SHAFTER, Calif. (KERO) — This November, voters across Kern County will be voting in local school board races. These races have the potential to shape the directions communities will take for years to come.
The Kern County Board of Education is limited on their role on local school-based decisions, but still play a role on deciding about things like charter schools and expulsions. Those decisions can have lasting impacts on a child’s educational journey, which is ultimately what has prompted two candidates to run for Area 2, which covers schools in Taft, Shafter, McFarland, and Delano.
Joe Marcano is currently a supervising deputy district attorney for Kern County. He is originally from the Los Angeles area, but has been working in Kern for the past 14 years.
As a deputy DA, Marcano worked with the Gang and Violent Crimes Unit, as well as the Narcotics Unit in northwest Kern County, the area he is currently running to represent on the school board.
“I’m all about competition among schools. I am pro charter schools,” said Marcano. “I think competition is good for public school sand charter schools. I believe in choice for our students. They should be able to go to the school they want to go to.”
In the county DA’s office, Marcano says he has seen younger and younger students committing serious crimes like bringing drugs, including fentanyl, to school, sexual assault, and carrying weapons. He says that after so many attempts from the district to correct those students’ behavior, it is important to be more firm with students he describes as “problematic.”
“At some point, the criminal justice system has to get involved, and unfortunately, sometimes those kids need to be referred to probation, and they might have to have a juvenile petition filed against them,” said Marcano.
Running against Marcano is Kern County native Joan Smith. Smith was appointed to the Area 2 Kern County School Board seat a little over a year ago. Smith is also a professor at California State University Bakersfield. She says she has looked at parent and district concerns when making expulsion decisions.
“Strong believer in restorative justice,” said Smith. “There are some cases where some of my questions have been to a district official. ‘What have you done to make things better for this particular student?’ Perhaps they are a student of color in a school where they feel like they don’t have a voice, or perhaps they are a student with special ed needs, so we have to look at all those issues.”
Smith has been a public school teacher for 39 years, and says her opinions on charter schools has changed since taking her seat on the board.
“I am definitely not against charter schools, but I do believe that we need to hold them accountable for really being a public school and meeting every student’s need,” said Smith.
Each candidate was asked about the unique challenges faced by this area, which includes McFarland, Taft, Wasco, and other communities.
“It’s a working class area,” answered Marcano. “Being able to promote the English language as much as we can and having a good command of the English language.”
“Our accessing resources,” said Smith. “Because we are not step-chlidren. We are not in the center of Kern County, but we are mighty and powerful.”