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What is the role of a school board member in Kern County?

During the pandemic, school board meetings became a place of great debate for many parents across the nation. But what exactly is the role of a county board ?
Kern High School District
Posted at 4:36 PM, Oct 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-11 13:10:40-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Office of Education at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools essentially works as the middleman between state and individual school districts. You could think of the education system as a pyramid with the state on top, then the county of education, followed by the school districts and their schools.

Every county across the state has a board of education. In Kern County, there are 46 school districts represented by seven areas with a board member for each area. And although each school district has board members for individual school-based decisions, they play a role in some student-related decisions.

"Primary responsibilities are to approve the LCAPs for the county office of education," explains Robert Meszaros, the director of communications for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. "They also hear student expulsion appeals and interdistrict transfer appeals and, in some instances, approve charter schools."

The Local Control and Accountability Plan or LCAP budget that Meszaros mentioned is what the Kern County Superintendent of Schools uses to create a plan for programs and services provided, such as their special education programs and court and community schools.

"It is important to note that the county board of education does not have jurisdiction over the 46 school districts in Kern County. Each of the districts in Kern County have their own elected board of trustees."

Still, many parents are paying closer attention to these races than in previous years. 23ABC political analyst Ivy Cargile says the county board parents want those people elected to reflect the community we live in.

"As a parent, I'm sure they are concerned about what their kids are being exposed to and what they are not being exposed to, which is also important in the number of hours that they are at school on any given day."

THE CANDIDATES

Meet the candidates running for Area 7 school board

The pandemic changed how many parents look at school boards as we saw a string of confrontations between both parties across the nation and Kern County has been no stranger to those heated debates. That is actually what prompted some of the people running this year to throw their hats in the ring.

"Those things are inappropriate to bring up in a classroom when there are many families who disagree with that type of discussion in the classroom," said Lori Cisneros.

Cisneros is running for the board of education in Area 7 which covers Tehachapi, Mojave, El Tejo, Caliente, and the South Fork Union School District. She is focusing on parent rights and talked about concerns over gender or LGBTQ-based conversations, Critical Race Theory, and vaccine mandates.

Adding all of these should be at a parent’s discretion and not in the classroom.

Cisneros was a teacher for 20 years at public and charter schools, until her district let her go because she did not get the required COVID-19 vaccine which she says is what prompted her to run this year.

Four years ago, she moved from Bakersfield to Tehachapi where she now teaches farm sustainability to kids K-12. When asked about her main concerns, this was the response:

"Number 1 is to make sure that these meetings are available to the public so they know firsthand in the moment, what this board is making a decision on."

Since meetings are not recorded, she says it is just not feasible for parents from her area to attend the meetings and just miss them. She says school safety is right up there on her priority list.

And that is the main priority for the incumbent to this seat.

"Things we are dealing with, with drugs, alcohol, and abuse at home. Just so many that we are unaware of for so many years that now that they are coming to light, having the capability and funding to deal with those particular issues is critically important," said Ernest Bell.

Bell is a Ridgecrest native and was appointed to the position last year, he is hoping to be elected this time around.

Bell spent 35 years in education, as the superintendent of the Sierra Sands Unified School District, teacher, coach, and principal. He says one thing he has noticed and wants to continue working on is the teacher shortage.

"Living in the outline areas like most of us in area 7, that becomes a very difficult process. I want to be involved in the things that we can do to help our communities and try to find ways to attract teachers."

Bell says although very open-minded, he also has conservative values and has learned the position doesn’t have too much power in certain areas that oversee class lessons.

Both will be on the ballot this year for Area 7 in the board of education race.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article mentioned the County Board of Education approved local district LCAP budgets, however they only approve the LCAP for their own office.