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Foes differ over school choice debate.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

In the race for Position 2 on the Eugene School Board, incumbent Charles Martinez and challenger Marc Alpers have vastly different perceptions of what transpired the night of March 9, when the board voted on Superintendent George Russell's recommendations on school choice.

In Alpers' mind, the board lost its nerve and let the community down. Instead of taking a firm stance on the most sensitive of Russell's recommendations, it delayed action, with several board members giving little indication of their stance.

"They'd been reviewing it for the past three or four years - what more did they need?" said Alpers, a college student and father of two who said his commitment to run crystallized that evening. `It's not fair to leave (people) hanging.'

But Martinez said he walked away that night convinced that the board had avoided "knee jerk" action and taken meaningful steps toward easing disparities among neighborhood and alternative schools and closing the achievement gap, with the expectation of taking more.

"The proactive things are likely to make a dramatic and substantive difference," he said, citing as examples giving additional funds to neighborhood schools and creating a new position whose sole responsibility will be boosting parental involvement and awareness of the school choice system.

Ballots for the mail-in election will be sent out this week and must be returned to the county elections office by 8 p.m. May 17.

Martinez, 36, won appointment to the board in June after Chris Pryor resigned early. The first Latino to serve, he sought the appointment in part to help bridge the gap of understanding between the board and the burgeoning Latino community, which had widened amid controversy over the naming of Cesar Chavez Elementary School.

He believes he has brought a perspective that was missing on the board. At a recent board retreat on school choice, "I really felt I was bringing in something profoundly unique in dealing with issues of equity and access," he said.

Martinez holds a doctorate in psychology and works as a research scientist at the Oregon Social Learning Center, where he focuses on academic and related problems for at-risk children.

A southern California native who's lived in Eugene eight years, Martinez is married with a 5-year-old son. He has difficulty juggling the many demands on his time, which include diversity training for school districts and other organizations as well as teaching courses at the University of Oregon.

However, he said, "I just can't think of something more serious or important" than serving on the school board.

While some observers - including Superintendent Russell - believed the board showed little inclination to consider merging, closing or relocating any of the district's 10 alternative elementary schools, Martinez said that's not necessarily so. The board voted that night to create a review process for alternative schools, which are open to all students through a lottery system and are billed as offering unique educational programs, such as language immersion or a focus on student electives.

"I disagreed with the implication that the review process would not be serious," said Martinez, who said he is "champing at the bit" to move forward with it.

The review process will require careful consideration to ensure fairness; he said, but he, for one, wouldn't rule out any potential outcome. If the board finds that a school's "distinctiveness" amounts to little more than having a highly involved parent base and capped enrollment, "we need to be willing and courageous enough to take actions not to have that be an acceptable outcome."

The uncertainty of school funding is another worry for Martinez, particularly as it might affect the district's progress toward boosting test scores and meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which he calls noble in spirit but untenable in practice.

Alpers, who moved to Eugene from Utah just over three years ago, has followed the school choice debate with a keen interest. He has one daughter at Gilham Elementary with another joining her next fall, and he said he sees stark disparities, particularly in class sizes, among neighborhood schools and alternative schools.

That observation, as well as school-related issues his family has dealt with, prompted him to take time off from his studies (he plans to earn a master's degree in education after he completes his bachelor's degree in history) and run for the board.

"I want my daughter, at her neighborhood school, to get the best education she can, and she's not getting that," he said.

He said he would never advocate closing alternative schools, but wants to shore up neighborhood schools so they're on equal footing. All schools should be able to offer music and P.E., he said, as well as "specialty" programs such as language instruction.

"If you offer it at one school, you need to offer it in all schools," he said.

Recognizing it would cost money, Alpers believes that the dollars exist in the budget already.

"I don't think we're spending money properly," said Alpers, who said he's in the process of going over the school budget with an accountant. The board and superintendent must be more "transparent" in the budget process and better justify spending decisions, he said.

As one example, he cited the board's decision to fund a full-time position to coordinate involvement and assist parents. That's a role existing school staff could take on, he said.

That being said, Alpers, 34, would like to see parental and community involvement "drastically" increase, and believes that far more could be done to reach out to the business community.

Other issues of concern include what he called "moral issues." For example, he believes sex education programs should never stray from simple science.

"I have no problem with diversity," he said. "I have a problem with an agenda being taught."



Occupation: Customer service representative, Accutel; student on leave, Lane Community College and University of Oregon

Civic experience: Referee, American Youth Soccer Organization, former member, Davis Area Dads System

Why he's running: "I want to be a voice for the parents and an advocate for the children and make the 4J School Board responsible to all the citizens it represents."


Occupation: Research scientist, Oregon Social Learning Center; associate professor and diversity director, University of Oregon College of Education

Civic experience: Member, Eugene School Board; board member, Volunteers in Medicine Clinic; chairman, Diversity Steering Committee, UO College of Education; governor appointee, Oregon Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs; governor appointee, Oregon Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Health; youth mentor, Latino Youth Project

Why he's running: "I want to be helpful to children and families in our community, and I believe that service on the school board is one of the most important jobs there is. Simply put, I have committed my professional and personal passion to ensuring educational excellence and equity for all students."
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Title Annotation:Elections; A Position 2 incumbent appreciated the board's deliberation, while the challenger was impatient with its lack of nerve
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 25, 2005
Previous Article:CAREENING CAREER.
Next Article:Hearing focuses on police reforms.

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