SBUSD Board Wannabes Debate Hilda, Equity & Racism, Charters, Literacy & Qualifications

By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

The three contenders for the District 1 seat on Santa Barbara Unified’s school board on Monday night sparred over whose life experience best qualifies them to help address the seemingly intractable disparity in education achievement between Latino and white students.

In what has emerged as a marquee local race in the November 8 election campaign, retired educator Efigenia Banales, student affairs professional Gabe Escobedo and non-profit executive and parent Dan La Berge met, virtually, for a third time, in a debate co-sponsored by Newsmakers and Josh Molina’s “Santa Barbara Talks” podcast.

As a political matter, the three-way campaign in the recently created District 1 is significant, not only as the most high-profile demonstration of SBUSD’s new neighborhood district voting system, but also as the contest that will decide representation for the only one of five districts with a majority minority population, speaking for much of the Eastside, Westside and downtown.

Fittingly, much of the discourse focused on the challenge of improving the academic performance of Latino pupils, as each of the rivals offered a different perspective on the key underlying problems.

  • Banales argued that it was a shortage of classroom “resources,” calling for teachers to be supported and backed up by classroom paraprofessionals;

  • Escobedo pointed to “systemic racism” in the public education delivery system, proposing a series of changes, beginning with new standardized tests that reflect the lived experience of minority students;

  • La Berge traced the gap largely to differences in “parental engagement,” with privileged white families having more time and resources to be involved with their kids’ schools and study.

The three each portrayed themselves as personally best qualified to serve as a school board member:
  • Banales said her decades of work in classrooms and close ties to the neighborhood would allow her to channel the concerns of families of students who need the most help:

  • Escobedo said coming up as a once-struggling minority public school student, as well as his record of political activism, provides him empathetic insight and clear understanding of the mindsets and challenges of minority students;

  • La Berge said the board badly needs the viewpoint of a parent with kids who attend SBUSD schools — Laura Capps, the only current parent/member will depart in a few months following her election to the Board of Supervisors.


The candidates also tackled questions on a batch of other critical issues, including the future role of charter schools, the most effective means of teaching literacy and the mass departures of district administrators since the arrival of Superintendent Hilda Maldonado.

There were no injuries.
You can watch the District 1 debate via YouTube below, or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here. Check TVSB and KCSB-FM schedules for broadcast times.


Written by Jerry Roberts

“Newsmakers” is a multimedia journalism platform that focuses on politics, media and public affairs in Santa Barbara. Learn more at

What do you think?


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    • Sure, it’s unrealistic in every classroom. But to have at least one translator for these dialects and other languages isn’t out of the question. There are 1.5 million speakers of Nahuatl (Oaxacan isn’t a language, this is what I assume you mean) and 150,000 speakers of Guerreran in the world. The SB court system has translators for Mixtec and Nahuatl. But having children sit silent and confused in the classroom is probably better suited to your “conservative” educational outlook.

  1. “La Berge traced the gap largely to differences in “parental engagement,” with privileged white families having more time and resources to be involved with their kids’ schools and study.”
    Not sure about this. Parental engagement has nothing to do with the color of a persons skin. I agree 100% that parental engagement is a key root cause that contributes to a kids educational success. The majority of kids who do well in school have parents that care, the majority who do not do well have parent who do not care. There are exceptions on both fronts.
    To continue this narrative of “white privilege” is extremely racist towards hispanics who are actively engaged in their kids educational well being. All of the private schools are full of hispanic kids because their parents want them to have a better education. They realize public schools have lost their way. It is no wonder based on the rhetoric spewed by these liberal candidates.
    La Berge and Escobedo represent the downfall of public education. Then again that is what the liberals want – more uneducated people who rely on government handouts.

  2. 22years ago we lived and worked in Mexico. If you wanted your children to learn in English you had to send them rTo a English school. We were not able to do that. They were put in regular school spoke to in Spanish. We were in their country we learned their language and didn’t expect especially treatment after all we choose two move and work there. My son went on to a great college there and is now a Doctor. He is still livi ng there. No special treatment hard work. We started there living in a old RV so no white privileged excuses here. We all worked and helped our children thrive and become good adults

  3. Let’s say the government wants to help hungry people. So what do they do, they open up 10,000 government grocery stores all across the country and then you’re assigned one based of your address which you have to use by law unless you can afford an alternative. Now, you don’t have any say over the groceries you get, that will be decided by a government approved board, and if you want to make any sort of meaningful change, well prepare for a multi-year battle at your local, state an federal levels in order to try and make that happen. In addition, all the people working at this government grocery store will not be rewarded based off their ingenuity, results, or work ethic, they will only be rewarded based off their seniority. Doesn’t sound like a very good way to solve the problem but that’s exactly how were handling public education.

    • If you can afford an alternative, you get charged an $500 a month with no grocery privileges.
      Sorta like medicare if your income the year prior to 65 was high. You have to sign up for medicare at 65 or get fined, but you have your own insurance you want to keep, so that will cost you $500 a month for Medicare plan you won’t use in addition to the private insurance you want to keep. Authoritarian bureaucracy at its finest. Cue the kudos from the supposed anti fascists
      So if my monthly premium was $800 a month, now it is $800 to the insurance company and $500 to US medicare, $1300.

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