Veteran School Board Trustee Runs for Capistrano Unified

Veteran School Board Trustee Runs for Capistrano Unified
Capistrano Unified School District in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., on Sept. 20, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Jack Bradley

Michael Parham, who served over 12 years on the Irvine Unified school board, is now running for a recently vacated seat in the Capistrano Unified School District in the upcoming Nov. 8 election.

“I’m running because I care about quality public schools,” Parham told The Epoch Times. “I know how to run a successful school district and I felt this is my duty to my local community.”

(Courtesy of Michael Parham)
(Courtesy of Michael Parham)

Parham is among three candidates hoping to complete representation for the district’s Area 2 seat until the end of 2024, which has been open since March after Pamela Braunstein resigned from the position, citing disagreements with her colleagues, particularly regarding COVID mask policies.

Parham said, if elected, he intends to run for re-election in 2024 for a full term.

With two children in a district elementary school, Parham said he was “concerned that the board was not being properly run” when the seat was vacated.

Parham moved to Rancho Mission Viejo four years ago. Previously, he served three consecutive terms as a school board trustee in Irvine while his two older children, who have now graduated from college, were in its district schools.

One of his proudest achievements while serving on the board in Irvine was saving the city around $20 million by installing solar panel canopies at many schools, saving the district on electricity costs, he said.

“If you can lower your electricity cost, that’s money that goes straight to the classroom,” he said.

After six years of not serving as a school board member, he said he is “ready to get back in the game.”

A ‘Dysfunctional’ School District

Parham said the school district has been “dysfunctional” when it comes to managing facilities and not establishing a culture of “risk taking that allows for continuous improvement.”

Some schools’ facilities are in good condition, while others are “seismically challenged,” as they would not be able to endure a large earthquake, he said.

According to Parham, this is a result of poor planning, as many local taxes to fund school upgrades expired and were not renewed.

Another issue, Parham said, is unnecessary apps the board has implemented in the district.

One example he said is a language translation app that Capistrano teachers use to communicate with parents over text. But Parham said the app is expensive for the district and overcomplicated.

“That’s a waste of money and it’s also a pain for these teachers who are being asked to use it,” he said. “There are always vendors who come to the board or come to the district saying, ‘buy my wares. I will solve your problem.’ Well, there is no shortage of clunky software.”

Making a Change

Parham said these problems boil down to a “revolving door of leadership” in the district, citing several successful recall elections in Capistrano’s past.

“It’s hard to attract quality staff,” he said. “Top quality [staff] don’t want to go take a position in a school district that might be perceived as dysfunctional.”

As an investment banker and CPA, Parham said the role of a school board is like any organization’s board—to hire the right leaders.

“If you have the right CEO, or the right superintendent, they develop their staff in a way that’s very effective and successful. And you hold them accountable based on that,” he said.

Parham said, if elected, he would like to make changes to the current administration, “attracting the best and brightest,” to the district.

Additionally, he said a trustee’s role is to thoroughly evaluate what staff is proposing to implement in the district.

Whether it’s a tax, new software, or a list of books that have “questionable material,” then “kick those tires,” he said, before deciding.

Campaign finance disclosure documents show he has raised about $16,000 this year through Sept. 20, and has made a $50,000 personal loan to his campaign.

Parham is running against Jessica Hubbard, an education nonprofit executive, and Kira Davis a small business owner. Area 2 includes schools in Coto de Caza, Rancho Mission Viejo, Los Flores, Ladera Ranch, and most of San Juan Capistrano.