School board candidates discuss challenges

There are four Pleasant Valley School District board seats open this year, and all four incumbents are running for reelection: Ron Speakman for Area 1, Bob Rust for Area 2, Beckie Cramer for Area 3 and Patty Lerner, who is running for a two-year term that will be decided by all voters within the district. Douglas McDowell is running against Lerner.

Beckie Cramer


Age: 43

Years in Camarillo: 8

“My most relevant qualification is being the parent of two PVSD students and participating in PTA leadership. Prior to my school board service, I served as a Navy intelligence officer, national security professional and congressional staffer. I am active in local organizations that serve children, veterans and foster youths. My most relevant experience includes serving as president of the Pleasant Valley School District board of education for the past three years. During this challenging period, our district was far ahead of the ‘curve’ in responding to the pandemic and providing for our students.

“Our staff was quick to coordinate daytime care and nutrition for children who could not remain home alone during mandatory school closures, and our teachers and administrators skillfully pivoted to providing distance learning. Our PVSD team worked with parents, teachers and community members to develop and implement a comprehensive safe reopening and recovery plan in addition to sustaining distance learning options for families.

“ As a result of this collaborative effort, the Pleasant Valley School District was one of the first school districts in the entire state of California to safely return students and teachers to classrooms. I attribute PVSD’s success to our dedicated teachers, who continuously put students first, and our team of administrators who strive to provide students with a world-class education while maintaining rock-solid fiscal responsibility. Our school board governs with a united purpose—doing what is best for kids. We will continue to advocate for our district, which is in the bottom 10% of LCFF-funded districts in the state but remains in the top tier for academic performance.

“(The top issue is) restoring our students’ academic gains— which is well underway—and returning to school activities like sports, art, music, field trips and all the engaging educational opportunities that attract families to the Pleasant Valley School District and the City of Camarillo.”

Patty Lerner


Age: 60

Years in Camarillo: 33

“For nearly three decades, I have committed my time and leadership skills to support education at all levels of the Pleasant Vall ey School District. I have served as a classroom volunteer, PTA president at the school site and district council levels, member of the budget, realignment and secondary education committees and chair of the PVSD Citizen’s Oversight Committee for Measure C. In 2006, I was elected for one term as trustee to the PVSD school board. In the summer of 2021, I was unanimously selected by the board to serve as trustee until this election.

“Recovering from the pandemic with funding in the bottom 10% in the state is the top issue for PVSD. Challenges from the pandemic have affected all school districts. These challenges include declining enrollment, difficulties in hiring and retaining employees, and the need for multitiered emotional, social and academic support for students. With dedicated leaders, hardworking employees and community sup- port, PVSD has been able to meet these challenges while being fiscally responsible. Although the pandemic has become more manageable, these challenges are ongoing. By using a collaborative and transparent process, PVSD was one of the first districts to return to the classroom and provide the needed academic and social support for our students to succeed. Continued collaboration and transparency will be needed as support systems evolve to meet the changing needs of the students.

“Declining enrollment results in decreased funding for school districts. PVSD must continue to improve current education programs and provide new education opportunities, such as the Digital Learning Academy and Peak Prep Pleasant Valley K-12 online education to combat the negative fiscal effects of declining enrollment. In this difficult hiring market, attracting and retaining employees has been a challenge. By providing a positive work environment with competitive salaries and benefits, PVSD will keep our valued employees while attracting new members to the PVSD team.

“By electing trustees with district knowledge and leadership experience, PVSD will have a board in place that understands what is needed to meet these challenges and provide the additional support for all our students to succeed.”

Douglas McDowell


Age: 40

Years in Camarillo: 6

“I am a father of two children in public school, and I am a mechanical engineer. I am detail-oriented and data driven.

“Board transparency and accessibility (are the district’s most pressing issues). The board meeting recordings are not readily available online. Meeting minutes are dry and lack detail. PVSD parents should be able to know exactly what is being communicated and by whom. Second, declining student enrollment. We need to ensure that PVSD has things to offer students that attract parents’ attention and bolster our enrollment numbers.”

Bob Rust


Age: 74

Years in Camarillo: born and raised

“My brother and I, my kids and my grandkids have attended excellent Pleasant Valley schools. I want all local children to get the best fundamental education possible. I’m proud of my last 12 years as a trustee. I want to continue right now because we are coming out of several chaotic years, and I think experience and follow through are very relevant.

“For Pleasant Valley schools, the cost of living in this area is causing us to face declining enrollment. That is a very hard problem for public schools to handle, since a 5% decline in enrollment is a 5% drop in budget, but there would probably be no change in expenses. PVSD is already underfunded, so this is a very difficult problem indeed. And inflation is not helping. We need the whole state of California to pitch in on this problem. Our democracy depends on a well-educated citizenry.”

Ron Speakman


Age: 65

Years in Camarillo: 59

“I am a certified public accountant and financial advisor and school board member for the last 24 years. As one of the lowest funded school districts in the state of California, it is critical our board be able and willing to understand and constantly review our finances in order to remain fiscally viable. Most importantly, my wife and I and our four children are PVSD alumni, and five of my grandchildren are currently students of the district. A vested interest in the success of the district is one of the most important qualifications a board member can have.

“Right up there with the thin budget we have to work with, the disruption to the education of our children caused by the COVID pandemic over the past two and half years and the uncertainty of future COVID-related issues are at the forefront of all of our concerns. As a district, we have been, and continue to be, leaders in the education community in terms of proactively providing additional support and innovative financing directed at the classroom.”

Makena Huey