Ask Sam Neustadt why he should be the next Yolo County superintendent of schools, and he’ll tell you, “Basically, I’m running on my experience. I have 28 years of experience teaching and leading in the K-12 public schools, which is important.
“I was a teacher for seven years — I taught every elementary grade, from kindergarten through sixth grade. I went on to be a principal at three different schools in Half Moon Bay that were recognized as California Distinguished Schools.
“After that, I spent two years with the California Department of Education in Sacramento, right after Delaine Eastin was elected to her second term as California’s superintendent of public instruction. By the end of those two years, I had more background in policy, and as a practitioner.
“For the last 14 years, I’ve been the assistant county superintendent in Solano County, where I oversee the provision of special education services for a population base of about 50,000 kids, with between 5,000 and 6,000 kids in special education programs.”
Occupation: Assistant superintendent of the Solano County Special Education Local Plan Area since 2000; administrator and visiting educator with the California Department of Education in Sacramento, 1998-2000; principal of several schools in San Francisco and San Mateo County, 1989-98; teacher at schools in San Francisco and San Mateo County, 1984-89.
Education: Master’s degree in education, Sacramento State, 1989; 70 semester units of doctoral level work, UC Davis, 1981-84; bachelor’s degree, UC Santa Barbara, 1979; K-12 California administrative credential, 1989-present; multiple subjects teaching credential, 1984
Family: Not married, daughter attends Davis High School; lives in Woodland
Noteworthy: Special Educator of the Year, Association of California School Administrators, 2012; member, Solano County Mental Health Advisory Board, 2005-11 (chair 2009-10); steering committee member, California Coalition for Adequate Funding for Special Education, 2000-present; member, Solano County Foster Youth Coalition, 2007-present; member, United Cerebral Palsy North Bay Organizational Development Committee, 1997-present
Neustadt said his 14 years as an administrator with the Solano County Office of Education, and his extensive background in special education, would put him in a good position to hit the ground running as the new Yolo County superintendent.
One of the primary duties of a County Office of Education is fiscal oversight of local school districts — state law mandates that each county office evaluate local school district budgets three years into the future. And starting this year, the county office also will evaluate the new Local Control Accountability Plan.
While supervising special education programs in the Solano County Office of Education, Neustadt witnessed the bankruptcy of the Vallejo school district, which was taken over by the state in 2004. Local control was finally given back to the Vallejo district in 2013.
“There was a flight from the Vallejo district, 500 to 700 students leaving per year for five years,” he said. “Morale was not good. It was a struggle for them to dig out.”
Neustadt is aware that school districts in Yolo County will face a changing budgetary picture under California’s new Local Control Funding Formula.
“The LCFF is not a known quantity, yet,” Neustadt said, because school districts are still building their first budget under the new funding system. “There will be wild swings in state funding” as compared to the old system, he predicted.
Since the LCFF provides added funding for students from low-income households and students who are English learners, “Davis is not going to lose money, but Davis is not going to be one of the big winners, whereas Woodland will see significant increases in funding in the next few years.”
Neustadt credited Davis voters for having helped preserve programs during the recent years of state budget cuts by approving local parcel tax measures.
“Davis has always amazed me. It’s a public school system that the public has not given up on,” he said. But he added, “You can’t count those parcel tax revenues until a parcel tax is passed, and (as one who would be in charge of oversight), I am fiscally conservative.”
Neustadt said that once the LCFF is fully funded by the state, California “will go from 49th to 47th (in state funding for education per pupil). But we will still be near the top of the list in terms of incarceration (on a percentage basis among the 50 states). There is something fundamentally wrong with that.”
He wants to look at the three small schools operated by the Yolo County Office of Education.
“The Einstein Education Center was designed for 150 students, but right now it has 40-some students,” he said. “I have visited the program, the classrooms are beautiful, a really nice environment. I know the current county superintendent is looking at the program to see if it is meeting its goals with the limited student body.
“I would also focus on the Midtown Academy early on (which serves a number of students who have been expelled from local school districts). I hear concerns that Midtown is where kids go to fail more, and if that’s the case, that’s not value added. We need to build an alternative program that’s relationship-based, that helps kids build resilience.”
This is Neustadt’s first run for elected office: “I am a career educator,” he said. “I still consider myself a teacher. Quality education starts with the teacher, the rest of us are here to support that. It’s righteous work.”
Neustadt has been endorsed by his old boss, former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. He also is backed by two members of the Yolo County Board of Education, Nancy Lea of Woodland and Shelton Yip of Davis, and former County Board of Education trustee Joe Thomson, as well as former Deputy Superintendent Linda Legnitto of the Yolo County Office of Education.
He also has endorsements from former Davis school board trustee Marty West, current trustee Susan Lovenburg and recently appointed Davis school board trustee Alan Fernandes.