H-SANTA MARIA

Dec 1, 2010 9:35 PM by Ariel Wesler

New board member stirs up controversy

A controversial school board member says he plans to bring change to the Santa Maria Bonita School District, but his past leaves some questioning his intentions.

Reverend Will Smith unseated incumbent Jody Oliver in last month's election. Smith taught 7th and 8th grade for six years in the district. He left in August after legal battles with the district.

It's no secret. Newly elected board member Will Smith and Santa Maria Bonita School District leaders do not get along.

"There's certainly animosity between myself and the district," Smith said.

He used to teach 7th and 8th grade. The district suspended him for 82 days for unprofessional conduct, which included pushing a student. After more legal battles, both sides reached a settlement agreement in August, but that raised another ethical concern.

"The district strongly believes that an elected official cannot be on the district payroll while serving in a seat of the governing board," said Santa Maria Bonita School District Superintendent Phil Alvarado.

Now, they want to make sure Smith's going to be a team player.

"Personally, I want to give Mr. Smith the benefit of the doubt and assume that he will come into office and serve this community as dignified and courageous as our current and past boards," Alvarado said.

"It's not a great way to welcome a newcomer onto the scene by saying 'ok, we're going to send our lawyer after you' just a week before you get sworn in," Smith said.

And while he may not be the district's top choice, the people have spoken.

"We're now entering a different arena as an elected official," Alvarado said. "It's about the kids. It's not about the adults."

Smith agrees but stresses communication must go both ways.

"I've never really had a great dialogue with the board because the board in itself refused to talk with me," Smith said.

He feels the district wasted taxpayer money on litigation against him. Still, district leaders say they will do whatever is necessary to keep operations running smoothly.

Smith will be sworn in at the next board meeting on December 8th.

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