Registered voters in the Lakewood area are receiving ballots this week and three local men are running for the Lakewood School District 1 Director position. Oscar Escalante, Pete Espinoza and Michael Blank are hoping to make positive changes to Lakewood schools and spoke about the issues facing the district and what sets them apart.
Lionel 'Pete' Espinoza
"Right now, the biggest issue we face is infrastructure," said Espinoza. "We have to work on getting the funds ready to get the elementary, middle and high school up to par. I've been here since 1995 and haven't seen much in the way of infrastructure improvement. There are a lot of things that need to be fixed, repainted and rebuilt."
Espinoza is the father of Lakewood students who are involved in the school's athletic program and hopes to focus on improving the district's sports facilities.
"My big thing is track," he said. "My kids run track and cross country and the coaches would like to see resurfacing for the track. All the sports facilities seriously need attention — from the tennis courts to the softball and baseball fields. It's the little things that have run down over time and need to be replaced. If we were to have new equipment, the athletes themselves would want to play and be proud to be from Lakewood. Academics are essential, but a well-rounded sports program also plays a vital role for leadership, fitness and communication. These along with academics will go a long way to creating well rounded students at Lakewood."
Having worked previously with the schools' athletic programs, Espinoza says he has the determination to help improve the district.
"I believe that I'm ready to go in there with some tenacity," he said. "I've got some projects on my mind I want to introduce to the district. Being a veteran and working for the Navy for 27 years, I have a lot of contacts with people for the projects I want, such as having Lakewood take on Naval Junior ROTC program and get that started within the next four years or so."
"I believe that working with the community and trying to pass a bond to for the renovation of Lakewood High School and other schools is our biggest task right now," said Escalante. "We need to be working very closely with the community, including the business community, and that will be challenging in a sense, considering the way things are right now with the economy. We want the community to understand that we are seeking their input. That takes a lot of work and it's not going to be something that's going to be easy. I think it's important to be clear and transparent to the community to provide information so that they can make the right decision."
Escalante has been a member of the board for 12 years and sees his experience as an advantage to reaching his goals for the district.
"I think that in order to be effective in the community, one has to have an understanding of how schools operate," he said. "I have been working in the district for the last 12 years and even before that I was a PTA member and PTA president for Cougar Creek Elementary."
Escalante says he has learned a lot from his experience on the board and from interacting with local superintendents.
"A lot of it is learning how we as a community can make decisions that will impact the education of our kids," Escalante said. "One has to know how to work with that and I believe that's one of the things that sets me apart. We have been making great strides, and our kids are getting an education that in my opinion is providing them with the tools they need to be ready to compete in the economy. Being a board member is not just something that happens overnight — a board member needs to understand exactly the dynamics and structure of the district they represent. That doesn't happen overnight, it's a process. Lakewood is going into its next phase. We are going to be 100 years old next year, so we need to modernize our school and bring the classrooms to the 21st century and improve the overall safety and security for the kids in our schools. I think that's a priority."
"We are looking to build a new high school eventually, and right now we have three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school," said Blank. "I think it would be so much easier to raze the buildings and build one giant building, with five different wings for each of the schools. With one giant building, administration costs will be cheaper — we would have one principal instead of five, cutting out a quarter million in salary costs that we could put back into teachers' salaries."
Blank is focused on building a sustainable, energy saving school that can also cut costs.
"We need to build it high tech and take advantage of everything that's out there — solar panels, low-flow toilets, If we are spending that kind of money on a new building, the extra spent on a solar panel is worth it because and we will get the money back from not having electric bills, which we can then flow back into the teachers' salaries as well."
Blank said his trade school education and career as a skilled worker sets him apart from other candidates.
"We have all these graduates coming out of high school and not making money," he said. "We need to drop the stigma that says you can't be a plumber, or an electrician, or a truck driver. Take a plumber for example — he has a skill and with that skill, he can make a wage that can support him and his family. The biggest obstacle to face these kids is six months after they graduate college, whether or not they have found a job, the government is going to want them to start paying back the $75,000 in student loans."
Blank believes an increased focus on skilled trades and technical education will help support kids who may not succeed with a college degree in this economy.
"We want to fill these kids' heads with dreams of grandeur and we never want to dash their hopes," he said. "We have forgotten common sense. A college degree does not, at this point, guarantee a living wage. Two men can work at a fast food restaurant — one with a college degree and one without. The one with the degree spent a lot of money, going through the motions, completing his school work — but now he is thousands of dollars in debt and both men are still asking, 'Do you want fries with that?' We need to come up with an education plan and say, 'This is how we fix the problem.' That is my goal."