Meet the candidates: Barstow School Board Area 4, Ben Rosenberg vs. Aaron Heldreth
Two seats on Barstow Unified School District’s Board of Trustees are up for election on the Nov. 8 ballot, with early voting having already begun. The race for BUSD Board Area 4 pits Ben Rosenberg, a 12-year trustee, and the school board’s current president, against Aaron Heldreth, a second-time candidate who lost a 2020 election bid against then-board president and now-City Councilwoman Barbara Rose.
The Daily Press asked each candidate for their perspective on a few points of interest to local parents, students, and residents more broadly. Here are their responses, with minor edits in the name of length.
- Daily Press: Explain your personal philosophy on the job of a Barstow Unified School District trustee and the relationship that should exist between the Board of Trustees and school administrators and staff, the general public, and peer agencies such as the county and City Council. In what ways are you the best candidate to fulfill this role?
Ben Rosenberg: “The job of a [BUSD] trustee is to support and advocate for the children. It would be a privilege to continue serving our youth, the school administrators and staff, and the Barstow community by applying my 12 years of experience as a trustee. Examples of how I have supported the children, our staff, and the community […] include the establishment of the STEM Academy, the construction of the Fine Arts Academy, and Barstow Digital Academy for students who wish to be homeschooled. In addition, the Board has hired a third Police Resource Officer to better protect our students and staff.”
Aaron Heldreth: “My vision for [BUSD] is to create a safe, strong, and supportive learning environment for all students within the district through cultivating supportive relationships between all stakeholders in our youth […] Through my time in the military I have served with people from around the world to work together toward a common goal. The experiences I have had have taught me how to truly listen to others and to understand their strengths, struggles, and motivations. This ability to listen and work together with others will help me to build the required relationships to lead to a better and brighter [BUSD].”
- DP: To what degree do you feel in-person restrictions, schooling changes, and social pressures in response to Covid-19 have been vindicated and/or discredited as health measures for K-12 students and staff? Please include your specific stance on the idea of mandating masks and/or emergency-authorized vaccines for students to access some aspects of school.
Rosenberg: “Children should face as few barriers as possible when it comes to getting access to the education they need. We have learned that children are the least at-risk demographic for the disease, so it should be up to the parents to decide if they want their children to wear masks or have the vaccination.”
Heldreth: “There are factors and risks to weigh for each position. Ultimately, the choice on mandatory masking and Covid-19 vaccine requirements are set by federal and state officials. As a parent with children in the District, I understand how much parents care for the safety of their children and only want the best for them in the classroom and in life.”
- DP: The 2022 Best High Schools list from U.S. News & World Report placed Barstow High School near the bottom quarter of nearly 18,000 schools in the U.S., primarily based on a poor “college-readiness rating” that countered its strong graduation rate. What do you think is the driver of these marks, specifically as they may or may not relate to the Board of Trustees?
Rosenberg: “The figure that needs to be celebrated is that Barstow High School’s graduation rate is 94%. The article uses AP exams as the metric for college readiness, and I would argue that college readiness is more than test scores. [BUSD] and Barstow Community College have a very positive and supportive relationship that includes free concurrent enrollment so that students can receive both college and high school credits at the same time. This opportunity allows students to become familiar with taking college classes, gives them a head start on earning a college degree, and saves a lot of money on tuition.”
Heldreth: “I am passionate about bringing more programs to [BUSD] to help increase our student’s college readiness, as well as prepare them for the workforce. I would love to increase our reading literacy programs through grant money to provide assistance for busing, snacks, and supplies. I am excited to bring back a bilingual program and create an FFA (Future Farmers of America) program […] I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with the BNSF Railroad, local trade businesses, government agencies, and the Barstow Community College to arrange internships which can lead to job opportunities for our youth.”
- DP: It’s been five years since BUSD began issuing debt to meet its Measure F promise of bonds totaling $39 million for sweeping repairs, upgrades, and expansions of schools in old and unhealthy conditions. Explain how you believe Measure F is living up to its 2016 pitch and/or falling short of the potentially hefty costs for taxpayers to service its debt.
Rosenberg: “Measure F has brought modern facilities to our students, which enables them to learn in environments that better serve them and enable them to focus on their studies. In 2016 the voters overwhelmingly approved this $39 million bond by 67.54%. It can only be used for infrastructure and facilities improvements and so far has resulted in the current multi-million dollar modernization of Barstow Junior High (new plumbing, electrical, air conditioning, asbestos abatement, interior painting, carpeting, and landscaping, to name a few of the renovations), the completed modernization of Skyline North Elementary School, and other projects around the district.”
Heldreth: “[BUSD] has a number of aging facilities which are in need of repair. Measure F has brought funds to help address these issues, and work has been getting done to improve the conditions of the facilities. However, more still needs to be done. Employees have brought up a number of health and safety issues which I am looking forward to addressing.”
- DP: With BUSD having paid $2.4 million late last year to settle one of seven lawsuits at the time alleging years of sexual abuse by staff and cover-ups by administrators in the high school, explain how you believe the board should and/or shouldn’t take action as trustees and engage parents as BUSD representatives when it comes to such sensitive issues?
Rosenberg: “The District has an employee discipline policy, created in conjunction with the certificated and classified unions, that allows the Board to take action, including up to termination of employment, when such unfortunate incidents occur. The District has a Parent Advisory Committee, with a parent representative from each school. These parents, or any other parent/guardian of a student in the District, are always welcome to share their input on how best to deal with such a sensitive issue.”
Heldreth: “As Trustees, we need to lead the by example. We need to hold more meaningful training above and beyond the required online coursework set by the state. We need to provide the public more access to the district and the board by holding events for parents and concerned citizens. We need to set and enforce Board Policy fairly and swiftly so the public has faith in [BUSD].”
Charlie McGee covers California’s High Desert for the Daily Press, focusing on the city of Barstow and its surrounding communities. He is also a Report for America corps member with The GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and worldwide. McGee may be reached at 760-955-5341 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bycharliemcgee.