2016-11-11 / Front Page

White, Lundstrom, LaBelle win seats

SCHOOL BOARD Measures X and Y also approved
By Michael Aushenker

With a decisive lead, incumbent Dan White has been reelected to the Simi Valley Unified School District Board of Education.

Taking the other two open seats are White’s ally, past board member Eric Lundstrom, and newcomer Bob LaBelle, a retired teacher and administrator with more than 40 years of experience, including as past principal of Royal High School.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting by Wednesday morning, White had garnered 25.9 percent of the total count, or 19,620 votes. Lundstrom took 22.3 percent (16,835 votes), while LaBelle commanded 21.4 percent (16,172 votes).

The other two candidates — Dawn Smollen and Matthew Baker — landed 18.2 percent (13,776 votes) and 12 percent (9,061 votes), respectively.

Lundstrom expressed delight in rejoining the board as, he said, SVUSD rebounds from years of mediocrity.

“The vibe is 180 degrees from what it was,” he said. “I’m excited (for the) opportunity to have my ideas listened to.”

He praised White’s reelection and LaBelle’s first win.

“You’re getting a lot of educational background,” Lundstrom said of LaBelle. “He was an actual educator.”

White, who fought hard throughout his first term battling years of what he considered ineffective leadership, said he’s excited about the transition of the board.

A good fight

Simi Valley voters also passed Measures X and Y by large margins Tuesday. Measure X will authorize the district to sell $239 million in general obligation bonds to upgrade SVUSD infrastructure, while Measure Y limits school board stints to two consecutive four-year terms.

Measure X passed with 64.6 percent of the total count, or 26,563 votes.

Measure Y’s passage was even more decisive with 79.4 percent, or 32,192 votes.

On Election Night, the Tiki room at Simi Valley’s Junkyard Cafe became the gathering place for supporters of Measure X. Throughout the evening, White, LaBelle and current school board president Scott Blough mingled with Jenniffer Jones, who headed the committee to draft the school bond initiative.

“Tonight’s a good night,” White said. “A lot of things have gone our way.”

Despite his loss, Baker was upbeat when reached by phone Tuesday night because his favored presidential candidate, Donald Trump, had won.

“I am the happiest Republican in America right now,” he said.

“I spent $25 on my campaign,” said Baker, who wants to contribute to SVUSD and believes the campaign gave him greater clout and recognition.

Smollen told the Acorn she will continue devoting her time to volunteering with Junior Olympics, Simi Valley High School and the Simi Valley Education Foundation.

“It has been a pleasure to be able to build new friendships and get to know people on a deeper level,” she said. “So in the end, it did not go my way and that’s okay.

“I did it all for our kids and will continue working hard, because (that’s) the only way I know how.”

At the party, school board member Bill Daniels said that he, Blough and White have already made progress course-correcting the district.

“It’s been derailed for a long time,” Daniels said. “The three of us have set the standard. We don’t just show up at the school board meetings, we’re out there with the community, with the schools.”

Daniels said that due to the passage of Proposition 51, the statewide bond measure that collected 125,383 votes, or 51.6 percent, the district may be able to access $50 million in matching funds in coming years.

Jones expressed pride for her Measure X committee team.

“We worked really cohesively together,” she said, adding that any Simi resident can apply to sit on the seven-to- 12-person independent citizens oversight committee on Measure X expenditures by visiting the SVUSD website at simi.k12.ca.us and filling out the application. “They’ll be part of the creation of the by-laws.”

Jones said she looks forward to working with the new school board.

“I’m really confident with our board and the people who ran.”

Smollen, who sat on the committee that crafted Measure X, was also pleased with the results.

“Getting that passed for our kids’, schools’ and community’s future was so important, and I got to be a part of that,” she said. “I know that schools are in good hands with the new board the people elected. Can’t wait to see all that they will accomplish.”

Toward the future

With the election behind them, White, Lundstrom and LaBelle said they look forward to getting to work.

As he waited for the numbers to officially cement his third-seat win, LaBelle said he was ready to contribute no matter what.

“If it didn’t work out, I’d work just as hard as I’ve been doing,” he said.

LaBelle said he wants to continue the positive school district climate set by his protégé, Superintendent Jason Peplinski. In an interesting twist of fate, LaBelle once again gets to serve as Peplinski’s boss.

He also called the passage of Measure X “fantastic” and looked forward to helping guide the upcoming oversight committee.

“It’s going to be good for the kids,” the incoming board member said.

“Once the students have first priority, the decisions get very easy,” White added.

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