Santa Cruz City Schools voter Deborah Christie, 64, said she wants school board candidates to share plans for a broader curriculum and more vocational training. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

Get informed on the Nov. 8 local election

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Get informed on the Nov. 8 local election

SANTA CRUZ >> School board members will be selected across Santa Cruz County in the Nov. 8 election. To understand what voters want from school board leaders, Santa Cruz Local interviewed dozens of residents about their needs in interviews and in online surveys.

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Santa Cruz Local focused on school board races in these districts:

  • Pajaro Valley Unified School District
  • Santa Cruz City Schools
  • Live Oak School District
  • Scotts Valley Unified School District
  • Soquel Union Elementary School District
  • Santa Cruz County Office of Education Trustee area 1
  • Santa Cruz County Office of Education Trustee area 2
  • Santa Cruz County Office of Education Trustee area 7

We asked voters about their priorities and concerns for school board candidates. Here are some of the top themes that emerged from respondents.

Higher pay for teachers

Scotts Valley resident Denise Gorelick, 54, said she commutes one hour to work as a special education teacher in Redwood City. She said pay was “absolutely a factor” in her decision not to work closer to home.

“There’s a huge teacher shortage, as I’m sure you’re well aware,” said Gorelick. “And honestly, until our government decides that we are valued members of a working community, things aren’t going to change.”

Gorelick was one of many residents across Santa Cruz County who expressed concern about teachers leaving local school districts for better pay elsewhere.

Alejandra Rodriguez, 39, a first-grade teacher and mother of two, said she moved from Watsonville to Salinas because she found more affordable housing. After a year off work to take care of her newborn, Rodrigiuez said she now commutes from Salinas to Watsonville for her teaching job.

“Salinas (school) districts pay more, but my (12-year-old) daughter just started school in Watsonville,” said Rodriguez. “I’m struggling to afford daycare now that I’m going to work. I’m not low-income so I don’t get help with child care. Everything is for migrants or agriculture workers. If I do find an opening, it’s like my whole check is going there. So what’s the point of working?” Rodriguez asked.

Broader curriculum

Santa Cruz resident and retired teacher Deborah Christie, 64, said she wants to see more high school programs for students that are not college bound. Christie wanted more options when her son was in high school. “Having a brilliant son who questioned authority (makes me) believe we need more vocational training and hands-on learning,” she said.

Mental health support

Watsonville resident Mockalee McDonald works at Soquel High School.

“I’m one mental health specialist at a high school of 1,000 students. So that’s the only social emotional support that that school has,” McDonald said in an interview Wednesday at the Capitola Esplanade. “I have kids coming in — it’s really severe, you know. Anxiety, panic attacks, just lots of mental health issues.”

McDonald said she wanted to ask school board candidates, “What’s their plan for funding mental health services in the schools on an ongoing basis?”

Safety

For Watsonville District 5 resident Maria Martinez, increased school safety and more youth activities are her top priorities for candidates in the Nov. 8 local election.

“I want more safety for the youth,” Martinez said at El Mercado farmers market in Watsonville this month. She runs a farm stand at the market.

Martinez said she sends her son to high school in Monterey County largely because she’s concerned about guns, drugs and fights in local schools and public areas. “I’m afraid to let him go to the park by himself because of safety and security here in Watsonville,” she said through a Spanish interpreter.

Katie Tapiz, 22, was one of several Watsonville residents who said they were concerned about school shootings elsewhere in the nation. Tapiz said she wanted Pajaro Valley Unified School District board candidates to share plans for campus safety.

“I’m talking about guns,” Tapiz said. “My little brother is 8 and he goes to public school. I get chills when I talk about it. I get worried. He’s my baby.”

A People’s Agenda for each district

Based on themes we heard from 74 interviews and 22 separate online survey responses from Santa Cruz County residents, Santa Cruz Local formed these questions for school board candidates. We call these lists our People’s Agenda.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District

  1. Some voters expressed concerns about teacher turnover in Pajaro Valley Unified School District. They wanted higher pay for teachers. Do you agree? If so, how would you adjust the budget to raise teacher pay?
  2. Parents and students had ideas about how to keep school campuses safe from gun violence. What will you do on the board to help ensure safety?
  3. Many Pajaro Valley residents told us they want more after-school activities. What would you do to increase funding and partnerships to expand after-school programs?
  4. Students and parents in the Pajaro Valley described a need for healthier school lunches. What’s your plan to increase healthy lunch options for students?

Santa Cruz City Schools

  1. Santa Cruz City Schools voters told us about a shortage of qualified teachers due to the high cost of living and low wages. They wanted higher pay for teachers. Do you agree? If so, how would you adjust the budget to raise teacher pay?
  2. Some Santa Cruz City Schools said they wanted more vocational training. They wanted more class options and help for students who may not be college bound. What would you do as a school board trustee to broaden those options?
  3. A mental health worker in Santa Cruz City Schools said she’s responsible for serving 1,000 students. She said students have anxiety and panic attacks. How would you prioritize or expand mental health services?

Live Oak School District

  1. Many families in Live Oak School District rely on the district not just for education but also for low-cost food and other social services. How do you prioritize those needs with a limited budget? What more can be done for families?
  2. Santa Cruz City Schools has a proposal to build affordable housing for teachers on school district land. Do you support district-sponsored teacher housing projects? What would you do to help teachers find affordable housing?

Scotts Valley Unified School District

  1. Several Scotts Valley residents told us they want more after-school activities. What would you do to increase funding and partnerships to expand after-school programs?
  2. Some Scotts Valley parents said they were concerned about bullying and problems with social media. What’s your role as a school board member to address that?
  3. Some voters told us they wanted higher pay for teachers to help attract and retain them. How would you prioritize increased pay for teachers?
  4. One Scotts Valley voter said she wants school board members to be in touch with what’s happening in classrooms. When was the last time you were in a Scotts Valley Unified School District classroom?

Soquel Union Elementary School District

  1. Some Soquel Union Elementary School District voters told us they wanted higher pay for teachers to attract and retain them. How would you prioritize increased pay for teachers?
  2. Some voters said they see a need for more mental health services for students. How would you prioritize or expand mental health services?

Santa Cruz County Office of Education Trustee Area 1

  1. Several voters said they wanted more after-school activities. What would you do to increase funding and partnerships to expand after-school programs?
  2. Some parents said they were concerned about bullying and problems with social media. What’s your role as a trustee to address that?
  3. Some voters told us they wanted higher pay for teachers to help attract and retain them. How would you prioritize increased pay for teachers?
  4. One Scotts Valley voter said she wants school board members to be in touch with what’s happening in classrooms. When was the last time you were in a classroom?

Santa Cruz County Office of Education Trustee Area 2

  1. Santa Cruz voters told us about a shortage of qualified teachers due to the high cost of living and low wages. They wanted higher pay for teachers. Do you agree? If so, how would you adjust the budget to raise teacher pay?
  2. Some Santa Cruz voters said they wanted more vocational training. They wanted more class options and help for students who may not be college bound. What would you do as a school board trustee to broaden those options?
  3. Santa Cruz City Schools has proposed to build affordable housing for teachers on school district land. Do you support district-sponsored teacher housing projects? What would you do to help teachers find affordable housing?

Santa Cruz County Office of Education Trustee Area 7

  1. Some Pajaro Valley voters expressed concerns about teacher turnover. They wanted higher pay for teachers. Do you agree? If so, how would you adjust the budget to raise teacher pay?
  2. Parents and students had various ideas about how to keep school campuses safe from gun violence. What will you do on the board to help ensure safety?
  3. Many Pajaro Valley residents told us they want more after-school activities. What would you do to increase funding and partnerships to expand after-school programs?

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Kara Meyberg Guzman contributed to this report. Oscar Rios provided Spanish interpretation.

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]. Santa Cruz Local is funded by members, major donors, sponsors and grants for the general support of our newsroom. Our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support. Learn more about Santa Cruz Local and how it is funded.

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Natalya Dreszer is Santa Cruz Local's community engagement and business development coordinator.