Editor’s note: This is the second entry in a series of interviews with candidates running for office in the upcoming local elections. Interviewees will include candidates for the Watsonville City Council, the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees, the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency and the Cabrillo Community College Governing Board. For information on all candidates and offices visit votescount.com.
WATSONVILLE—Two newcomers to the political arena are vying for the Trustee Area 3 seat on the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees, which was vacated by longtime member Karen Osmundson.
Oscar Soto, who worked for years in the PVUSD Maintenance Department before moving to the Santa Cruz Public Works Department, is facing off with Amanda Hernandez, who works as a patient care technician in a dialysis clinic.
Neither have held elected office, but both say they were driven to run by their children. Soto has three high school graduates and one set to graduate from Watsonville High School, and Hernandez plans to send her future children through PVUSD schools.
During his time as a Pajaro Valley Unified School District maintenance supervisor, Oscar Soto said he became familiar with the condition of many of the district’s 35 schools. Those conditions, he says, prompted him to move his kids out of district schools.
“We weren’t happy with the educational environment our kids were involved with,” he said. “As parents we made a conscious decision for the better.”
The problems, he says, include degraded locker rooms, corroded gas lines, underground water issues and dilapidated portable classrooms.
“These buildings were intended for a 10, maybe a 15-year lifespan, and some have been in place for over 40 years,” he said. “That’s going to be one of my main focuses is to try and improve the environment for the kids down there.”
Soto also said he hopes to bolster academics and improve student test scores.
Soto, 49, served in the U.S. Army from 1989-97. He is bilingual, and is familiar with the issues facing the families in Area 3—which includes Pajaro—where many families are low-income, immigrant and agriculture workers.
He says he recently reached out to the community at Second Harvest Food Bank to connect with the people who would be his constituents, where he discovered a disconnect between the district’s governing board and the community.
“It was surprising to me,” he said. “A lot of the folks I spoke with didn’t even know that this position existed. That it was out there for them. I think it’s going to be a good opportunity to educate the community and let them know, ‘Hey, you do have a voice for your kids’ education.’”
He also said he wants to avoid layoffs in favor of furloughs when making budget decisions.
“It’s going to be a matter of reviewing what’s affecting the budget, how can those things be applied in other ways and help the staff out so they can keep their jobs and keep the district going, because our ultimate goal is to keep the kids going,” he said.
“This is my first opportunity to make a difference. To have an opportunity to sit up there and try to improve things overall.”
Soto also says he would work to assure that teachers and staff are paid competitive salaries, build up the district’s music and art programs, support sports and after-school programs and demand fiscal transparency from district administration.
A lifelong resident of the Pajaro Valley, Amanda Hernandez attended Hall District Elementary School, Pajaro Middle School and graduated from Watsonville High School in 2006.
With a love for her community, and a desire to call the Pajaro Valley Home for the foreseeable future, she says she wants to improve the district’s schools for her future kids.
“I want to get more involved in my community,” she said. “I’m planning on having children in the near future, so I really want to be a part of making sure that whatever school they are going to be in is going to be to their betterment and for it to be as effective as possible.”
Hernandez, 32, studied communication at Cal State Monterey Bay. She works as a patient care technician in a dialysis clinic.
She says this experience—along with the fact that she would enter the position with no set agenda—makes her an ideal candidate.
“I listen with an open ear,” she said. “I don’t take sides.
Hernandez says she is ready to delve into the complexities of the district’s budget, which involves poring over pages of line-item details, and in lean years making broad decisions about what to cut.
She also said she wants to find ways for the community to become involved in the district.
Many people, she said—herself included until recently—don’t attend or watch school board meetings, or participate in the decisions that involve their children.
That would change under her leadership, she said.
“My goal is to try to get more parent participation and community participation, because I know that’s how we’re going to better our schools,” she said. “I really do love the community I live in and my whole role here is to help and to be an ear between the board and the community.”