding, taxpayers’ voice about expenditures will ensure the best outcome for our parents, our taxpayers, our students and our teachers.

Roger Snyder: The single biggest factor that influences the success of our students is the quality of the teachers in our classrooms. So it’s crucial that we pay as much as we can to attract and retain great teachers. Unfortunately, current state funding formulas disadvantage Scotts Valley schools, providing us with one of the lowest per-pupil grants in the entire state. In my six years on the board, I have tried to address this in three ways:

  1. Helped pass a parcel tax in 2018 that added $700,000 per year to our budget, which has gone toward increasing teacher pay.
  2. Raised awareness with other elected officials of our problem, talking with state Sen. John Laird, Assemblymember Mark Stone and U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta.
  3. Joined the California School Board Association (CSBA) to advocate for full and fair funding in Sacramento.

I was recently appointed to CSBA’s Policy Platform Committee, which will allow me to continue to advocate for change, if I’m reelected this year.

As voters head to the polls to decide on school board candidates and school bonds, what are the concerns those in the...

Question: Do you think there are enough mental health resources in your district? If not, how would you change or add to them? If you do think there are enough resources, have the recent additions of more mental health counselors schools had a positive impact?

Lucia Rocha-Nestler: I don’t think that we will ever have enough mental health resources because mental health should be a top priority in our district — especially now as we return from the pandemic. I consider mental health a part of emotional intelligence, a skill that we work on for the entirety of our lives, and a school system should support that. I think that the SVUSD counselors are outstanding but schools are asking for more support.

Patricia Adams: Our mental health resources must be updated, as children are suffering greatly from the COVID-19 response by Sacramento, our health department and our local school board. The fear that continues to plague many of our local students will not be easily overcome. When you add this to difficulties that children face growing into adolescence, we have an uphill battle to protect our most vulnerable. Recent additions to the mental health workers have helped, but it remains to be seen if it is sufficient.

Roger Snyder: Mental health and social-emotional learning have been so important in the face of the pandemic challenges we’ve been facing these past three years. We have recently hired more counseling resources and campus supervisors, but we’re also leveraging professional development and resources at the county level to further support our students and staff. These include:

  • Trauma-informed training.
  • Suicide prevention training.
  • Continued use of our restorative justice practices for discipline.
  • Hope Squad for student peer-to-peer support.

It’s still early, but we’re hearing that these additional resources are making a difference. As our students’ needs evolve, we’ll continue to look for ways to help improve their mental and social-emotional health.

Question: Do schools have enough resources to address learning loss caused by the pandemic? If not, what do you propose your school district do to close the learning loss gap?

Lucia Rocha-Nestler: SVUSD schools are not well funded in a typical year, let alone years of suffering through the pandemic, so I am certain that schools are not well resourced. I think the district and schools do an incredible job at supporting most kids, but we still have a lot of growth to do with kids in our subgroups and especially [English learners, students of low socioeconomic status, special ed students and foster youth]. The achievement gap has gotten wider for some of the subgroups. I think the district has to support the social emotional parts of learning and build better systems to support a multitiered system of intervention, especially in regards to Tier 1 instruction.

Note: Rocha-Nestler is referring to Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a framework used to support students well-being and academic success. Tier 1 is the broadest system of supports that is provided to all students. Tiers 2 and 3 become increasingly targeted to fewer students.

Patricia Adams: It’s going to take years to recover the percentages of learning loss that we’ve recently been updated on. The extended distance learning did not help our kids! Now our community must come together to support our teachers and students. We must not diminish the importance of hands-on education. Let’s work with the county to incorporate career and technical education!

Roger Snyder: With the pandemic supplemental funds we’ve received from state and federal programs we’ve added more support for our teachers and students.

These include:

  • Focused assessments given more frequently to assess reading and math needs;
  • Additional learning opportunities at all grades;
  • Professional development for our teachers to better equip them to help students.

This is a problem that will take multiple years to address. But with new leadership at the district level, we will keep our attention on helping our students overcome learning losses both academically and socially.

Question: How do you plan to address declining student enrollment?

Lucia Rocha-Nestler: I really need to study and learn more about the reasons for declining student enrollment. There are systemic problems that have plagued the district for a long time and community members have certainly shared their concerns with others. I think we have to address the district reputation and the outlook that it presents to the community so that it doesn’t just say it supports diversity and inclusivity and supports all students when the actions don’t follow suit.

Patricia Adams: When parents feel like their kids are being left behind, when parents feel like their child is not being listened to, when parents feel disrespected, they vote with their feet and unenroll the child. If you want to maintain the student enrollment, and the tax dollars it brings, you must listen to the parents. Giving parents a bigger voice is the answer. When parents don’t agree with school policy and they’re told: “too bad,” or “deal with it.” They’re going to vote with their child’s enrollment. Nobody knows or loves their child like the parents!

Roger Snyder: With few exceptions, most districts in California are facing this problem because of the high cost of living here. In Scotts Valley, it’s even worse given our funding challenges.

First and foremost, we’re doing our best to attract and retain great teachers. But we’ve also taken multiple steps to address these problems:

  • Established our “K-Street Academy” that offers an alternate education for our students, so they can stay in Scotts Valley and be a part of our Scotts Valley High student body.
  • Encouraged inter-district transfers to attract students to our county-leading schools, and our international baccalaureate program.
  • Working on offering a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment in our schools, so students feel safe and ready to learn, and therefore want to stay here.
  • We oversee an online charter school, which provides supplemental funding and attracts students who need this alternate way of learning.

Question: Do you think schools address diversity, equity and inclusion issues adequately? If not, what else should be done in your district to address equity issues?

Lucia Rocha-Nestler: No, and I actually think this is a huge area of growth and improvement for the district. The first thing that should have happened is that the board should have adopted a resolution in regards to DEI work. The Inclusion Counts report [a report from a contracted consultant to assess equity in the district] needs to be at the forefront of the work being done by the district to ensure that all kids and staff are feeling safe and that we are working on DEI work every single day.

Note: The Inclusion Counts report made a wide range of recommendations to improve equity in the district. Recommendations included the resolution Rocha-Nestler mentioned, developing a clear policy for responding to incidents of hate and hiring/promoting/retaining a diverse staff.

Patricia Adams: We have a diverse nation, as it has been for generations. It seems like we are honoring that diversity in our local schools. To be fair to all people, we have to start with what we have in common. We live in the United States of America. We live in the state of California. We are human beings first and foremost. If we begin to focus on our sameness before we focus on our differences, we will begin to heal divisions and divisiveness. Equality comes from knowing that we have an equal opportunity as citizens of this great land. School obviously should reflect this sense of equality, or the parents will not let the students remain.

Roger Snyder: We’ve made good progress in the last two years to address DEI issues, but we still have more work to do on this journey.

We’ve retained Inclusion Counts for a second year to help us address the issues raised in their recent equity report and implement the solutions they’ve suggested.

Most recently, we’ve implemented a cultural heritage calendar to raise awareness of the contributions of leaders from many different backgrounds and a more transparent progressive discipline policy to address bullying issues. As board president in 2019-20 I helped kick off these efforts and if reelected, this will continue to be a major area of focus for me.

Question: What other issue most concerns you and what would you do about it?

Patricia Adams: I am the only candidate who can look at the problem from the viewpoint of representing concerned parents. Each child unenrolled costs Scotts Valley schools money. Let’s work the problem from the other way around: Let’s keep kids and tax dollars in Scott Valley for the benefit of students, teachers, and parents!

Roger Snyder: I helped promote the passage of a school bond in 2014 that led to the remodeling of Scotts Valley Middle School in 2019. But our other three campuses have significant facility needs that need to be addressed.

We need to upgrade our classrooms to be true 21st-century learning centers, support and extend the health and safety measures on our campuses and deal with deferred maintenance issues that come from our poor funding.

We need to tap state matching funding as much as possible, but this will require us to pass another local bond to get this work done for the good of our students, teachers, and staff.



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