May 17-24, 2006

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Sandra Nichols

Sandra Nichols: Charter school cheerleader?

Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Can't We All Not Get Along?

This year's race for Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools has created a great deal of excitement as journalists, voters and the five candidates themselves attempt to locate a single difference in viewpoint among the five contenders.

An unsolved riddle nearly as beguiling as that of the Mystery Spot itself, the remarkably consistent views of Rowland Baker, Rebecca Garcia, Sandra Nichols, Lupe Rivas and Michael Watkins inspired the Sentinel this month to run the headline, "Which of these candidates is not like the other?" The reporter, alas, could find no difference.

It's not that Nüz is expecting candidates to come out and admit that they really hate kids and think all of them should be leased out to corporations to perform manual labor in exchange for course credit--although that would make for more lively debates. It's just that those safe-as-BGH-free-milk "improve schools/focus on students/recruit excellent teachers/spend money wisely" truisms all start sounding a bit redundant.

Mind you, the quintuplets are not completely identical. After all, Watkins has the most lawn signs and the least fake smile, Rivas has a doctorate in multicultural education, Baker has the backing of 10 school superintendents and Garcia is a farmerworkers' daughter who went on to become an educator and administrator.

And then there's Nichols. After poring through each candidate's official statement of qualifications, Nüz discovered that she may possess the single most significant sign of individuality. For while other candidates make vague references to working with the private sector, only Nichols comes right out and pledges to "take the lead" when it comes to supporting charter schools.

And you may ask: So what? Well, just this: Despite the fact that charter schools are beloved by many in Santa Cruz, Nüz can't get rid of the sneaking suspicion that the whole movement is being used as a stalking horse for the neocon dream of ultimately privatizing and dismantling our public school system.

So, with that in mind, all Nüz has to do is figure out which of the candidates will instead fight to ensure full funding of a truly public school system. Now that's a pretty tall order in a political landscape populated by backstabbing politicians and conservative spinmeisters who love to scapegoat public schools for failing to assume responsibilities which have been pretty much abdicated by parents and society at large.

But how to find such a quixotic candidate? Why, just consult with the charter school movement's natural enemy: the teachers unions. After all, who else's very survival is so closely linked to the preservation of public education?

At least, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Turns out the Greater Santa Cruz Federation of Teachers is endorsing aforementioned charter school proponent Sandra Nichols. According to the union's website (, the decision was made "after a bit of deliberation" and based on Nichols' "mission to save public education." They also credit her for opposing the anti-education propositions put forth last fall by 'Governor Swartzeneger [sic].' (Looks like some consonant-challenged individual at the union hasn't advanced beyond the 'Hooked on Phonics' stage.)

Nüz should also note that Nichols is the only candidate whose campaign materials include a picture from her days as school spirit leader at Grossmont High School, where she claims to have been "one of the best flag twirlers in the league."

Readers who want to know even more about the superintendent of schools candidates can attend their May 24 debate at city council chambers, which will be broadcast live on Community Television.

Waging War

Looking ahead to the November ballot, the Locally Owned Business Alliance of Santa Cruz is planning to unveil the results of its study on the impact of the initiative that would raise the local minimum wage to $9.25. The group's report will be made public during a meeting at the Police Community Room, 155 Center St., on Tuesday, May 23, at 7pm. Given that the alliance consists of more than 50 local business plus GoodWill of Santa Cruz, Nüz wouldn't be all that shocked if their findings back up the contention that said proposal would force local businesses to either raise prices, lay off staff or relocate outside city boundaries. But you never know--maybe they'll turn out to really like it.

Another Bike Event

Finally, a bike ride for the lazy cyclist! No need to get up before dawn and chase down some race-paced peloton in matching spandex. This Saturday, just grab your bike and hop a train. People Power's second annual Rail and Trail Day combines a leisurely train trip to Felton with a fun and safe bike ride back to Santa Cruz along Highway 9. As the highway isn't usually the first place one thinks of when looking for a family bike ride, what with its speeding trucks and lack of bike lanes, the Highway Patrol will provide a rolling closure of the road on Saturday to keep the road car-free while cyclists are present.

According to People Power director Micah Posner, last year's Rail and Trail Day drew over 500 participants. "This is great example of how when we talk about a future that's more reliant on bikes and public transportation; it's a future that's really pleasant," says Posner.

For participants who are inclined to stick around and discuss bike advocacy issues, the ride will be followed by a picnic and a meeting of the Transportation Task Force at Santa Cruz Depot Park. Posner says the ride is not just a fun family adventure, but is also intended as "a showcase of a different way we can transport ourselves."

Tickets for Rail and Trail Day are $6 adults/$3 children under 12, and can be purchased at Another Bike Shop, Amsterdam Bikes, the Bike Church, the White Raven, Trey's True Wheel and the Aptos Chamber of Commerce.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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