Nemer aims to increase board’s consensus, communication

Dave Nemer believes the ability to work smoothly as a group, communicating cordially even in times of disagreement, is an important quality for a school board member.

Mr. Nemer has spent decades serving on committees within the Claremont Unified School District, such as the District Advisory Committee and the School Site Council at San Antonio High School.

While, as he jokes, “It may not be that exciting to say, ‘Vote for me. I’ve been on committees,’” he feels such collaborative experience would serve him well should he win a spot on the Claremont school board in the November 5 election.

“One of my strengths is being part of a group process, looking at issues from all sides and trying to work toward consensus,” he said.

Mr. Nemer looks forward to sharing his views at a number of upcoming campaign events, including a gathering on Wednesday, October 2 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the home of Frank and Catherine D’Emilio, 1593 Niagara Ave. in Claremont. For more information on Mr. Nemer’s campaign, visit “Dave Nemer for Claremont Schools” on Facebook.

For years, community members have suggested to Mr. Nemer that he run for school board. When he realized 2 of the 3 school board members up for re-election this year would not be running, he decided to heed the old adage and “seize the day.”

Mr. Nemer welcomes the opportunity to make an impact on the Claremont school board at a momentous time that includes the district’s coming into significant money from property sales and the initiation of the new Common Core form of assessment and curriculum. His decision to run, however, has not come without a bit of sacrifice.

If you serve on the CUSD Board of Education, you cannot be a current district employee. In recent post-retirement years, Mr. Nemer, who worked as a teacher in the district for more than 30 years, has returned to Claremont classrooms as a substitute teacher, almost exclusively in the Claremont High School math department. While he relishes his time with the students, whom he marvels “are so friendly,” he is prepared to stop subbing in order to serve students as a member of the school board.

Candidacy for public office often prompts an outpouring of ideas, and the current school board race is no exception. Mr. Nemer emphasized that it’s important, however, to keep feasibility in mind when it comes to any initiative.

“There’s no shortage of creative ideas out there,” Mr. Nemer said. “There’s a shortage of good ideas that are economically viable. One of my strengths has been on step 2, determining, ‘Can this fly? What needs to be modified for this to be successful?’”

When assessing the feasibility of his campaign, Mr. Nemer was careful to acknowledge his challenges. One of these is the potential perception among community members that he is “a union man,” who might find it difficult to be impartial when it comes to board decisions about faculty issues.

Mr. Nemer sees the 10 years he served on the executive board of the Claremont Faculty Association as an asset rather than a liability, however.

“Having been involved in contract negotiations is part of my valuable experience,” he said. “It’s a strength that I’m aware of the teacher’s experience. The teacher and the student—along with the parent—are at the center of the educational process. So the teachers’ judgment and the teachers’ opinion should always be part of the conversation.”

Mr. Nemer said he has been in agreement with the district and the board’s shared financial conservatism in recent years, which has helped CUSD weather the economic storm.

Mr. Nemer went through a PhD program emphasizing data analysis and worked as a stockbroker for 5 years during a hiatus from teaching in the late 1980s. As a result, he understands the importance of having numbers jibe.

“I’m conservative with budgets in my personal life and professionally,” he said.

The economic tide is changing for CUSD. The passage of Proposition 30 has, at least for now, put a stop to budget cuts in California schools. What’s more, with CUSD having sold 2 surplus properties, to the tune of more than $13 million, Claremont schools will soon have an unprecedented amount of funds coming in at one time.

Greater solvency can pose its own problems, Mr. Nemer cautions.

“Sometimes, there are more disagreements than when the money is cut back,” he said. “It’ll be a challenge for the school board, making sound decisions about all the additional money going in.”

Much attention has been given to the changes the Common Core will make in testing, including a greater emphasis on writing and the use of computers during assessment. Mr. Nemer said it’s important to note that Common Core—which is aimed at cultivating problem-solving and real-world application over rote learning—will involve a complete change in teaching methods.

Staffers at the district have said that teachers will be consulted in the implementation of the Common Core curriculum, and Mr. Nemer plans to hold them to their  word.

“Teachers are the delivery system, so we need to make sure they’re involved every step of the way,” he said.

District stakeholders as a whole could be made to feel they are more involved in the conversation about CUSD priorities, Mr. Nemer said. One way to facilitate this, he said, would be to take a look at whether the Claremont school board is interpreting the Brown Act in an overly restrictive way.

The Brown Act was created to ensure the actions and deliberations of all governing boards be held openly, so constituents are always in the loop. Along with stating a board cannot meet in secret, the act stipulates the following, according to a 2010 publication by the League of California Cities called Open and Public IV: A Guide to the Ralph M. Brown Act:

“Meetings subject to the Brown Act are not limited to face-to-face gatherings. They also include any communication medium or device through which a majority of a legislative body discusses, deliberates or takes action on an item of business outside of a noticed meeting.”

A majority of the 5-member school board would be 3 members. While there are many interpretations of the Brown Act, it could be argued that residents or a community group could legally speak with one or 2 board members, expressing ideas and concerns for informational purposes only. Many members of governing boards, however, including the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education, rarely engage in this form of dialogue for fear of violating the Brown Act. As a result, the expression of community concerns is often limited to a few minutes of public comment during school board meetings.

“We would want to get some clarification on that from different sources,” Mr. Nemer said. “While the point of the Brown Act is to improve transparency, if it is interpreted too strictly it can cut off communication both ways.”

Mr. Nemer and his wife Ann have 2 grown children who are graduates of Claremont High School and 3 grandchildren along with a dog and cat that have the run of their home. When Mr. Nemer isn’t busy with his first political campaign, he loves to read, particularly biographies and historical non-fiction. The latter genre lends him a great deal of perspective.

“The main thing you learn from history is that there is all of this progress in technology and the comforts of life, but very slow progress when it comes to values,” he said. “We’ve made great strides in overcoming prejudice over the last 50 years, but they have been slow strides.”

His recent time at CHS, however, has been heartening, with the many gains in tolerance in full view. “The kids are just wonderful when it comes to that.”

A profile on the remaining CUSD school board candidate, Paul A. Steffen, will appear in an upcoming edition of the COURIER.

—Sarah Torribio


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