Up until the last minute, it looked like an uncontested race for the Mountain View Whisman School District. But on Aug. 8 -- the last day to file for candidacy -- two more candidates jumped into the race.
Greg Coladonato, a Stevenson Elementary parent and president of the Slater Neighborhood Association, and incumbent Philip Palmer filed for candidacy on Friday. They will join Ellen Wheeler and Hafsa Mirza in the November race for two seats on the school board.
This election will be the district's second contested school board race in a row -- reversing a trend of uncontested elections. Prior to the 2012 election, the school district had gone through three uncontested election cycles in a row, with candidates unopposed in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Last June, Greg Coladonato ran in the primary election for a seat on the state Assembly looking to promote an "upgrade" to education. Now he plans to take that goal to the local level on the Mountain View Whisman School District.
Coladonato is the founder and president of the Slater Neighborhood Association, and made a big splash at a board meeting last April when he rallied support for a school in the Whisman and Slater neighborhoods. He said he was happy with the results of that meeting, and said he wants to make sure the district continues to address the need for a school in the northeastern portion of Mountain View.
"The current board looks like they want to move forward," Coladonato said. "We should see an update in the next few months."
He said it benefits the community to have a school in the area, and that every neighborhood should have a school they can get to by foot.
"I think communities are stronger and healthier when they're close enough to walk to their school site," Coladonato said.
Coladonato said he has a background in business and finance, as well as a degree in physics and computer science. He said his background helps him understand complicated budgets, which board members need to make a judgment on, and helped him as chair of the Measure G Bond Oversight Committee.
In regard to Measure G spending, Coladonato said he supports more fiscal restraint on big projects to avoid going over-budget, and more discussion on the district-wide scope of the the bond. He said right now Measure G funds are being evenly distributed at each school campus, rather than prioritizing specific projects the district needs most.
As a board member, he would support moving away from the idea that schools should get a similar pot of money, and move towards the overall goal of improving facilities on a district level.
"It may seem like a fair and equitable way to spend the money, but that's secondary to the ultimate goal," Coladonato said.
Part of Coladonato's plan to "upgrade" education includes closing the achievement gap, finding news ways to teach and drawing inspiration from schools outside the district. He said there are examples of charter schools that have excellent student outcomes with student demographics people wouldn't expect.
Coladonato said he would also raise the standards for new teachers, and try to attract the very best high school and college graduates into the teaching profession. He said the current teachers are great, but going forward he would be open to discuss how the district could better appeal to those high-performing graduates.
"I don't think there any realistic way to have excellent schools without being filled with talented teachers," Coladonato said.
Coladonato said one way to make that happen is through an increase in pay. Coladonato said the starting salaries for teachers are too low for these "top students" who often have other job options with higher pay, and that he would support higher teacher salaries.
Phillip Palmer could not be reached before the Voice's press time.