ELECTION ’12//HAYWARD SCHOOL BOARD | Hayward Unified School District candidates gathered at the Skywest Golf Course last night for the first forum since board members, Jesus Armas and Maribel Heredia, didn’t file for re-election after a salacious affair was exposed between the two sitting members. The scandal has left community leaders, local media and candidates publicly silent about the affair opting to discuss the “bickering” instead of the affair.

Candidates on Wednesday night decided to stick to familiar ground treaded and discuss leadership, consensus building and “making sure everyone is on the same page,” as candidate Peter Bufete put it. “This is part of my background. I spend a lot of time building trust between people and between myself and other folks. I feel my endorsements reflect the trust I built in this community, from labor to business,” said Hayward Planning Commissioner Sara Lamnin who ran for city council two years ago. Others reiterated the common point from Cal State East Bay administrator, Annette Walker, school teacher John Taylor, former city council candidate, Peter Bufete, and Heather Reyes of the HUSD Fiscal Integrity & Transparency Advisory Group. Only incumbent Luis Reynoso, who is up for re-election this fall brought up the affair.

 “The problem isn’t the bickering, it’s about fraud and corruption and if you are so naïve to think that the board has to smile and rubber stamp everything then you shouldn’t be running for the school board,” said Reynoso to a few cheers in support of him in the crowd. “No one questions the affair, why is that? What is going on?” Reynoso mentioned two California school districts, Sweetwater and Calexico, as examples of boards that “rubber stamp” but now are in legal trouble, “They are all going to jail now,” said Reynoso.

 Some candidates were more open to discuss the affair after the forum. Lamnin said that she is looking for a way to approach the issue without “harming the students,” and discuss it in a “productive way.” Bufete has remained silent on the affair but believes that his connection to Armas because of his friendship with his son will not harm his run for the school board. Bufete admitted to The Citizen last month that Armas had suggested to him to run for the school board after the incumbent decided not to run for re-election.

Deficit and bullying were other topics asked about by the moderator, Hal Gin, from Asian Pacific American Public Affairs Association (APAPA) who hosted the event. Discussion of the $12 million reserve that was actively talked about at the last school board meeting was discussed about at some length. Walker said that she would look for a way to spend that money appropriately. Walker noted the deficit spending by the district but added that “We need to make sure that the limited dollars that we have go to teachers and students.”

 Reynoso stated soon after that the $12 million can not be touched because the district must maintain a 3 percent reserve at minimum. He further argued for fiscal realignment to maintain fiscal accountability in spending, “When we find money, we always find ways to spend it. It isn’t about the money, it is about realignment with the money that we have,” said Reynoso. Others expressed wariness of making cuts that could potentially hurt students and classrooms and advocated for smarter spending. Lamnin wanted greater transparency so that public knew where the money was going and how it was being spent.

 The issues concerning spending and fiscal accountability is a problem that candidates recognized will change at some length depending on the passage of Proposition 30 this November which seeks to raise taxes on those making $250,000 a year and raise statewide sales tax by a quarter cent. Bullying, or public safety, was an issue that Taylor said needed to be addressed with a two prong approach with campus police and security teams hired by the police. Walker emphasized making sure that parents are notified when a student doesn’t show up for class.

 Candidates exemplified stout talking points and confidence, notably Bufete who showed greater confidence in his knowledge and public speaking capabilities since he ran for Hayward city council last spring. Reyes on the other hand was short in answers, less specific and visibly nervous. She later admitted to this even on Facebook, “I was excited by the forum, but also extremely nervous!”

 Taylor recently was endorsed by the Alameda Democratic Party, which he said is because of his years of experience as a teacher. Taylor has been awarded in recent years with Teacher of the Year and Educator of the Year. Although he was rather silent about Armas during the forum he spoke more openly afterwards about his inability to garner the Hayward Chamber of Commerce endorsement, “Well look who is on the council!” said Taylor referring to Armas. Taylor said that he didn’t understand why a current sitting board member was part of an endorsement process for candidates that will be replacing him this fall. The candidates that were endorsed by the Chamber were Bufete, Walker and Lamnin. Wandra Williams, another candidate, was not present Wednesday night. The second forum will be hosted by the Hayward Demos Democratic Club and will be held at the Westminster Church in Hayward Sept. 21. 

 Shane Bond is a regular contributor to the East Bay Citizen.