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Bonsall Unified leaders take local school needs to federal level

BONSALL – The Bonsall Unified School District sent a delegation of the Superintendent and School Board members to Washington D.C. to lobby on behalf of several key issues that have profound effects on public education in the areas of Bonsall, Fallbrook, Vista, Oceanside and Pala.

BUSD Superintendent Joseph Clevenger joined the statewide delegation along with Bonsall School Board Trustees Eric Ortega, Roger Merchat, Pascal Lapoirie, and Board President Larissa Anderson.

The key issues addressed at meetings with Congress members and their staff included funding for special education, teacher recruitment, reauthorizing the Rural Schools Act, expanding broadband access, and privacy/cybersecurity.

The members of the trip shared their takeaways from the experience:

Larissa Anderson said, "I firmly believe that public education (done well) is the cornerstone of a civilized society. Improving and reforming education to better the lives of America's children is solidly bipartisan. What a privilege it is to be a California school board association delegate in our nation's capital to advocate for California children's education! As a lifelong learner, I appreciate this opportunity to better understand and impact the decision-making of our congressional representatives."

Anderson continued, "As Bonsall Unified is 88 square miles, we uniquely have four house representatives – Darrell Issa, Mike Levin, Laurie Davies, and Scott Peters. I particularly enjoyed networking with many superintendents and board members from other districts to learn of important issues and funding priorities across California. I am so proud of the extensive work done by BUSD. My personal priority is making sure BUSD attracts top teachers and staff as we continue to offer programs that meet the needs of all our students and their families – exceptional academics, athletics, arts, agriculture, and advocacy."

Roger Merchat said, "Joseph (Clevenger) does a wonderful job representing our community. I was interested in going because I wanted them to see us. I mean who is asking for money from Washington? Everyone! So how does a tiny school district in the heart of North County San Diego get on the radar?"

Merchat, who claims he is "not a big traveler" made the trip because he wanted to see what could be done. Ultimately, he focused his efforts on the funding for Special Education. "I've looked at enough budgets in my day, and this was clearly the big dog. And frankly it is a big need."

His strategy was to connect with Congressmen on communalities, (like Congressman Mike Levin's two children who attend public schools) and invite them to come and see what Bonsall is doing and why funding for education is vital. Merchat shared his philosophy, "Education is not a cost, it's more of an investment."

Pascal. Lapoirie is a French-American, born and raised in France. When asked what his perspective was on the trip he said, "If you want to have a real impact on your local community, act locally." Lapoirie and his wife donate their time to the local food bank. There, he feels like, "we are having a real impact on the people living around us."

He was shocked with the size and the processes of the "American money machine" that is called Congress. "250 people pitching for a week won't change the current gridlock. However, given the chance, skip the scripts, grasp the issues and connect them to your own experience." Leveraging his expertise in the field, Lapoirie strongly advocated for cybersecurity and local partnerships supported by Congress members.

He concluded "BUSD has a very special situation. It's a well-oiled machine and the key to the success is always putting the kids at the front of the agenda. And it doesn't hurt that our superintendent has the energy of 10 people. We also have tremendous teachers and staff; one lesson from the trip was really seeing how special we are here."

Eric Ortega, a revered member of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, had never been to Washington D.C. before the trip. He recounted that he was quite nervous before making the trip. "Coming from a small town, I didn't know what to expect. I thought it was going to be gold-line streets and everyone in fancy suits. I have no political experience, and to be honest, no interest in politics, so I was a little unsure."

It turns out that Ortega had no reason to worry, as Clevenger and other trustees mentioned, he was extremely popular, seemingly making friends at every turn. "Eric's unique perspective was very effective during our meetings. He really makes everyone feel heard," said Clevenger.

Ortega recounted that he got over his nerves almost immediately, by bonding over the small things. The issue that resonated most with him was the Special Education funding, "Special Education is such an important issue in our district at this time. I think about the great job our teachers and staff and administrators do with our special education program, but I also wonder, how much more could they do with more funding?"

Clevenger said, "The trip provided our local leaders to take our unique needs to the federal level. Being in Washington D.C., the capital of our Great Nation, and fighting for our students here at home is both important and special. Bonsall Unified is very lucky to have the Board of Trustees we have. It was great to see how each of our trustees gravitated to their own issue and really put their heart and soul into their advocacy."

Clevenger added, "One highlight was being invited to a very selective meeting in the U.S. Capitol Building conducted by the President of the Cal State San Marcos, Ellen J. Newfeldt, on Social Mobility. BUSD has established a partnership with CSUSM which provides guaranteed admission to all graduates from Bonsall High School in good standing. The trip's goal was to advocate for important issues facing our local students and students throughout the state. The BUSD team was very successful in this effort and I am optimistic the resources we need to provide a world-class education will be allocated and sustained."


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