Meet the MUSD school board candidates

Three candidates are vying for two open seats on the Mammoth Unified School District.

John Stavlo, a retired aerospace executive and electrical engineer, comes in as an incumbent, appointed to the school board early this past winter to fill the seat vacated by the late Dr. Andrew Bourne.

Incumbent Greg Newbry is not seeking reelection, vacating a second seat.

Shana Stapp, a special education teacher with Mono County, and Luis Villanueva, the general manager of the Village Lodge, are the other candidates for the two open seats.

Stavlo first got involved with the school board due to his strong interest in helping students become more proficient in math and science.

After seven months on the board, he said he’s ready to go at it for another four years, if voters give him the opportunity.

“I thought I was prepared for this when I considered getting involved earlier this year, but even with all my reading and studying, I still found I had a lot to learn,” Stavlo said.

One of the things that surprised him was how complicated the school’s budget process is.

“I think it’s so complicated, there is a lot of misunderstandings out there,” he said. “I think we need to do a better job of communicating our situation to our teachers,” he said, referring to the ongoing tension with the teacher’s union over their contracts. “The way the budget works in education is so different from how it works in private industry and I think that can make it even more difficult to reach an agreement.”
He was also somewhat surprised at how persistent the “achievement gap” between native English speakers and English-language learners was, he said.

“I knew it was there, but until I was on the board, I didn’t realize how big of a challenge it was going to be, trying to get students proficient in math or other subjects when they are still learning English,” he said.

Finally, he thinks school boards—or any group of people—function better with more diversity.

“There are three education professionals on the board, and though they are a great board, I think I bring some diversity to the discussion,” he said. “I’ve served as a private company CEO, I’ve been involved in corporations at all levels, I’ve learned how to survive in the world many of our students will have to compete in. I think it’s a valuable contribution.”

Shana Stapp served on the school board for several years before a family illness forced her to resign her seat.

Now, she wants to get back into the fray.

“I think I bring a unique contribution because I don’t teach mainstream kids, but I serve a different population, students who could be successful if their education was just adapted to them,” she said. She teaches through the Mono County Office of Education and if elected, would be the only current teacher on the board.

She is also concerned about making sure MUSD has the best possible teachers.

“It’s almost impossible to get rid of an ineffective teacher,” she said. “If you are an ineffective teacher, you shouldn’t feel comfortable at this school. You shouldn’t think it’s a job that’s going to be there for you, no matter what.”

That will require more work from the board, she said.

“Offering training for these teachers, giving them mentoring, that’s the place to begin. If that doesn’t work, it’s time for more pressure,” she said. “There was a time in my life when I wasn’t as effective as I could be and I did get the training, so I know what a difference it can make.”

Luis Villanueva, a longtime business professional, he said he will bring a unique perspective to the school board.

“My parents instilled in me the importance and value of education and it became one of my primary responsibilities in life,” he said.

“Throughout my career as an effective business leader, I have balanced budgets and optimized services while working with limited resources. Additionally, I am skilled in strengthening partnerships and building relationships with individuals of all ethnicities.” 

He believes the biggest challenge to the district is both the fiscal limitations—state forced budget cuts that are demanding the district cut $800,000 out of its budget this year, with a potential hit of another $500,000 after January, if Proposition 30 does not pass (see related story p. 1 ). 

His background gives him the skills to solve this and other problems, he said. 

“My goal is to effectively manage the multitude of priorities despite our limited resources by being an effective negotiator and communicator with a primary focus on ensuring mutually beneficial solutions for students, educators, parents, and stakeholders,” he said.   

Note: This is a revised version on the Oct. 5 print version of this story. This version reflects a revision of paragraph 16, following a conversation with Stapp.