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October 26, 2020

PVUSD Board, A6: Incumbent faces challenger

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.

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The battle for Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s Trustee Area VI seat is being waged by incumbent Maria Orozco, who has held the position since 2012, and Adam Bolaños Scow, a political organizer who has worked in climate and water issues.

Maria Orozco

Since she was elected eight years ago, Orozco says she has successfully worked to bolster academic readiness and achievement, improve parental involvement and reduce class sizes.   

“In the past four years we’ve accomplished all of that,” she said. 

She has also helped PVUSD increase its Career and Technical Education program and boost career and college readiness, both of which she says have been key issues for her.

“For me it’s always been about the students,” she said. “And now as a parent, it’s even amplified even more, my focus on ensuring they are provided the proper support, the personal instruction they need to be successful.” 

The district has also rebuilt its arts and music program after budget cuts from the 2008 economic recession.

In addition, Orozco joined a majority of board members in approving Footsteps 2 Brilliance and Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness (SIPPS), both designed to improve student literacy.

“We accomplished a great deal in that regard,” she said.

Orozco also says she championed a plan to resume televised board meetings.

“That was a huge thing for me, and it got accomplished in my first year,” she said. “I’ve stuck to my platform and I have delivered on what I promised I was going to do.”

Orozco said that the upcoming term will likely be underscored by budget troubles.

“One of the major issues with public education is, we’re just underfunded, and that’s always been the case,” she said. “And I think it’s going to continue that way unless we lobby together as a community to change that.”

PVUSD is also facing a long list of projects, repairs and upgrades at its facilities throughout the district, despite Measure L, the $150 million bond approved in 2012 to address the issue.

“We won’t be able to do that without going out for another bond,” she said. “I don’t know that it is the right time to do that, but I think it’s something that we need to consider in the future to address our facility issues that we are facing.”

As the district looks to make likely reductions due to Covid-19 and a subsequent recession, Orozco says she wants to involve the community in the decisions. 

“It’s crucial that we get the community involved as much as we can in that process, including our bargaining unit, because at the end of the day we need to be making those decisions around what’s going to have the least impact to our students,” she said. 

As a member of the District English Learner Advisory Committee, Orozco says she has noticed that parents often feel left out of district affairs, particularly at board meetings.

“Families often feel unheard, and if they do show up to a meeting, they feel like there is no follow-through,” she said. “It’s fundamental to follow through with those requests.”

Orozco attended Alianza, Starlight and Freedom elementary schools, then went to Rolling Hills Middle School and Aptos High School.

She has served on several boards and commissions in Santa Cruz County including the Watsonville Parks and Recreation Commission, the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County and the Women’s Commission of Santa Cruz County. She is also the founding board President for the Friends of Watsonville Parks and Community Services nonprofit, and the current president and founding board member for the Pajaro Valley Education Foundation.

She works as a Financial Aid and Scholarship Adviser at UC Santa Cruz.

“At the end of the day my mission is really to provide students with the 21st century skills that they need to be successful in college or career or even trade school, whatever their decision they may be,” she said.

Adam Bolaños Scow

Bolaños Scow says he made the decision to run for the Area VI seat after several people—including friends who work in PVUSD—encouraged him to do so.

“I believe they asked me to run because they know I’m a fighter, I’ve always been an organizer and they need to improve the schools,” he said. “Some are in great shape, but need some help.”

Bolaños Scow says he has been involved in local politics since he was a teenager, when he worked phone banks and walked neighborhoods for candidates.

He works as a senior strategist for Public Water Now, which works to win public ownership of the water system on the Monterey Peninsula. He also sits on the advisory board of Regeneración, which focuses on climate change and environmental justice issues.

Bolaños Scow has also worked as the California director of Food and Water Watch, where he oversaw campaigns to promote clean energy and protect California’s water. 

He also helped pass legislation to establish a human right to water in California, and helped pass a bill led by the United Farm Workers to win overtime pay for farmworkers. In addition, Bolaños Scow helped lead campaigns to ban fracking and stop water privatization in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties.

His candidacy, he says, is a natural extension of that work.

“I’m going to be there to be an advocate for the people,” he said. “I’ve always been involved in public life. That’s what I can bring, because that’s always who I’ve been.”

If elected, Bolaños Scow says that he hopes to take a look at the district’s finances, “to ensure the PVUSD budget is actually serving the students and the community in a more real way.”

He explains that he wants to see more of the district’s general fund dedicated to giving teachers and staff salary increases. The last one, he says, was a 1% increase in 2018.

Bolaños Scow says that many educators living in Watsonville travel to Salinas or Gilroy for the higher pay.

“The students on a daily basis are served by the teachers and staff,” he says. “Right now we are not showing enough respect to our teachers and our staff. We need to pay competitive wages to other school districts, otherwise we’re going to lose good teachers and good staff. That’s very basic, and we need a board to champion that.”

Bolaños Scow also questioned recent decisions by the district to trim the budget by laying off employees. Most of the suggested layoffs were rescinded after the district received state and federal coronavirus relief monies. Still, he says the district looked in the wrong place to make the cuts.

“It’s very unfair that the administration at the highest level took no pay cuts themselves,” he said. “When I talk about a fair budget, I’m talking about a budget that respects our classified workers, our teachers and our administration. We need to work together in this to improve the schools.”

Bolaños Scow also said that any decisions involving the district, and its finances, should involve the community.

“That’s democracy,” he said. “Not just a couple of people behind the scenes.”

Bolaños Scow acknowledges that offering salary increases could be a tough task.

PVUSD financial officials have repeatedly told the board that doing so would almost certainly put the district in the “red,” and could spell other fiscal troubles such as negative budget certification.

“We are facing a tough budget,” Bolaños Scow said. “But if we’re going to keep good teachers and good staff, we need to raise their salaries. Can we do it on day one? I’m not sure. That’s why we need to have an open, democratic budget process that this district has not yet done, and figure out how to make the best use of this budget.”

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