Tag Archives: election

Miss a candidate interview? Look here:


Still making up your mind about whom to vote for on the West Sacramento ballot on Tuesday?

Want to help a friend learn more about the folks running for city council or school board?

Here are links to the News-Ledger’s interviews with each of the candidates in these contested local races. Share this page with a friend, or click to visit an interview:

Candidates for West Sacramento City Council

Candidates for the school board of the Washington Unified School District

Copyright News-Ledger 2012



  EDITOR’S NOTE: The West Sacramento News-Ledger newspaper traditionally invites every candidate in a local election to sit down for a published interview. This year, we had the chance to do this with every candidate in the contested local elections (school board and city council; the mayor’s race is uncontested). Below is the last in this series of interviews — our chat with school board member Mary Leland, which was published on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Mary Leland has had a rough year, with the loss of both a parent and a son. But after some soul-searching, she decided to run for a third term as a board member of the Washington Unified School District.

MARY LELAND: Hire the best, and give them encouragement, she says (News-Ledger photo)

“I have been through a lot of tragedies this year,” she told the News-Ledger. “But in the end, I’m not ready to step back and let go of all that motion forward. . . I want to show the community that I’m in it for the long haul.”

Leland, 62, is the chief fundraiser for Sacramento City College, with a master’s degree in education. She came to West Sacramento in 2001, and was encouraged to run for the school board by local business leaders, she reports.

How has WUSD changed since Leland took a seat on the school board?

“Broadly, I think we are providing a much safer environment in terms of the culture of the schools and having students interact with one another,” she said. “A lot of that comes from facilities updates. Changing the environment led to a different culture.”

She points to the remodel at Riverbank Elementary, in the less-affluent north of the city.

“Next to the new high school, one of my proudest moments was watching the Riverbank conversion,” Leland stated. “It really gives them the classrooms and technology they need. They have state-of-the-art technology that (even) our southern schools don’t have.”

The school board has helped bring a new level of professionalism to the district administration, she added.

“From my administrative viewpoint – as board members, we’re all managers – a lot of policies and processes have been put in place to get the work done in a different way. . . I think we’ve brought it to a much more academically professional level. I still think we have a way to go.”

Has the school board of 2012 been functional?

“I think we know how to work together,” she said of the four people now on the board. (The board is in flux: board president Teresa Blackmer is retiring, and board member David Westin, like Leleand, is up for election.)

[adrotate group=”7″]   The district has faced big budget cuts due to state-wide problems. What kind of shape is WUSD in?

“I’m going to say good, because we still have an A+ bond rating,” she answered. “We’re in the black. We’re very fearful of what will happen if Proposition 30 does not pass.”

She supports state proposition 30 – the governor’s measure which would use new taxes partly to help stabilize the state’s own fiscal situation.

How good are WUSD’s schools?

“We’ve gained 82 points in API (student test results) over eight years,” said Leland. “I don’t put that down to the year I was (board) president or so-and-so was president. Over eight years, we as the board, the staff, and certainly the students and school sites have improved by 82 points.”

Leland called this year’s one-point decline in API a “plateau.” To what did she credit recent gains?

“You hire the best teachers, the best principals, and the best administrators you can, and you encourage them to do their work,” she answered.

Where does school instruction go from here?

“We’re looking at innovative strategies in ‘instructional rounds’ and innovative curriculums in science and math,” she said.

“Instructional rounds” include teams of school staff from different campuses, visiting school sites to share techniques and information.

“The teams are made up of different levels of staff,” she said. “You’ll have a principal from one site joining a round at another site.”

Leland feels that charter schools should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and she praised one of them – the Early College Prep academy at the former Westmore Oaks site.

“They’ve had a hard time getting started, but I think they’re going to do great,” she said. “That charter school meets a need for so many students” as does the Sikh-operated charter school, said Leland.

“Overall, just having blanket charter schools because there’s a perception that public schools aren’t doing their jobs – I’d say no.”

If the district receives more funding, where should the money go?

“I think we’re all interested in the north area and really doing something special there. Career technology education speaks to a menu of options for kids – not every child will go to college, but it is our responsibility to prepare them for life.” And “we really need to focus on math,” she added.

Leland said she endorses WUSD challenger Katie Villegas, is impressed by challenger Alicia Cruz, and “can work with” fellow incumbent David Westin if they’re both elected.
Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to select from among these and other candidates.

  Do you like what you see here?

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2012

News-Ledger ballot recommendations:



As West Sacramentans go to the polls during the next week, the community seems to be facing another local election in which most citizens seem fairly happy with the job their city and school district officials are doing.

The mayor faces no opposition on the ballot. Only one challenger is running for city council. And, while a handful of candidates are fighting for spots on the school board, they are in general part of a “let’s make things a bit better” effort as opposed to a “throw the rascals out” groundswell.

The News-Ledger has had a chance to talk with everybody in these contested races, and here are our views as to the best choices on the local ballot:
For city council, there is some clarity among the choices. Two incumbents face a challenge from professional boxer Oleg Maskaev. Incumbents Oscar Villegas and Bill Kristoff clearly have the advantage based on their familiarity with West Sacramento issues and their knowledge of managing a city. Kristoff and Villegas should both be returned for another term.

In the race for three seats on the Washington Unified School District, there is talent spread among a bigger pool of challengers. First, it must be said that Mary Leland is a steady and solid hand among the current school board, and she should be returned for another term.

Second, it’s obvious that Katie Villegas is the best qualified among the challengers – she has experience operating in the corporate-style management structure of the school district, and she understands at least theoretically what a school board should do and (equally important) what it shouldn’t do. She makes a fine choice for a board seat.

[adrotate group=”10″]   For the third available slot, both incumbent David Westin and challenger Alicia Cruz would make sensible choices. Cruz has experience that includes a PTA presidency and membership on the board of directors of a local community group, and she would be a good school board member. Westin’s performance as a board member is far from perfect, but his push for school performance has been of value to Washington Unified. While he certainly does not deserve full credit for the district’s recent gains in student test scores (gains which stalled this year), he deserves a portion of the credit.

Partly because of this, and partly because he is a known quantity, Westin is the better choice for the third available seat.

As a local community newspaper, the News-Ledger in general will refrain from offering opinions on regional, state and local ballot issues.  With one exception:

The governor’s Proposition 30 is an attempt to stabilize California’s shaky fiscal foundation. Its passage or failure will impact local governments and school districts. Voters should vote for Prop. 30, and they should urge their friends and neighbors to do the same.

Voting by mail? Yolo County Clerk Freddie Oakley tells us that a single 45-cent (or Forever stamp) will be enough to make sure this year’s Yolo ballot makes it to the elections department. The ballot isn’t thick enough this year to require extra postage.

Mail your ballot early to be in time for election day next Tuesday!


  Do you like what you see here?

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2012



  EDITOR’S NOTE: This News-Ledger has interviewed each of the candidates running for city council and school board in West Sacramento this fall. Below is the article resulting from our chat with Oscar Villegas, the city councilman seeking another term. We hope these interviews help you make an informed choice at the polls.

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

OSCAR VILLEGAS: believes city getting safer, more family-friendly (News-Ledger photo)

Oscar Villegas is pleased with what he and the rest of the city government have accomplished since he was first elected to the West Sacramento City Council in 2000.

“In 2000, I ran for several reasons,” he told the News-Ledger. “I felt there was no voice for families on the council at that time. There was not a lot of affordable, quality child care (in the city), and not a lot of programs for kids, or a lot of libraries. And I thought there should be more emphasis on public safety. And I had just served two years on the planning commission, and I knew there were some decisions coming up that were going to affect the city forever.”

So what kind of progress does he feel there’s been since 2000?

“I feel so good about it,” said Villegas. “I’d point to the new library first of all. I was on the library committee even before I was on the city council or planning commission. As for the expansion of preschool and afterschool programs, these didn’t exist before I was elected. We’ve also placed a lot of emphasis on public safety, and our neighborhoods are safer because of this.”

How is public safety – police and fire protection – doing?

“Pretty good,” he answered, “despite all the cuts and the fiscal situation we’re in.”

Villegas, 46, is married to Katie Villegas (now a school board candidate) and the couples live in Southport with their two kids. His day job for the state of California is related to law enforcement, which he believes gives him a window into crime and public safety.

“I administer state and federal juvenile and adult reentry dollars,” Villegas said.

“Reentry” refers to programs that try to transition inmates from jails and prisons back into society, without creating too much new crime. There’s a lot of “reentry” going on as California and its local jurisdictions try to trim prison populations to save money in these tough times.

“Every day, a huge number of people are released from the prisons into our communities,” Villegas commented.

The three-term council veteran agrees with his colleagues’ consensus that flood protection is West Sacramento’s top priority.

“If we’re all underwater, nothing else matters,” he opined. “This is our number-one challenge. It will continue to be our number-one challenge for a long time, although we’ve been progressing very nicely (on the levees).”

How well have the mayor and council been working together to lead the city?

“It’s been pretty functional,” Villegas answered. “I talk to a lot of elected officials throughout the state. (West Sacramento’s council is) pretty fortunate – we see eye-to-eye on a lot of the big policy issues. How we may get there is different, but, as far as getting to an end result, we’re pretty well aligned. We’re not engaged in a lot of bickering and arguing.”
[adrotate group=”10″]  Villegas is proud of the town’s emerging downtown, on display near city hall, the community center, city college branch and library – all near the 1000-block of West Capitol Avenue.

“We committed to creating a downtown in West Sacramento,” he said. “Who knew we would be walking around our downtown enjoying ourselves on West Capitol? I sure as heck wouldn’t have have wanted my daughter taking classes at the city college site and crossing the street at night (in the past). Now, I encourage it.”

And he’s happy with the city’s progress in bringing new retail here – for example, the Ikea center near I-80 and Reed Avenue.

“The retail centers off the freeway have attracted the kind of retail everybody wanted,” he said. “Before that, it was a standing joke that you couldn’t buy a pair of underwear in West Sacramento.”

But the council said no to other proposals for the land – including an Indian gaming casino – while holding out for retail.

“We knew beyond a doubt that if we could land Ikea, we would be in the driver’s seat. We could go out and recruit (more) retail.”

There are a lot of empty storefronts in West Sacramento. Is that the fault of city leaders?

“It’s largely driven by ‘rooftops,’” he answered. “There’s a threshold that retail needs to reach in terms of sheer numbers of people in order to be able to fill those storefronts with retail. Some of those storefronts were build in anticipation of continuing the growth pattern we were having, and the growth slowed down. But it will come back.”

What sort of the fiscal shape is the City of West Sacramento in? Pretty good, thinks Villegas.

“We didn’t take the approach that many cities did when things were falling apart in 2008 and 2009, saying ‘oh my God, let’s just make some one time cuts and hope things get better.’”

Instead, said Villegas, West Sacramento’s leaders made structural cuts and opted for the “fiscal discipline” of planning a two-year budget.

“We’ve reduced out (city) workforce by just under 30 percent between 2008 and 2012,” he commented. “Those were well-paid management positions that we just couldn’t afford.”
How’s the climate for business in the city?

“I think it’s good,” he said. “We’re constantly being approached by people who want to do business in West Sacramento.”

Villegas supports Measure G, the city council’s advisory measure that acts residents for permission to use some of their local tax money to pursue infrastructure projects that might earlier have been helped along by the city’s redevelopment agency. The agency no longer exists, thanks to state law.

He’s a Democrat. Is that important in this race?

“I don’t think so,” answered Villegas. “(At first), I thought that it did. I have moved toward the center more than I thought I would. Although my values haven’t changed, my understanding of the need to ensure fiscal integrity has grown exponentially. If you’re not fiscally sound, you’re not going to be able to do anything.”

Has the city made any big policy mistakes since Villegas has been involved?

“I’m sure there are some, but none come to mind,” he answered.

Villegas said he expects to mount a serious political campaign to retain his city council  seat, although he believes the candidates will spend less this year on their campaigns than in more “flush” years. He and fellow incumbent Bill Kristoff are joined by challenger Oleg Maskaev in a bid for two seats on the city council.

  Do you like what you see here?

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605

Copyright News-Ledger 2012



  EDITOR’S NOTE: The News-Ledger interviewed each candidate for West Sacramento’s city council and school board during the past couple of month, in an effort to help voters get to know them and their positions. Below is the result of our interview with school board incumbent David Westin, published in the newspaper on Oct. 24:

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

DAVE WESTIN: Believes in accountability for management of West Sacramento public school district (photo from WUSD website)

“Philosophically, I believe the district functions best when you have parents on the school board who have kids in the district,” said school board incumbent David Westin, who is seeking another term. “I think there’s a disconnect when people are using the school board as a stepping stone for city council or county supervisor.”

Westin and his family live in the Bridgeway Lakes part of Southport. He and his wife have had seven kids (one is deceased).

“I’m very proud to have children in the Washington Unified School District,” he told the News-Ledger. “I have one in first grade, one in third, and one will be entering kindergarten next fall.”

Westin is currently an executive for a German tech company. He has a bachelor’s degree in business finance from USC and an accounting certificate from Golden Gate University.

Westin believes that the district’s API performance is a meter of its recent success. In the two years preceding this one, WUSD saw its performance on this index of student test scores go up a total of 48 points. This year, there was a one-point slip.

“We’ve been able to change the culture in the district, and run it more like a business, with quantifiable goals and objectives,” he said. “During my two terms as board president, we were the top-rated school district in the state of California.”

That rating, he said, was based on the improvements in API scores.

How much is Westin responsible for the gains?

“I think I take some of the credit for being board president during those record-breaking years, and setting the vision that enabled us to achieve that,” he answered. “However, that said, the credit really goes to the administrators, staff, parents, teachers and the kids who did the work.”

Other positive signs for West Sacramento’s public school district include an increase in the state funding that comes in proportion to the “ADA,” or average daily attendance. Local schools are getting more ADA money because they are seeing more students from day to day in the classrooms.

“You’re seeing that in the additional $370,000 in ADA we’ve picked up,” said Westin. “That means two things – one, more people are putting their kids in the district, and two, the attendance rate has gone up so we’re engaging kids more effectively. . . The dropout rate has gone down significantly. It beats the county and state averages.”

So why did the API scores cease their upward climb this year?

Some of that is due to the economic instability of families, and to other changes like drawing new boundaries for local school attendance and changing the campuses attended by some kids, he said.

“This year, there was a one-point drop in API district-wide. There was a lot of that drop in the north. I would say that when we have families hurting, that’s going to affect the kids – they may not have stable home life or the resources to (compete).”

“There are districts like Natomas, Rancho Cordova, etc., that have fallen completely off the cliff with test scores. We’ve been able to hold steady.”

Westin believes “the current model is solid” and the school board “is doing a very good job” despite big cuts in state funding that have translated into harsh measures like reduction of most school bus service.

[adrotate group=”7″]   “I think the number-one challenge is money,” he commented.

He said he backs the political endorsements of the California School Boards Association, which urges “yes” votes on the governor’s Proposition 30 and Molly Munger’s Prop. 38 – both of which may use taxes in part to help out public schools.

If money starts to come back, where would Westin spend it?

“Number one is to reinstate busing,” he answered. I think that’s strategically important. Number two, is that the number-one issue from the parents’ perspective is to get kids to do their homework. So having more after-school homework support groups for kids is (my other) top priority.”

Another tactic to improve education:

“One of the things that will take the district to the next level is to implement a peer-to-peer program so that principals from different schools can go see how other schools in the district are run, and take ‘best practices.’ Also teachers – so a math teacher from, say, Riverbank can go see how math is taught at Bridgeway or how English is taught at Southport, or how they do it at Westmore Oaks. . . I think everyone has been focusing on taking the district to (this) level and this is what will take it to a higher level.”

What about charter schools: does Westin tend to approve of them, or disapprove of them?

“I don’t have a bias,” he answered. I am an independent person who can put children first, politics second. It’s a case-by-case basis (for considering them).”

What does a board member’s job description look like, according to this veteran school board member?

“Insuring there is accountability, transparency and bottom-line results.”

Westin reports having been endorsed by retiring board president Teresa Blackmer, current board member Adam Menke, challenger Alicia Cruz, the River City Democratic Club and the local teachers’ union.

Is Westin running hard for re-election to the board of trustees?

“I’m very active in walking precincts and I enjoy meeting the public,” he said. “One of the things that sets me apart from everybody else is, for the last eight years, I’ve had regular office hours at my house every Monday from 5-6.”

Interested people may call him at 376-0880 to schedule an appointment to talk about their WUSD concerns, said Westin.

  Do you like what you see here?

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Bill Kristoff seeks another term


  Editor’s note: This interview with city councilman Bill Kristoff is part of the News-Ledger’s election-season coverage. We’ve published interviews with each of the people running for election to the West Sacramento City Council and local school board. We hope these features have helped you make up your mind whom to vote for.

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

BILL KRISTOFF: West Sacramento's longest-serving city council member (News-Ledger photo)

Bill Kristoff has been on West Sacramento’s city council since the city formed in 1987. But the view sure has changed, he told the News-Ledger.

“As we were going through that incorporation effort, we really felt we were not receiving the proper amount of services (from Yolo County) that the taxpayers were paying for,” he said. “I think the lack of services and the desire that we as a community had to make the decisions and determine our own destiny were important. And we wanted more places to shop, and a larger police force, and we wanted to use the nuisance abatement process to try to clean things up.”

Since that time in 1987, the city has about doubled in population, with new shopping centers and new subdivisions. It has made inroads on developing its long-troubled downtown and languishing riverfront.

“From a regional perspective, people sort of turned up their noses at West Sacramento,” said Kristoff. “They thought we were just an industrial town, and we wanted to change that image.”

And now?

“Now, I’m really proud of the image we have from a regional perspective. Other communities look to West Sacramento as being aggressive, as being a community that has made great strides.”

So why run again?

“There are some things that are not fully completed,” Kristoff answered. “We really need to concentrate on the riverfront, making it a place where people can live, work and play in a confined space. I think we started that with city hall, the library and the community center (all on West Capitol). I want to expand that into the riverfront. I view everything as connected from the proposed Indian museum site (on the northern riverfront) all the way to South River Road.”

He has a particular dream for one stretch of that riverfront – the “Honda Hills” area near South River Road and Jefferson Blvd. in Southport, best known now for illegal use by local off-roaders.

“I think a botanical garden would do wonders for that area,” Kristoff opined. “It’s an open space concept. We have the University of California at Davis and Sacramento State University in close proximity, and they have horticulture departments that I think would really help West Sacramento. I would like to create something that becomes a destination point.”

That idea, he said, was inspired by a visit to a botanical garden in Vancouver.

Kristoff is also supportive of city participation in a plan to bring “at least a four-star hotel” to the riverfront, with business amenities such as a conference center. That would enhance the values of the other riverfront properties,” he said. It would also benefit the River Cats, encourage surrounding restaurants and surrounding businesses, and bring more hotel room taxes to the city coffers.

How is the city’s business climate?

“I think it compares favorably,” answered the 66-year old retired postal finance officer. He pointed to the new shopping centers surrounding Ikea in the north and Nugget in the south.

“My wife’s favorite store, Target, is over here,” Kristoff said with a wave toward the Southport center. “If you go north, there’s Ikea, Ross and others. People keep asking me for another sit-down restaurant, and we’re improving in that area. There is a Denny’s going in over at Harbor Boulevard (a former Bakers Square site).”

As far as business-friendly permits and fees:

“We’re not giving away the store, but at the same time, we’re trying to keep things not so expensive that (businesses) don’t come in.”
Kristoff believes that one major challenge facing West Sacramento is the loss of its redevelopment agency, after the state nullified such agencies. The city had used its agency to focus local tax money on infrastructure costs, to pave the way for growth.

Without a redevelopment agency, Kristoff believes the strategy in November’s “Measure G” is one way to fill that gap.

“We have a certain amount of tax increment still coming in (annually),” he said. “Maybe $2 million or $2.5 million. Measure G says we should put that money into a fund and use that money for future infrastructure.”

Even though future city officials could issue bonds worth several times what’s in that pot of money, it will still take a number of years before the fund accumulates enough money to finance a big project – like a new Sacramento River bridge.

Speaking of bridges:

“I look at the South River Road bridge (connecting Southport to the rest of the city) as the next bridge we should tackle,” said Kristoff. “I look at the connection between Sacramento and West Sacramento, and where that (other) bridge should go. Somehow or other, it needs to connect to I-5, whether it be the Broadway Bridge or the bridge further north, north of the I Street Bridge, that essentially connects with Sacramento’s railyard project.”

[adrotate group=”10″]   How is the city doing with local flood protection?

“I’m happy with the way the City of West Sacramento has approached it,” Kristoff said. “When we were told that we had a deficiency in our levees, we were really sort of caught by surprise. We tackled that very quickly. The citizens passed an assessment on their homes for flood protection, the council put in a new fee for new development, and we also passed a sales tax override, some of which has gone into flood protection.”

That willingness to pay a “local share” of levee repair costs has earned respect from state and federal flood control partners, he added. Levee work is underway.

Kristoff believes the city is in pretty good fiscal shape, having reduced city staff in the face of the recession and a slow-down in new development. The city has a problem with public pensions, but it’s not a crisis, he believes.

“We’ve been tackling that issue for about four years.”

Police and fire protection are in good shape today, said Kristoff.

“We’ve got the best police and fire departments in the region. They’re great.”

As the only person to have always been on the West Sacramento city council, does Kristoff have any regrets over any major “wrong turns” the council may have made during the past 25 years?

“Nothing on a medium or large scale,” he answered. “There have been a couple development decisions where (we approved) a drive-through at a restaurant or something, and I say now, ‘oh, we shouldn’t have done that.’”

Kristoff and the other incumbent running for re-election, Oscar Villegas, have endorsed each other, and “I have the support of the entire council and (County Supervisor) Mike McGowan,” said Kristoff.

There’s only one challenger, Oleg Maskaev, a Republican who believes that his party affiliation is important in this local race.

Does Kristoff feel the same way?

“The city council is a nonpartisan position,” he answered. “We have sewer, water, and filling the potholes. Those are the city’s responsibility.”

Kristoff said he is mounting a serious campaign including yard signs, political mailers and precinct walking. But it’s a sign of the times, he said, that he will be running on “about half” the campaign budget he spent last time around.

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2012


Katie Villegas, school board candidate


  EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview comes from the Oct. 17 edition of the News-Ledger newspaper. It is part of our series to bring you an in-depth look at each of the people running for city council and school board in West Sacramento this year.

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Katie Villegas is executive director of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance. That, and prior work with families in the West Sacramento region, have given her what she feels is a birds-eye view of what local kids need to succeed.

KATIE VILLEGAS hopes to help 'connect the dots' for WUSD (News-Ledger photo)

“Basically, every job I’ve had has been working with families and working with kids,’ she told the News-Ledger. “I’ve worked in public health, child abuse prevention and foster care. (At the Children’s Alliance), we work every day with the students and families in West Sacramento. We see the things they’re not getting, and seeing it from a different level.”

That experience, she hopes, will transfer to the board of trustees at Washington Unified School District.

“I think we need somebody who can see it from a different level, and see what we could do. That’s what I do best – connect the dots and bring in the resources.”

One of those resources is a better partnership between the school district and city government, she said.

“It’s incredibly important, and partnership with the county as well,” said Villegas. “I can bring in the city, the county, local business – which would be helpful for internships – and grand opportunities. It builds on itself.”

“I think you need to look at the whole family. If a kid comes to school hungry, how are they expected to learn? They need health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance.”

She gives the current school board a mixed grade.

“I wouldn’t say they’re terrible and I wouldn’t say they’re functional,” Villegas commented. “Somewhere in between. . . It’s a difficult time to be a board member.”

What’s the board doing wrong?

“I think a few of them see it as ‘I’m getting into the trenches,’” she said of their tactical-level work. “But they’re micromanaging. I think (as a board member) you need to stay at the 50,000-foot level.”

[adrotate group=”7″]   Part of the answer, she argues, is to leave more of the educational decisions to the staff, like Superintendent Dayton Gilleland.

“We actually hire really good people,” Villegas said. “Dayton has a Ph.D. in education. I’ve met with him. He’s a smart guy. Sometimes the leadership needs to be allowed to take the chances they need to take to make the district better. They’re the experts in education, they know what to do.”

Katie, 46, has a master’s degree in social work and has lived in West Sacramento for 25 years. She’s probably the best-known of this year’s school board challengers, not only because of her day job and past civic involvement, but also because she is married to West Sacramento City Councilman Oscar Villegas. The couple lives in Southport.

The pair have two kids who have attended school at Southport Elementary School before leaving the public school district. One attended Christian Brothers High School before going to Sacramento City College, and the other is currently at Christian Brothers.

“A lot of people are wondering, ‘why are you doing this?’ because my kids don’t go to school here,” she commented. “I’m doing this because I think all the kids of West Sacramento deserve a better education.”

What concerns her most is that the kids in the northern areas – those more likely to come from poor families or be among the 40 percent Latino population of WUSD – are lagging.

“The schools are not equal,” she said. “The schools out here (in Southport) are doing fairly well, but I think the schools in the north area, where our (Childrens Alliance) office is, are not doing that well. Kids of color are not doing well.”

[adrotate group=”9″]    “If you look at how well those kids are prepared to go to college, the numbers are crazy.”

That’s one past subject of controversy between Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, who criticized WUSD for failing to prepare minorities for college, and David Westin, then-president of the school board.

“There’s a lot of lobbing (bombs) back and forth between Christopher and Dave. . . (such as) Christopher pointing out how bad the district is doing with kids of color,” Villegas stated. “(That data) is documented. But putting that into a ‘state of the city’ address’? I don’t know if that’s the most effective way to get that out there.”

Is her marriage to Councilman Villegas something that could help improve city-school district relations?

“It’s nothing but helpful,” answered Villegas. “The district and city haven’t gotten along so well. (Working with the city) is a totally big opportunity.”

Are there any conflicts of interest possible, given that the city and district sometimes need to negotiate contracts with each other?

“I think that is relatively minimal,” she said. “If there are conflicts of interest, I would listen to the attorneys” and possibly abstain from decisions.

Does Katie Villegas believe student test score results are important?

“They’re incredibly important,” she answered. “It’s a barometer of the district.”

New API scores have just been released for California campuses and districts. Did WUSD backslide?

“Not so much (in Southport),” said Villegas. “But they did in Broderick and Bryte. Overall, it’s down.”

She doesn’t give the board full credit for the past two years of big test score gains.

“I give them some credit, but kids of color are not being served,” she said.

What about charter schools: does Villegas favor the concept?

“I think that alternatives to education – because I’m one of the ones who needs them – are important,” she responded. I think we need to keep opportunities open for that.”

Villegas does believe that WUSD is in decent financial shape, considering several years of state budget cuts.

“I think Washington Unified is the most fiscally sound district in all of Yolo County,” she stated.

Villegas helped run the local 2004 high school bond campaign and has helped with her husband’s council runs. She said she has the support of WUSD school board incumbents Mary Leland and Adam Menke, as well as a number of city and regional leaders.

Will she be walking precincts and raising money for the campaign?

“All of the above,” said Villegas.

She is one of a number of challengers joining Leland and Westin in the hunt for three available school board seats on the Nov. 6 ballot.

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2012