ELECTION 2014: Two seeking county schools supe seat

ELECTION 2014: Two seeking county schools supe seat

Dave Boitano
Alameda County Superintendent of Schools

Helen K. Foster and Karen Monroe are running for Alameda County superintendent of schools. Photos from the candidates' websites.

Two experienced administrators are vying to take over an office that makes few headlines but provides critical services to the Alameda County public education system and local schools.

Helen K. Foster and Karen Monroe are running for Alameda County superintendent of schools, a post being vacated by longtime superintendent Shelia Jordan.

Monroe is the office’s associate superintendent and was chosen by Jordan to succeed her. Foster, a trustee for the San Lorenzo Unified School District and administrator with the Hayward public schools, is running hard to replace Jordan.

Monroe was the top vote getter in a five-candidate race earlier this year but failed to get the 50 percent margin needed to win the office outright. Foster ran a distant second.

The county superintendent oversees the Alameda County Office of Education, which teaches incarcerated kids and pregnant teens and provides training and support to the 18 local school districts throughout the county.

Foster has been critical of the Alameda County Office of Education, saying that the office has lost sight of its mission and doesn’t reach out to local school districts enough.

“My goals for improvement include real and responsive customer service to all school and community college districts in the county,” she wrote in response to questions about the race.

Monroe defended the office’s record. To Foster’s charge that school district superintendents rarely attend a monthly meeting at the office because it isn’t relevant, she says 15 of 18 superintendents show up regularly to discuss common problems.

Helping implement the new Common Core educational standards, which stress critical thinking skills and the ability of students to apply what they have learned, is a top priority, Monroe said.

“We are applying that and we have done a good job,” she said.

Foster wants to provide teacher training in Common Core standards as well, but said the office must first conduct a needs assessment to determine where to put its resources.

The county office is in an enviable position financially with a $19 million surplus, the result of cuts during lean times and some programs being funded by grants, Monroe said.

The two candidates differ on how to pay for the rising cost of employee retirement benefits, with Foster backing a proposal to finance the expense by setting up a trust fund with money that could not be used for other purposes. Monroe said the benefit costs have already been budgeted and that keeping the money in the district’s budget is a better way to go.

On the issue of teacher training, Foster said she will provide “cutting edge professional development’’ around Common Core standards and advocate for 21st century education in science, engineering and math.

“ACOE (Alameda County Office of Education) needs to move to the top of the county office list in the Bay Area and beyond,” she wrote.

Monroe said the office’s existing training programs are well attended and the office has more requests for classes than it can fill.

“It’s because people are getting what they need,” she said.

In addition to being backed by Jordan, Monroe has a long list of endorsements, including State Senator Loni Hancock, local Assemblyman Rob Bonta, school board members in several East Bay cities and four Alameda County supervisors.

Foster has been endorsed by the Bay Area News Group newspaper chain, and individual educators in San Lorenzo and other East Bay cities. She is also backed by Black Women Organizing for Political Action and the American Indian Democratic Forum.


Helen K. Foster
Karen Monroe