Alicia Mignano: Mignano is a businesswoman. Courtesy photo

All candidates were given an opportunity to provide written answers to a set of questions provided by SMDP and two sets of answers will be printed each day. Answers are also available online alongside additional information from each candidate. 

Before I get into the questions you have asked, I want to introduce myself.

I was born in Torreon, Mexico. I am a successful business owner, and former public school student. I am the mother of an SMMUSD 2nd grader, and am an active classroom, district, and PTA Volunteer.

My reason for running is because I want to help give our students — especially our at-risk and vulnerable students — the best opportunities for their future success.

In the next two months, I will be out and about meeting parents and other voters – I look forward to meeting you, and hearing what you think.

SMMUSD has failed to solve the water/mold issue at SMASH/Muir for 20 years, why should the district be trusted with more money for construction projects if existing work is of such poor quality?

First, Muir, SMASH & Water: Yeah, it’s bad. 20 years ago, shortcuts were taken to save money – mistakes were made. How does that translate to “should the district be trusted with construction projects …?” is unclear – is there an alternative available? If someone has a better idea, I’d like to hear about it, and as a board member, I will be open to good ideas – practical solutions that can actually be implemented in our reality. At this time, however, I don’t see how it is possible for me, or any prospective board member, to say anything more than “we’ll work together to challenge staff to make smart informed recommendations we will explore in our public meetings as these issues come up.”

How should SMMUSD pivot in addressing the post-COVID mental health struggles of students? 

Mental health struggles among children is an incredibly important issue, and one that I am very interested in seeing SMMUSD further address.

The pandemic brought national attention to issues of mental health and the well-being of children. SMMUSD has made available some mental health resources for students, but should also add social workers to campuses. While these resources are of great benefit, I think continued efforts in the area of diversity and inclusion are also essential for our students’ mental health.

In addition to the isolating nature of COVID over the last two years, students have also struggled with anxiety, depression, substance use, and more. But there are steps SMMUSD can take to combat this.

I would recommend that the school district start a committee to address the mental health struggles of students, with the goal of incorporating this issue into the curriculum, from K-12.

My proposed way of addressing improving students’ social and emotional learning is forming a committee of teachers, librarians, school counselors, a district representative, and parents, with the task of finding modern books about historical world health events like polio, cholera, the plague, past pandemics, etc., and relating these events to the present day, with COVID and now Monkeypox infections. Educating students while addressing their concerns, showing them that they aren’t alone, and that humanity has persevered in the face of adversity by helping each other, taking precautions, and talking about our fears, as well as our hopes for the future.

What can SMMUSD do to provide meaningful ways to encourage community input into decisions that results in outcomes catering to the majority of student needs?

The district and the Board of Education can improve their engagement with the community through transparency of decision-making, providing child care during meetings so parents can more readily attend, providing interpreters at public forums, and better publicizing and making available the many ways the district currently seeks input.

I do not believe that our schools are in crisis. We have good people and good programs that serve our students well – and need nurturing and sustained support.

If you were reimagining the SMMUSD budget from scratch, how would you change the allocation of the District’s considerable resources?

Our system can be frustrating, but the bottom line is we are a public school district in California – and that comes with certain constraints. The challenge is getting to know the system, and its limits, and then working within them to support creative solutions to our problems.

It can be frustrating to see new buildings going up and hear of maintenance and program funding issues. But, it is important to realize that there are two different funding sources – and bond money (such as measures M, SMS, ES & BB) is highly regulated, and can only pay for specific campus improvements, upgrades and building projects. Other new sources of revenue come from tax increases, because in California a “special purpose” tax increase (such as one that supports schools) requires a 2/3 majority of voter approval. Any consideration of district spending, like the hypothetical question about “If you had sole discretion, would you approve of the recent construction spending at samohi” needs to consider that reality.

There are other ways for the district to raise money (and to cut spending) and I’m committed to exploring them.

Serving on the Board of Education — it’s demanding, and difficult — helping to manage a large organization with many complex moving parts. The problems we face are not simple or easy to fix. It takes work. I have been volunteering for SMMUSD for two years, learning about committees, programs, and how the district works. Now, as a candidate, I am ready to do my part by listening and learning and doing my best to help make our excellent school district even stronger, and, as we face an unknowable future, ever more resilient.