Clovis Unified School Board Candidate Debate

The CUSD Board Candidate Forum was held at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (JT Gomez/Clovis Roundup)

On Monday October 3rd, the Veterans Memorial District hosted the Clovis Unified School District School Board Candidate Forum in the Liberty Ballroom of their facility.

The school board candidates present were Samantha Bauer, Joanne Burton, and Chuck Der Manouel all who were running for the vacancy in Trustee Area 1. Deena Combs-Flores was the final candidate present at the debate, representing her hopes to be elected to Trustee Area 6, the vacancy opened by the retirement of board member Betsy Sandoval.

Those not present were Clint Olivier for Trustee Area 1 and Bill Whitmore running for Trustee Area 6. They did not get the chance to speak at the debate.

Tiffany Stoker-Madsen was also not present at the debate, however she is running unopposed and will continue to represent Trustee Area 3.

CUSD Superintendent Dr. Eimear O’ Brien was present and relayed her hopes to continue the “sixty-two year legacy of Clovis Unified.” She then went on to state that she was anxious to hear the visions for the school district that the candidates held and recognized her duty to implement the vision that ultimately stems from the school board.

The candidates then had one minute to verbally answer questions thrown at them by moderators Larry Powell, former superintendent for the Fresno County Office of Education, and Guillermo Moreno, talk show host from KXEX Radio.

To open, various questions were asked pertaining to candidates’ backgrounds and how they would best represent CUSD as a board member.

Samantha Bauer, mentioning she began her career in statewide public education policy in Sacramento, believes that she is qualified for the job of school board because of her past experience “working for superintendents of boards of education for two of the largest school districts in California.”

Candidate Joanne Burton believes that by attending both a parent town hall meeting and several CUSD school board meetings, she became dignified to understand the problems that she would like to address if elected to the school board. “The parents were feeling their children were not up to academic grade level, particularly after the shutdowns and mandates.”

Chuck Der Manouel stated that “As a parent, as a community person, dealing with other parents, one’s that I’ve spoken to more recently, in the last two years, one of the things I’ve noticed is that because of this pandemic all the parents are starting to pay attention. As I’ve spoken to them I think that our priorities have veered away from what our standards should be.” He then said that he would like to be the “voice of the parent”, and “treat the parent like a customer”.

Finally, to open, candidate Deena Combs-Flores was asked how and what community activities related to a school district she had been involved with. Her answer began with the statement that her children had been products of CUSD for the past sixteen years that she has also lived in the Clovis area. All the while she has also been a teacher in Madera Unified, Merced, and currently works in the Fresno County Superintendent‘s Court School teaching math. “I also, through this time, was a stay at home mom…so I was very involved in PTA, coaching my kids in soccer.”

One question was posed to the four candidates by a student from Buchanan High School. The student asked how the candidates propose they bridge the communication gap between the school district and the community regarding opportunities for students.

Candidates’ answers ranged from factors such as social media, over-communication, not enough communication, and using the CUSD app to notify the public.

A few questions were also asked from Clovis Chamber of Commerce President Greg Newman.

One question asked by Newman related to the candidates’ stance on how CUSD could potentially work with the local business and manufacturing community to prepare students for workforce readiness coming straight out of high school.

Samantha Bauer: “In my experience in Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento County we actually had a partnership. It was a certification with a networking company and these kids came out of high school making six digits, so it’s definitely doable…It’s absolutely critical that we continue to find partnership with industry and certify our teachers so that these kids have meaningful skills upon graduation from Clovis Unified.”

Joanne Burton: “Well I think we have to preface it by saying we all acknowledge that vocational ed and technical training had been removed from the schools and now they’re trying to build it back in. Well that was a big mistake and I hope that I will be a big supporter of bringing that back in. This college trap is not for every kid.”

Chuck Der Manouel: “What I’ve learned is we have to prepare students for many, many different jobs that don’t necessarily require college. So we not only have to prepare them for college, we prepare them for any other job that’s meaningful and [to] make a living in their life.”

Deena Combs-Flores: “…I also worked for Madera adult school and they had a partnership with Workforce. And so I’m all in favor of having a partnership with Workforce because the reality is although there’s a lot of students that will be A-G qualified, there’s many who will not be and Workforce provides an opportunity for these students to get another type of career in their lives.”

The candidates were asked various other questions all pertaining to the school board responsibilities which include communication on a school board, how to properly conduct a school board to superintendent relationship, and several other questions regarding personal ideologies of how to represent one’s area of the community. Candidates were then given the opportunity to close the debate with final thoughts and conclusions.

To watch the CUSD Debate:

JT is a recent college grad with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. He is mainly interested in sports and entertainment but covers a wide array of subjects. He currently writes for the Fresno State Baseball Dugout Club. JT looks forward to continuing his career at the Clovis Roundup and is excited to be working closely with a community that is very proud of its people.