From 10/21/09 issue
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
Q. Why do you want to run for the MUSD board?
Justin Zabel: Everybody has a duty to contribute back to the community, Now that I have a son in grade school, I have more interest than I used to.
Q. Since January, how many MUSD board meetings have you attended?
Q. The state budget is still very unstable. In case further cuts are necessary, what programs would you reduce or eliminate?
Zabel: That’s a tough question. I would work hand in hand with the other board members and the staff, with input from parents to see what areas would need to be cut or not be cut. Not having been on the board, I’m not privy to what’s working and what isn’t.
Q. Do you have any other ideas for raising money or improving the finances of the school district?
Zabel: Not at this time. I’d be more interested in finding out how to save money.
Q. Did you support the idea of making Morris a full language immersion school? How do you feel it is working out?
Zabel: My son was already in the Morris School Language Immersion program, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. When that issue came up, there wasn’t enough notice to the public and the parents to adequately know what was transpiring. It all happened all at once. It seemed very stealth.
There needs to be more communication between the district, the parents, and the staff. I could understand why parents would be upset with having to send their kids to two different schools.
Q. Do you believe that the Citizens Oversight Committee should meet more than once a year, or have any more authority than it already does?
Zabel: Yes. That’s one of my concerns. I don’t believe that board should be a rubber stamp for everybody else, when you have all these millions of dollars of bond money to spend. They met last year in November and this year in October.
This committee checks things out after they’ve already happened. It should be in the forefront. It should be evaluating and checking things out before this money is spent, not afterwards.
What’s the point of an oversight committee if you’re really not overseeing it, just looking at it after you’ve already spent the money and done everything? Meeting once a year when you’re talking about a program that’s only going to last three years is not near enough. It’s inappropriate. It’s not in the best interests of the taxpayers, either.
Q. What would you do to improve staff morale?
Zabel: I don’t know that there is a problem with morale. I’m not privy to any internal dealings between the teachers and the administration.
Q. Parents sometimes transfer their children in other districts, to take advantage of what they perceive as better educational opportunities. What would you do to improve education for McKinleyville’s gifted children?
Zabel: It’s a shame that any parent who lives in McKinleyville feels that they need to send their child to a school in another district. I grew up in McKinleyville, and I firmly believe that McKinleyville has some of the best schools and the best teachers.
It alarms me that some parents might feel there are better opportunities in other districts. There should be some input to find out why.
Q. In the past two years, what decisions of the board have you agreed with? Which have you disagreed with, and why?
Zabel: I don’t know of any other issues in the past. I hadn’t been following it until recently.
Q. What is your occupation?
Zabel: I’m the vice president and a partner in Mercer-Fraser Co.
Q. How long have you lived in McKinleyville?
Zabel: All my life.
Q. If elected, what changes, if any, would you try to make?
Zabel: I don’t have any agenda. You have to see what issues the parents, the district and staff want to see addressed and then try to work through it.
There should be better communication with the staff and the public. There should be more unison when it came to the contract negotiations with the staff. There was a big problem between the administration and the teachers on wages and benefit packages. There was a lot of friction there.
We’re an all-union company; we deal with about five different unions, so we’re negotiating collective bargaining agreements and contracts all the time. With good leadership, a lot of those issues could have been averted beforehand, without getting to that extreme where teachers were talking about picketing and walking off the job.
When students are on their way home and see the teachers picketing on Central Ave saying they’re not getting paid enough, it sends a bad message to the public and to the students. People should get along rather than be adversarial.