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  • Writer's pictureEvie Sijl

Candidates for Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools Face Off in Forum

Susan Salcido, Christy Lozano Go Head-to-Head One Week Before Primary Election June 7

In the contentious race for the typically uncontested position of Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, current Superintendent Susan Salcido and challenger Christy Lozano agreed to lay their cards on the table, facing off in an online forum held Tuesday night.

The forum came together after two earlier attempts to organize a showdown between the two candidates fell through — first when Lozano reportedly refused to agree to the rules of a League of Women Voters forum, then a second time when the Coalition for Neighborhood Schools attempted to host a last-minute forum in its place on the same day, leading to a tense back-and-forth between the two parties.

Community advocate and former school board member Lanny Ebenstein joined Newsmakers host Jerry Roberts in moderating the event, sponsored by local nonprofits The Resource Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.

Clockwise from top left, moderators Jerry Roberts and Lanny Ebenstein and candidates Christy Lozano and Susan Salcido. | Credit: Courtesy

In the 75-minute forum, Roberts and Ebenstein gave the candidates a chance to spill their guts on the biggest issues facing schools, from literacy to learning loss to critical race theory, with both Salcido and Lozano being asked direct questions and taking the opportunity to hit all their talking points.

For Lozano, her focus remained on her “four -part plan,” which includes creating a literacy task force to address students struggling to read at their grade levels, “using best practices,” meeting with “every member of the cabinet,” and “leading by example. “

She often spoke in metaphor, saying the current leadership is like a boat lost at sea and in need of a new “captain” who will bring the focus back to the “basics” of reading, math, and life skills.

Lozano has gained local support recently as the voice of the aggrieved teachers and parents who see a failing education system and an uptick in “woke” mentality.

“There’s divisiveness,” she said, answering a prompt about the teaching of critical race theory. “We need to focus on academics, we need to focus on literacy, on math skills.” When asked if it was being actively taught in schools — a fact vehemently denied by Salcido — Lozano said it was “absolutely being taught” in Santa Barbara Unified School District. “I’ve been on the front lines, I’ve seen it used. It’s active and being used.”

When Lozano described a training session she experienced with other teachers as an example of critical race theory, Roberts asked her how she defines the theory.

“I could give a long list of examples,” she said. “How I define it, it’s a close-minded thinking. This is how race is done, and it’s not open-minded thinking, it’s just one way of thinking.”

Salcido responded, saying it was “a theory in which race is used as a lens to look through policies,” primarily taught in universities and not offered in any K-12 course in the county.

“Using an example from one school district to then say that all school districts are doing the same is irresponsible,” Salcido said.

Salcido used her time to address several misconceptions, including the idea that the Superintendent of Schools had the power to make broad decisions or overrule decisions voted by the County Board of Education.

“I want to clarify something really important. The school districts operate independently, have their own superintendent and boards. Those are all independent from the County of Education office,” she said. “If I were to overrule, that kind of behavior does not go within the democracy that is set up.”

Salcido addressed budget concerns, and said that nearly 70 percent of an over $100 million budget is used towards student services. Lozano advocates for transparency in every area, and said the budget is “too long and obtuse,” with too much money being spent on nonprofits.

Lozano challenged the board’s recent decision to move to in-person only meetings, and said many parents can’t attend because of their schedules. “I would’ve challenged the board,” she said. “If the board doesn’t want to bring cameras into the boardroom, I’ll bring my own.”

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