Ballots for the June 7 Statewide Direct Primary Election are landing in mailboxes this week. But it’s not too late to learn more about the candidates asking for your vote.
There are races for three seats on the Orange County Board of Education or OCBOE in the primary and these contests will not lead to a runoff in the November General Election. The top vote-getter in June wins the seat. Also, this is a nonpartisan race so a candidate’s party preference does not appear on the ballot.
Wondering what the Orange County Board of Education does? It’s composed of five elected trustees each representing a different geographic area. They must approve the Orange County Department of Education’s budget. Trustees also decide various appeals. That includes appeals from students seeking to transfer between districts and students seeking to overturn an expulsion. The board also decides appeals from charter schools seeking approval to operate. Charter schools are publicly funded campuses that are run independently but must meet state requirements.
The voting maps for the OCBOE were recently redrawn after the 2020 U.S. Census, which documents the population and demographics of the nation every ten years. (Of note: a legal battle played out over the redrawn maps including an unsuccessful lawsuit from a majority of the sitting OCBOE members.)
Trustee Area 2 includes Seal Beach, Rossmoor, Los Alamitos, Cypress, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa and parts of Newport Beach and portions of Irvine.
Meet the Candidates
Three people are running to represent Trustee Area 2. Spotlight Schools conducted individual Zoom interviews with each of the candidates as well as exchanged emails.
The candidates differ in their vision for the priorities for an Orange County Board of Education member. There is one thing they have in common: they are all parents of children who attended public schools in Orange County.
Here’s some background information on each candidate.
First elected in 2018, Rossmoor resident Mari Barke is the current president of the OCBOE. She is a staff member at the California Policy Center, a nonprofit think tank. Its founder opened a charter school with Mari’s husband, Jeffrey Barke, M.D., in 2020. The school recently received approval from the OCBOE to expand and operate as a countywide charter school. Barke abstained from that vote. She says she is committed to parental rights and making sure “children are not trapped by their zip code.” She said she’s voted for every parent-requested interdistrict transfer. She cites the documentary Waiting for Superman as a major influence.
Learn more on Barke’s campaign website: maribarke.com.
Martha Fluor was a trustee on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education from 1991-2020. She said she’s coming out of retirement to run for this seat, in part, due to the board’s handling of an appeal from a charter school in her district in 2019. Fluor said she’s “pro great schools, whether they’re public, private or charter” and supports local control for school districts. She opposes the OCBOE’s recent lawsuits including ones against the county superintendent of schools and others against California Governor Gavin Newsom over his response to Covid-19. “It’s about kids, not politics. It’s about funding education, not litigation,” Fluor’s website reads.
Learn more on Fluor’s campaign website: marthafluor.com.
Christopher R. Ganiere
Christopher R. Ganiere of Costa Mesa is a product of Orange County public schools. He has been active in the leadership of the Libertarian party of Orange County. An architect, Ganiere has worked for firms specializing in designing school facilities. Designing for schools has influenced how he views the needs of students and educators. Ganiere said he wants to make it easier for students to transfer outside their district. He also thinks students who are homeschooled should be allowed to participate in public school extracurricular activities. “[Homeschool] families pay the taxes too. They should have the same access that anybody has to that local school,” he said.
Learn more on Ganiere’s Instagram account, www.instagram.com/canidatechristopherr.ganiere. (That is the correct spelling.)
Candidate Q & A
Editor’s note: the following responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Question: What is the role of the Orange County Board of Education and its trustees?
BARKE: “Technically, the OCBOE is an appeals board. And that was why I ran … because we appeal charter schools and interdistrict transfers and those are two ways that you can really change the trajectory of a child’s life. You know, so many children are trapped by their zip code. They don’t have good educational choices. Charter schools are often declined at the district level for various reasons. … We’ve not authorized every charter school. We’ve declined two that have come to us. But if we feel that the charter school is viable, and it offers choices, in a community where there aren’t enough … we have a board that is very favorable for school choice.”
FLUOR: The OCBOE should “rally the troops and … support public education; support our kids. It’s not about an ideology. It’s not about being anti-union. It’s about education and about what’s in the best interests of the kids. And if that’s a charter [school], great, no problem but … the majority of our kids in California and in Orange County are in public school. And private schools don’t have the capacity to take them either. And charter schools don’t have the capacity to take all the kids either. They get to pick and choose [students] as well. So, you know, that’s one thing that the [OCBOE] can do is to express confidence in their locally elected school boards and in their local school districts.”
GANIERE: Ganiere said the OCBOE acts as an “administrative body that distributes funds from the state.” But he also stressed its role as deciding appeals from students seeking interdistrict transfers. “I’d like to see transfers become so easy that they can be accomplished in 24 hours. … Because everybody knows, some schools are really good and some schools really suck. And we should not be in the business of making sure the sucky schools stay around.” Ganiere also thinks “we need to have a strict medical privacy attitude at the county level. What I put in my body, what medication I’m on, what physical therapy I’m going through, what surgeries I have, that’s for me to decide when to disclose it. Not some staff level person at a school district or Board of Education.”
Question: What’s the biggest challenge facing parents, students, educators and administrators in education in Orange County? How will you help?
BARKE: “I would say just what we’ve gone through with COVID and the fear of what mandates might return or might be there.” … “I think most people think that [requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to attend in-person public education] is really an infringement on their basic parental rights. And, I do think if the vaccine mandate comes down, that you will see a mass exodus out of public education.” Barke said one way to address that issue is with the board majority’s ongoing lawsuit challenging Gov. Newsom’s emergency declaration related to the pandemic, which she said two attorneys are working on pro bono.
(Note: Last month California announced the earliest it would require a Covid-19 vaccine for students is July 2023.)
FLUOR: “My biggest concern right now is the social-emotional [health] and the learning loss” caused by the pandemic. “While things are getting better and there are things that are coming back to normal, my heart goes out to parents and teachers.” To help with this challenge, Fluor thinks OCBOE should “cease suing and refocus the monies into classrooms and teachers.” She thinks the board should lobby local representatives to Sacramento to influence decisions on state mandates. “I don’t care whether they’re Republican or Democrat. We need to reach out and let them know our position on that. I don’t see this board doing that. They will just sit back and rally against it but that doesn’t do anything. That just frightens parents.”
GANIERE: Ganiere sees a problem with what he said is too much of a focus on making students “college-ready” right out of high school. “So much of the focus is on the kids’ need to get ready for college. You need to get the grades, you need to get the classes, you need to get the extracurricular activities and that’s putting a lot of undue pressure on students. … And after being told for 12 years, there’s only one true way to be an adult and that’s to go to college, you’re crushing these kids unnecessarily” when they receive college rejection letters. “There are lots of good, valid options in Orange County to be an adult without going to college first.” He said he would support expanding those options.
Question: Why should voters pick you?
BARKE: “Voters should pick me because of my track record as a board member since 2018. I think they’ve been a great four years of always putting the kids first and honoring parental rights and approving five charter schools. I want to continue the things we did, which is increasing transparency by moving [board] meetings to a time when parents can come after work and children can come. I want to continue to provide choice. I want to look at each and every charter school and if it’s viable, I want to find a place for it. I want to continue to honor interdistrict transfers. I want to continue to be a place where parents can come and speak out.”
FLUOR: “I am the most qualified candidate, serving as an elected school board member for over 29 years. I understand and adhere to the Brown Act. I am well-schooled in presiding over meetings; follow State and Federal Laws, and the California Education Code. Most importantly, I am respectful to all when on the dais or in public. I exercise tolerance, transparency, and civility. … I respond to all emails, phone calls, or texts within 24 hours. During my tenure as a school board member, I visited every school in our district many times. I met with parents, community members, teachers, and classified staff groups, PTA/PFOs, school foundations, and other stakeholders. I celebrated student, teacher, and school successes. As my campaign motto states – it’s about kids, not politics.”
GANIERE: “If parents are looking for a shake up to the status quo, if parents want scrutiny of federal meddling in schools, if medical privacy matters to you, vote Christopher R Ganiere for OCBOE Trustee Area 2.”Want more local education news? Sign up for the free weekly email newsletter from Spotlight Schools at SpotlightSchools.com.