Rancho Santa Fe School board candidates speak at PIC meeting
By Karen Billing
The Rancho Santa Fe Public Interest Committee (PIC) hosted the five Rancho Santa Fe School District board candidates at PIC’s meeting held at the RSF Golf Club on Oct. 16. Richard Burdge, Tyler Seltzer, Lorraine Brovick-Kent, Heather Slosar and Todd Buchner are all vying for three spots on the school board. The candidates introduced themselves to the committee and shared their platforms and goals.
One of two incumbent candidates, Burdge shared the good news that the district’s Academic Performance Index (API) scores are the highest in the school’s history and that in a ranking of 100 similar schools in the state, the elementary school is ranked fourth and the middle school ranked third in the state.
None of the surrounding schools are considered similar schools.
Burdge said what he offers the community the most is continuity as a longtime board member. In Burdge’s eight years on the board, he said he’s seen increased test scores, the passage of the bond and renovating Rowe, the installation of an artificial turf, upgrades to the Performing Arts Center and the technology program, and a finalization of a parking agreement with the Association on the Dacus property, a very long process.
A PIC member asked about the demographics that were used to pass the bond to upgrade the school that said enrollment would increase when in fact enrollment has gone down.
Burdge said the board used figures provided by Davis Demographics that turned out to be wrong — at the time there were 858 students and they were looking at a projected number of 1,200 students, which Burdge said “fueled the panic” to find a new school site.
Currently, the enrollment is at 650 and Burdge said he thinks everything worked out OK.
“I feel like the community got a very good deal in the long run,” Burdge said.
Like Burdge, fellow incumbent Seltzer said continuity also makes him a strong candidate, as he was appointed to the board 13 months ago out of six candidates after trustee Jim Cimino moved. He said he feels like he’s been an effective leader on the board and works well with his colleagues.
He also stressed the importance of his being a “native son”— both Seltzer and his wife were born and raised in Rancho Santa Fe, attended the Village Preschool, and graduated from Rowe and Torrey Pines High. He currently has two children at Rowe and one in preschool.
Having attended the “tremendous” school, he said he has a unique perspective of what it is like as a student and how important and special it is.
Seltzer said he also offers fiscal discipline from his background in business.
When asked what the biggest challenge the district faces is, Seltzer said aside from challenges with state funding, he said it would be to handle the school’s “embarrassment of riches.”
“There are so many wonderful things at the school, it’s how to maximize every one of those things for the students that are there,” Seltzer said, noting it’s important to deliver for every family what they need be it in science, sports, music, technology or foreign language.
Buchner is relatively new to the district, having moved to Rancho Santa Fe two and a half years ago with his wife and four children, but he said he wasted no time getting involved with the school. Last year he served as the RSF Education Foundation finance chair.
His desire to serve on the board was shaped by an experience with his son as a student at the school. Days into his son being at Rowe, he came home and said he felt like his “brain was melting” and that he wasn’t being challenged. Buchner met with the principal and superintendent and they were able to work together to create a plan for his son.
“That personalized touch enabled my son to never look back, he had an unbelievable year,” Buchner said. “I don’t know what the secret sauce is, but it’s magical.”
He said as a board member he’d like to see the district continue to foster that same sort of “secret sauce” and attract new families to the school and community.
He would also like to ensure the district gets the most out of every single dollar so the students and facilities are well served. He believes he brings valuable experience with his background of 20-plus years as a managing director at Credit Suisse and A Better Colgate for Colgate University, learning about best practices of boards in higher education.
As a mother of five, Slosar spoke about how she will be dropping children off at Rowe until 2025. Taking a cue from her sixth grader, she’s using the campaign slogan of “Yes or No Sir, Vote for Slosar.”
Slosar said she understands budget and finance concerns from a background working in labor relations and received her master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology, working with teens and children before becoming a stay-at-home mom.
As a 10-year Rancho Santa Fe resident, she is a member of the RSF Library Guild board, Tennis Club and successfully worked with the Association to get new playground equipment for the Covenant.
Slosar said she had concerns about the school’s test scores, its ranking and the district’s spending—she said the school spends 60 percent more than the average school in San Diego County.
Comparing RSF School to all schools (not similar school ranking), she said the district has dropped over the years and is not the highest ranked in the county. She said while she believes that Rowe is a fabulous school, she wants to keep spending controlled and demand “more bang for our buck.”
She said she’d like to see the district not just pat itself on the back for test score gains but continue to get better, using data to improve demographics that are underperforming.
Kent has also been a longtime parent at Rowe, having had a child in the school for 16 years with her last still in elementary school.
She brings experience as a managing director at Equifax National Decision Systems for 14 years and as a parent who is familiar with all stages of education.
Her goals on the board would be to have the best school in the county, be prudent in spending by getting the best possible education for their money and to provide transparency of operations by incorporating parent and community voices.
“We need a forum to hear parents’ views on key issues and expenditures before they happen,” Kent said.
She would also like to better align junior high students with the next tier of education and adopt international benchmarks in math and science to allow students to compete globally.
When asked what the biggest challenges facing the district are, Kent said it is for them to remain competitive.
“A lot of schools feed into Torrey Pines and other local high schools and I think it’s important to know what they’re doing,” Kent said, noting one of her children didn’t feel as prepared in high school as others from Carmel Valley schools. “Carmel Valley has outperformed us since 2005 and I’d like to see that change.”