School board candidate Pamela Torrisi smiles at the audience during the candidate forum May 5 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse.
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The two candidates vying for the vacated seventh seat on Morgan Hill Unified School District’s board of education took center stage May 5 for a public forum inside the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse.
Homegrown product Thomas Arnett, 31, a well-traveled education researcher by profession who graduated through the MHUSD school system, and former classified union president Pamela Torrisi, 64, a retired MHUSD paraeducator of 34 years and Live Oak High School alumna, fielded a variety of questions from a four-person panel.
It was the first and only scheduled debate between the two school board candidates—who did their best to sway the more than 80 local voters in attendance into their corner come the June 7 election.
While they agreed on almost all topics covered—from a need for higher teacher salaries to intense evaluations of charter schools to a more robust career technical education program to an increase in school academic counselors—the two candidates were shaped from different backgrounds.
In detailing his answers, Arnett drew from his experiences as a former student at San Martin/Gwinn Elementary, Britton Middle School and Live Oak, as well as his time as a classroom teacher in Kansas City, Missouri and current employment for a national, nonprofit think tank called the Clayton Christensen Institute.
“I care about our community and I care about our schools,” said Arnett, a father of three young children who will soon be entering local schools. “Education is something I’m passionate about…I think I bring a valuable perspective to the board.”
In her responses, Torrisi stressed the value of her extensive work pedigree at MHUSD assisting inside classrooms with a diverse group of students, including special education, at all grade levels. She also touted her union leadership skills as a 10-year head for the Service Employees International Union and part of the negotiating team.
“I’m running because I have a passion for teaching children. I have a passion for MHUSD,” said Torrisi, who garnered endorsements from her former classified union and the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers. “I firmly believe I am the best choice for this school board position.”
The position the candidates took Thursday night on local education issues were quite similar, as audience members attempted to distinguish between the two.
“I was looking for their differences and, after the first three questions, I wasn’t seeing any differences (in their responses),” said American Association of University Women co-President Mary Cox, who took notes during the proceedings. “I thought it was a good panel, but I didn’t feel a lot of differences came out.”
The current six-member school board is one short after the resignation of former trustee Amy Porter-Jensen back in October 2015. The remaining members were unable to come to a majority on an appointment to fill the remaining months of Porter-Jensen’s term. Thus an election was ordered leaving it up to the voters.
“I think maybe because of the past shenanigans of the school board, people expected (the candidates’ debate) to be testy or polarizing, but I didn’t see that at all,” Cox added. “I think both of them answered the questions very intelligently, carefully and their responses were well thought out.”
Four members of the current school board, President Bob Benevento and Trustees David Gerard, Rick Badillo and Gino Borgioli, were in attendance Thursday evening as well as Assistant Superintendent Ramon Zavala.
“Two different kinds of experience, but I thought they both did very well,” said Gerard of the two candidates’ performance at the forum.
Benevento also indicated that both candidates performed well during the nerve-racking question-answer format in front of more than 80 residents while generating their answers from their different life experiences.
The forum was sponsored by Morgan Hill Life, the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce and the AAUW. Life editor Robert Airoldi, Chamber Director John Horner, Ann Sobrato High School senior Parth Shah and AAUW past president Janet McElroy served as the panelists. The moderator was Margo Hinnenkamp of AAUW.

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