A Candidates Forum was held on Thursday night, with the candidates for the open seats on the Wasco Elementary and Wasco High School Districts' Board of Trustees. Each candidate was invited to speak about his or her goals for the district, what issues they consider important, and how they would make a difference if they were elected.
In the Wasco Elementary School Board race, there are four candidates vying for the three spots that are open. Those seats are currently held by Cheryl Wiegman-Craig, Richard Reding and Anna Poggi, all who are looking to retain their seats on the board. Joining the race is Ernie Sanchez. Sanchez is no stranger to the board, serving on the Wasco Unified Elementary School District board twice, as well as four stints on the Wasco High School District Board. Sanchez also worked for Wasco High School for 11 years.
Wiegman-Craig said that she is running again because she said that the board has made tremendous progress as a unit, and she believes that they can do even bigger things if allowed to finish the job.
Reding has served on the board for 12 years and he believes that his strength is his involvement in the success of each of the schools in the district. "
Poggi taught for 40 years in Wasco schools, all of it in the classroom. "This is my home. I care about the students and staff. I am very proud of the job that we have done thus far in the district," Poggi said.
All of the candidates had a chance to answer questions from the audience. Moderator Jill Drescher, president of the sponsoring Wasco Woman's Club, asked each candidate what issue was important to them and how would they address it.
All of the candidates listed safety as a big issue, as well as improving performance in the classroom. They didn't address how exactly how they would address the issue, but that that they still have a long way to go.
Marlene Swan asked the candidates if they regularly visit the different school sites to see how they operate. Wiegman-Craig said that it was a little problematic during covid to visit the classrooms. She did say that they are now planning to start visiting the classrooms again.
Reding said, "I have visited the classrooms many times. I just tell them that I would like to sit in on a class, and they give me a pass."
Sanchez also said that he has visited classrooms many times. But, there was a difference of opinion on the manner of the visitation. Reding said that he likes to go in unannounced, giving him a real look at what goes on in the classroom. Sanchez said that he likes to announce himself before he goes into the classroom. "I like to see them at their best and be well-behaved. I don't want to surprise them and make them uncomfortable."
One thing that all of the candidates agreed on is the need for excellent faculty and administration, and a big factor with all of them is community and parent involvement. "We have such great support from the community and the parents of this district," said Reding, which was echoed by Sanchez, Poggi and Wiegman-Craig.
Swan also asked the candidates about fine arts in the district's curriculum, with many classes cut due to budget in recent years. "I think that the fine arts allow the students to succeed in many ways. When I was in school, there were plenty of fine arts, and they are so important in the schools," said Wiegman-Craig.
"I think that they are important also, but we have to find a way to fund them. It would be great to have a full slate of fine arts programs and classes, and the teachers to teach them, but we have to have the purse strings to do it," Reding said.
The night also saw three of the candidates running for Wasco High School District attending the forum. Incumbents Joe Hively and Juan Bernal spoke about their many years of experience on the board, as well as their time spent in Wasco schools.
Hively has taught and coached in Wasco for 30 years. His family has three generations of Wasco High alumni. He also has served on the City Council.
Newcomer Mario Juarez, who worked for Wasco schools for over 30 years, said that he wants to help students and be a part of the Wasco High community.
Two candidates were not in attendance. Tony Perez and James Adams both wrote statements for the event. Perez said that he is fully committed to improving the safety in the school, as well as helping to facilitate better learning at the school. Adams has coached baseball and softball, as well as being a husband of a teacher in Wasco. He said that he knows the unique issues of the teachers in the district and is equipped to handle the issues and improve the structure and safety of the school.
One member of the audience asked what could be done about the need for a new gym at Wasco High. All of the candidates agreed that the school was in dire need of a new gym, but finding the money to pay for it was the problem.
Hively responded: "We have known for years that we need a new gym, but we have tried to put a bond measure on the ballot twice and both times, the bond did not get the necessary percentage to pass. So, unless there is a wealthy donor that donates the money to the school, I don't know where the money would come from."
Swan asked the candidates what the Wonderful Company gets in return for their contributions to the academy program that is available for Wasco High students. Bernal said that the company pays for the entirety of the program, which is free to students. "They do assume that out of the many students that go through the program, and get their college degrees at the same time as their high school diploma, that there would be a decent pool of prospective employees that might be available. But, in no way are the students indebted to Wonderful. They can pursue a career anywhere that they want," said Bernal, whose daughter went through the program.
Another issue that concerned the audience and the candidates is safety in the school. "Unfortunately, this is a different world and time," said Hively. "But, our school and staff have done an amazing job in keeping our kids and staff safe."
One issue that was brought up by Wasco High's John Blanchard was the question of the inability of the high school to retain teachers. He said that there had been many teachers who have left the district and taken jobs with other districts. He wondered if there was something that could be done to retain our teachers. Bernal said that it is true, that they have lost some teachers, but they have also gained some teachers that have decided to make Wasco home. "We would have to look at the instances as individually and see if there was something that could have been done to retain them."
"I believe I am that candidate in District One and would be honored to have your vote."
In District Three, Mayor Pro Tem John P. Pallares faces Valentin Medina.
Pallares said he is running because he wants to help the community prosper. He has lived in the Wasco area all his life, attending local elementary schools and graduating from Wasco High. He obtained an associate of science degree in industrial drawing from Bakersfield College.
"I desire to help our residents and be an active member of the community," Pallares stated.
Pallares has been an engaged community member since 2013, when he regularly sat in on city council meetings.
He served on the Wasco Planning Commission from 2013 to 2018, and on the City Council from 2018 to the present.
"Attending meetings like Neighborhood Watch, General Plan, Highway 46 Corridor and High-Speed Rail, enabled me to learn and offer ideas to find solutions for improving the City of Wasco," Pallares said.
He considers himself dependable, honest, and cordial, which he said will serve him well on the Wasco city council.
There are many important issues that he cares for. However, he believes public safety, water infrastructure and housing are paramount.
He is also concerned about the youth and the elderly.
"The children need many activities to choose a program for their interest. Recently, I was made aware of how lonely seniors are when their homes are empty. They appreciate the Wasco Recreation and Parks District and the city for senior day at the fair but need more activities year-round."
He said he stands out among the other candidate because of his nine years of experience with direct involvement with city government and processes.
His opponent, Valentin Medina, said he is running to give the Wasco residents a different representation option in District Three.
"As I begin to grow my family, I want to ensure Wasco is a place people want to live in and raise their family, not a city they want to move out of due to violence and crime," Medina said.
He does not have a background in politics but said he wants to get involved on the council to positively impact the community and ensure that the best interests of stakeholders are kept at the forefront of decision-making and policies.
He works for a local agricultural company as director of field operations, leading a workforce of 250+ employees. He also serves as a director on the Kern County Farm Bureau board.
Medina said he comes with the mindset that this will not be an easy task, but if elected, he looks forward to working alongside the community.
"To make sure that we are engaging our residents on decisions that affect all of us," Medina said.
Among the issues he cares most about are violence and crime. "This is at the top of my list," he said.
He is also concerned with homelessness and community health and wellness.
Medina believes he is qualified for the job.
"Throughout my professional career, I've learned what it takes to be an effective leader and truly lead by example. I am not afraid to question the status quo and put the best interest of Wasco residents first."
In District Four, appointed Councilmember Mike Lynch is running against Eddie Saldaña and Myron Williams.
Lynch has held the position since February. He has been a resident of Wasco for 25 years. He moved here after retiring from the Police Department and later began working for the Tulare County Fire Department as an engineer for 15 years. He is now retired from fire services.
He has spent more than 40 years in public service at the municipal and county level.
"I served four years on the Wasco Housing Authority trying to make a difference in the lives of the residents in the farm labor camp."
For more than 20 years, he was a substitute teacher and counselor in both Wasco school districts.
Lynch believes he should be elected to the council because he feels best qualified for the job.
"My work in law enforcement and fire service has involved me in contract negotiations and managing budgets. I have served in supervisory positions necessary for good leadership."
Since being appointed to the council, he has prioritized pushing to make our community safer.
"Speaking with citizens of Wasco, they want more accountability from our law enforcement. An overwhelming number feel we need to have our own police department and realize there is a cost that comes with that. Coming from that background, I have to agree with them."
He added, "We need to change things in Sacramento to make lawbreakers more accountable for their crimes. We are seeing our law enforcement hands being tied and watching a revolving door with the criminals being let go without doing any time in jail."
Eddie Saldaña has noble intentions in his desire for the council member position.
He has lived in Wasco for 28 years.
"As a homeowner and parent, I want to preserve the town and keep it a great place to raise a family."
He said he has the passion and commitment necessary to be an effective city council member.
"I will work hard to make sure the voices of our community members will be heard," Saldaña said.
He added, " I am a happy family man that has worked as a crane operator by trade. I'll be new to politics, but I have what it takes to do an exemplary job."
Saldaña said he has served the community with all his heart since his first year at Wasco High School to this present day.
He said he has a hard work ethic and the dedication to serve the city of Wasco.
"I am confident I will be diligent in my goal to get all constituents of our beautiful Wasco involved to make changes for the betterment of us as a whole strong community. Together we can."
He said he would like to see more resources for seniors and young people.
"I am also interested in starting more neighborhood watch groups to be proactive in protecting ourselves from the crimes we have been experiencing."
To this end, Saldaña is a firm advocate of starting a Wasco Police Department.
He said he is running for no political gain.
"My one and only reason is to serve the citizens of Wasco to the best of my ability and to make sure our city sees the growth and development it deserves for many years to come," Saldaña said.
Myron Williams is seeking the position to better the community, grow his fellowship with his church and get more involved.
He has lived in Wasco for 20 years.
"The community is great. It just needs a little bit of help for the youth with different programs, activities and scholarships to keep them interested," Williams said.
He has been a member of the TrueLight Baptist Church for 4o years. "My great-grandfather built the church," he noted.
He said he would bring the values of the church to the role of council member.
"This is my first attempt at a political position, but I feel that even so, I am qualified to do the job and will fulfill the duty to the best of my ability," Williams said.
He has volunteered for Wasco Bengals football and assisted the Wasco youth wrestling team coaches. At Karl F. Clemans Elementary School, Williams was an assistant sports coach helping students at their practices.
"I also participate in Calloway 4H programs working with horses and poultry for 25 years, teaching the younger kids discipline in life, showmanship and responsibility."
He said the issues he cares about are troubled youth and their lack of programs. He wishes to bring the community together.
Williams has worked as an equipment operator for the C&J Energy team for 12 years. Before that, he was a crew pusher for KSI, an energy company.
"These experiences have allowed me to develop strong leadership skills."
He believes he should be elected because he is passionate about helping others.
"I care about my community and am here to help wholeheartedly."