Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

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By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

In a political surprise, career educator Kate Ford has decided not to run for re-election to the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of education, she told Newsmakers on Wednesday.

Ford was elected four years ago on the strength of her four decades of deep experience at every level of education; in public and behind-the-scenes, she has been the intellectual leader on the five-member school board, both during the troubled close of former Superintendent Cary Matsuoka's tenure and the first two, unsettled years of the term of incumbent Hilda Maldonado.

As word of Ford's decision spread through the local political community on Wednesday, there was a sudden scramble among insiders and education advocates to find a successor candidate around whom her backers and base could coalesce, with considerable speculation and buzz surrounding city Planning Commission chair Gabe Escobedo.

This year's election marks the first time SBUSD board candidates will run under a new district representative scheme.

Ford, holding the Eastside District 1 seat, was considered a shoo-in for a second term. Now, her unexpected exit could trigger a competitive race: county elections office records show that at least one other candidate -- Efigenia Banales, who has worked as a classroom assistant in the district and been active in community politics - on Wednesday already pulled papers to run.

Kate Ford (courtesy photo)

What she was thinking

Ford described her decision as a tortuous one. Both in a telephone interview, and in a 368-word written statement she told us she wrote to clarify her thinking for herself (posted below), she cited reasons "both personal and professional."

At age 70, Ford said, she realized that after jumping into the maelstrom of school board politics four years ago, immediately after finishing a 43-year professional career, she really hasn't "experienced retirement and the freedom that I imagined it might bring…. to travel, try new things, and basically wander away from education and commitments for a while."

Also, at a time when Covid, school shutdowns, racial antagonisms and tribal politics increasingly generate an atmosphere of anger, rancor and hostility at board meetings, as members and district administrators routinely become the targets of belligerent verbal attacks, and frequent recipients of hateful, vicious and threatening emails and other messages.

"I’m not a natural political animal," Ford said. "I feel strongly about the way that people should interact, and I don’t believe, at this point in my life, that I need to tolerate being accused of various misdoings as well as being called every name in the book. Or ignore stupidity. Or accept cruelty."

A real loss

In a local election season featuring school board races from Lompoc to Carpinteria, Ford's withdrawal from the electoral arena represents a significant loss for public education in Santa Barbara. Thoughtful, prudent and well-informed, she possesses vast institutional knowledge and historic context about the full array of teaching, learning, administration, philosophic and pedagogic issues confronting public education, here and across the nation.

As a matter of governance, her departure particularly is a blow to Maldonado; along with the election of Ford's board colleague and close ally Laura Capps to the Board of Supervisors, the embattled superintendent is losing her two strongest supporters.

Their exits come at a time when Maldonado is the focus of harsh criticism and censure from some teachers union factions; faces ongoing fallout from the resignations or retirements of virtually every key, veteran executive at district headquarters; and the stiff challenge of assembling and managing a new team of top administrators, many of them new to Santa Barbara.

Although the deadline for filing candidacy papers is Friday, it is expected that will be extended by five days, to August 17, because there now is no incumbent in the race.

Here is the text of Kate Ford's written statement explaining her decision not to run again:

It took me a long time to make this decision, but I had a revelation last night when reading Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s newsletter reflections on Serena’s retirement. He noted that it is pretty tough to move away from something that has brought so much personal and professional satisfaction, along with facing the troubling feeling that in doing so, people might feel let down and disappointed. I think that reality also definitely kept me from saying thanks but no thanks.

However, I have decided not to run for school board again, even though there have been numerous wins, lots of opportunities to use my experience and expertise, and many chances for growth through often daunting and sometimes painful challenges. My reasons are both personal AND professional.

On the personal side, I just don’t feel that committing four more years at my age and stage in life is the right thing for me. I went straight from 43 years in education to running for school board and then serving on the board for four years…. So, I really haven’t experienced retirement and the freedom that I imagined it might bring…. to travel, try new things, and basically wander away from education and commitments for a while.

Professionally speaking, many of the realities of being on a public school board are not really in line with my own sensibilities and style. Things I have always valued and made a hallmark of my career, namely collaboration, honesty, kindness, and fun just aren’t there, almost by design. There is a built-in stiffness and formality that has been difficult for me. I’m not a natural political animal. I feel strongly about the way that people should interact; and I don’t believe, at this point in my life, that I need to tolerate being accused of various misdoings as well as being called every name in the book. Or ignore stupidity. Or accept cruelty.

The bottom line is that I believe that I can help in other creative ways by coloring a bit outside the lines and more in line with my personality and skills.

So, there you have it, I remain, once and for all, a schoolmarm looking for something else around the corner.

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Babycakes Aug 11, 2022 03:31 PM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

Too bad that she is leaving. It's hard to believe that five right-wing fanatics in Santa Barbara have been able to completely foil any attempts to improve our schools. Thirty-plus years of progressive leadership at all levels, and yet so few are able to completely dominate the progressives. SB city is about 87% progressive, and it's beyond me how a mere 13% is able to control everything. It's incredible....unless, the problems isn't who you think it is. Hmmmmm......

SBLetsGetAlong Aug 11, 2022 05:44 PM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

The rats are fleeing the sinking ship.
She purposely chose an education model with a 20% success rate for Hispanics instead of the existing structure at Franklin elementary with a 60% success rate with the same demographics.

She purposely pushed and coerced vaccines and Mackinac for kids despite the FDA disclosures stating school aged children are at the highest risk of myocarditis. And in the lady year there have been three high school students who died from heart failure.
She pushed for school vaccine clinics knowing they were not administering the FDA approved vaccine and they were misleading the public.
She pushed for minors to go behind parents backs for medical medical procedures purposely undermining parents rights.
Under her reign there is over 50% suicidal rate.
Hope she gets sued personally for endangering the children she was supposed to protect.

mm1970 Aug 12, 2022 11:18 AM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

Can you explain this more specifically? Like, which education model did she "choose"? I'm genuinely curious. Kate has been on the board 4 years. Franklin really turned itself around in 2018-19 (3-4 years ago), thanks to Casie Killgore using her "hustler skills" and "business model", which is thinly veiled code for MONEY.

The fact of the matter is, I expect that most elementary schools (like the one my children attend/ attended) look at Franklin as a model and then...have to try and figure out how to do something similar, but without the money. They look at the money they get from the district, and figure out how to use it best.

They hustle for donations from parents (who don't have any money). They hustle for donations from businesses (who are already donating to other schools). They do their best to keep class sizes smaller in the lower grades, and to talk parents into becoming reading specialists. If they are smart (and many are), for reading intervention they don't bother with balanced literacy and go straight to phonics.

MONEY talks.

also, 50% suicide rate, lol what? (To echo chillin)

Basicinfo805 Aug 11, 2022 07:54 PM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

…and how is it you think the status quo “progressives” who by everyone’s accounts in this town have driven the education ship for decades here are “being controlled” by a 13% minority?

Making no sense at all Baby. I dont mean to be personal, but please explain rationally if you wish….

dogsnsand Aug 11, 2022 09:12 PM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

Jerry called this right. Losing her is a real loss. She was a rockstar when she was principal at Peabody. My child really benefited from her tenure there. She was a principal that cared, very hands on, and fair. They had an organic garden the kids tended, amazing food program that used the garden in its meals for the kids, arts every Friday, and an artist in residency. It was a really wonderful environment! When she ran for school board, I was happy to support her. She's been a true adult-in-the-room that really cared about kids and education. She was never looking for a career in politics - a welcome relief. She was focused on kids and families. I am really sorry to hear this news, but happy for her to have this chance to embrace this stage in her life, and live it to the fullest.

sblocal1967 Aug 11, 2022 09:17 PM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

Kate - name one thing you have accomplished? What is one win you can put on your score board? The entire SB School Board are a bunch of progressive cronies. All they have done is create more uneducated people who are the voter based on libtards. Please go take you tax payor funded pension and leave SB.

lovesbalot Aug 11, 2022 09:34 PM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

Kate is so qualified, warm and civil and also a leader on the board. No one who campaigns and volunteers for a school board member should be threatened or have to put up with name calling. Kate showed she cared for students needs. I feel the system itself is broken and political making it difficult for an exceptionally qualified and kind hearted leader to turn this around. Jerry is right.. this is a big loss for our district .

Alexblue Aug 12, 2022 09:16 AM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

SBUSD sucks but let's be real--being a teacher, genuinely helping kids, serving in local politics, there are so many hate driven psychos out there targeting anyone with a semi-public identity why would anyone put themselves through that?

I became extremely frustrated with County politics five or six years ago when my professional role required that I interact with the County bureaucracy, so much so that I contemplated running for office to try and focus on a couple of simple public service issues. Ultimately I decided not to; why would I take a pay cut only to be abused by a bunch of layabouts and nutters? So I put my energy in to community volunteering instead and I have no regrets.

mm1970 Aug 12, 2022 03:22 PM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

So, there haven't been any CAASPP test scores. So, if you are tracking test scores, it's most certainly not those. The most recent CAASPP test scores available for SBUnified are from 2018-19. During the years from 2014 (the first year of the test) to 2019, SB Unified elementary scores showed consistent increases in test scores at most schools. (*Children with learning differences are an exception). 2022 scores are just coming out now, so they'll be up on the website at some point.

I have a spreadsheet. SBunified average ELA scores increased by 22 points in those 4 years, and Math scores increased by 20 points. (I also have the scores broken down by grade and school - in general, it was a steady upward trend for most schools.)

Basicinfo805 Aug 12, 2022 04:20 PM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

Our schools are tanking it. If you’re looking at “point” upgrades compared to the last few years, well then you’re not analyzing the stats completely. What you’re saying bad yes that’s probably accurate data, is that we have gone from a D to a D+/C-. Awesome.

Take a look at the actual big picture relative to other states and even countries, and you will find that CA is one of the poorest performing states in the country, and the US is nowhere near a top achieving level, particularly when you account for percapita income. I’m not saying it’s her fault personally, but she’s been a local power player on the sinking ship for a while now and during COVID took a weak stand.

lovesbalot Aug 13, 2022 06:49 AM
Kate Ford Won't Seek Re-Election to SBUSD Seat: Scramble for Successor

MM1970 Test score for the subgroups and most vulnerable have not gone up since 2019. And only the whites and asians were doing fair then. Look at students with learning differences, english language learners, foster youth, students with socioeconomic hardship and homeless students their scores are in negative 113 and negative 80 range. Basically they are years behind because of an approach to reading that does not work well for most students. Also we have a "wait to fail" policy meaning the system does not step up to intervene until student is in bottom 25%. This is not a proactive apporoach. Doing automatic testing for all in k-3 would help catch kids struggling early in 1st and even in k. Teacher training in science of reading and paraeducator support is also needed and reducing class sizes. Instead LCAP is spent on many things that should be coming out of general fund. Oddly the California teachers union has fought many of this well known solutions by highly regarded educators. This is not something one board member can turn around. Also the impact and damage a Superintendent can do can set a district so far back. We have had two recent Superintendents were many left and where the emphasis is not on meeting the unmet needs of our students sadly. The system is so broken with no accountability for LCAP or lack of collaboration. This is an unstable time for our district. Hope our most vulnerable students don't continue to suffer for fall out from our Superintendents choices . Without Kate things will only unravel further. This will hurt our most vulneralbe students like the english language learners where only 2% take the A-G's or those with learning differences who only 6% take the A-G's. This means they can't even apply to a UC. like their affluent peers who can afford outside tutors when needed and do take the A-G's. The system is not equitable. La Cuesta no one took the A-G's this year and only 8% proficient in literacy and 4% in math. Our community needs to step up and offer interventions. We can not count on getting Superintendents that don't cling to outdated literacy models. And with this exodus of longtime staff our district is in chaos with not much hope of slowing down. Two more just left and now Kate. A big loss to a broken system. She was one of the forces keeping it together.

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