S.B. Vote: School Board Candidates
By Dianne Anderson
Now in his seventh running, Danny Tillman has served on the San Bernardino City Unified School Board for 27 years. There is not a whole lot that he hasn’t seen.
If history repeats itself as expected, a lot will hinge on the budget. Right now, he said the district has important one-time money flowing down.
He wants to ensure it benefits students, attracts good employees, and that the district is financially sound for the next five years.
“We’re doing that, it’s a balance between trying to get people enough pay so they want to come to work for the district, and have a good lifestyle, at the same time making sure that we balance the budget,” he said.
On top of the $1 billion budget, he said ESSER funds will bring $70 million for this school year 2022-23 that must be spent or recovered before September 1, 2023, and then another $200 million coming that must be spent by 2024.
The new money means parents also won’t have to fill the gap on student needs. Any school-supported activities requiring uniforms or shoes, those fees are now paid for by the district.
“There’s no reason in our district for any teachers to be asking for parents to send in tissues or pencils because we have the money to pay for that right now, but the word has to get down to the classroom if the teachers request it, I’ll make sure they get those resources,” he said.
He said computers older than five years should be replaced, and he is concerned that middle school fields filled with gophers and ants must be brought up to par, along with equipment at school sites so students can compete in various athletic tournaments.
Hard lessons have been learned from the pandemic, but he also feels the past two years have taught society the value of physical schools and kids being around other kids.
“We took it for granted before COVID. It’s sad that we had to go through that, but we really understand the value of not only the kids being on site, but for the teachers too,” he said.
In many ways, the pandemic changed education, and he said it’s not going back to the way it was before COVID-19.
“Before COVID, we didn’t have robust learning, teachers weren’t able to work remotely. That’s a new tool we can use to offer a different kind of learning environment for some parents and students that choose it,” he said.
Safety is at the forefront of every parent and teacher’s thinking. Tillman wants to tighten up protective protocols, but doesn’t want students to feel the stress of being on lockdown.
A lot of dollars have gone toward keeping one point of entry to buzz into schools. All volunteers also must go through a background check.
“A lot of that is having the personnel, campus security officer, school police officer,” he said.
“It’s a balancing act, you don’t want to turn schools into prisons. At the same time, you want to control who can come on and off campus during the school day.”
Always a teacher at heart, Alex Avila understands what it took to grow up from the harsh reaches of the Bronx, and it’s not a stretch for him to say he knows what San Bernardino students need for success.
He sees similarities to his own childhood. He hated school. He was bullied from all sides, students and teachers.
“I’m Black and Latino, being Black and speaking Spanish at that time was not cool,” he said. “Diversity came later.”
But racialized division and bullying continue on campuses, some for lack of support systems in schools, but also how some teachers view Black and Brown students.
“I told one of my teachers I want to be a teacher. Her response was that you have to be realistic,” he said.
Today, he is an English professor at Cal State University, San Bernardino, and sees students entering higher education at a deficit. Numerous studies show they start elementary school with great ideas brimming with energy, that’s zapped by middle and high school.
He said they are not encouraged to innovate, are not excited about learning, disengaged and detached. Post-pandemic, teachers are overwhelmed, and the local teacher quit rate was extremely high before COVID-19 hit.
“I feel like a huge percent of our students falling behind are just kind of lost in this system. Teachers don’t have answers at this point, they’re just trying things out in real time,” he said.
Innovation is one answer. Other cities, states, and even globally, have school competitions, as opposed to education models built on testing, he said. Given a chance, he feels competition can foster new ideas and projects around issues of climate and the economy.
With the new school budget, he feels the money could be better spent supporting students by putting some dollars toward innovative projects, rather than investing in countless consultants.
“What kind of curriculum do we have in a classroom that’s going to increase our student’s AP [Advanced Placement] percentages at the national level? Right now we’re not competing,” he said.
Students must also experience resources in real-time, he added. “It’s not years from now and what do you want to be when you grow up? No, it’s what do you want to do now? If you have an app you want to create, how do we credit those hours?”
Data around Black and Brown boys reveals the extent of academic disconnect. He is concerned that his four-year-old in the district has a huge amount of energy and creativity. Already, his son is working on his second published book.
“I don’t want that energy to dissipate in the school district. I don’t want them to drain and train my son to be something less than,” he said.
Getting more books in the classrooms that acknowledge culture and history can help strengthen a sense of identity, which in turn helps students and teachers get excited about learning.
If elected, he wants to see something like a student model of Shark Tank where they can bring their A-game to the table. Students need to be involved, and he finds they are willing to contribute.
At one education panel, he recalls a group of educators talking about what’s best for the kids. No one thought to ask the seven-year-old sitting in the audience.
“They passed me the mic. I said don’t ask me, ask him,” he said. “This is an appropriate question. I asked what do you think about your future? He said I want to be a scientist so I can help people and help the world.”
As a Higher Education Community Relations Administrator for California Community Colleges, Travon Martin sees just how many Black and Brown students come to college unprepared, relying on remedial courses.
COVID-19 learning loss is yet another barrier. His wife is an elementary school teacher and sees fourth graders that don’t know how to hold a pencil after a year and a half of distance learning.
He said the district has to address the one-time dollars for the next two years, and hiring additional teachers on a two-year contract is needed to reduce class sizes to support the students.
Teacher shortages are statewide and local. For starters, he feels salaries must be competitive.
“We have a high class size of 33 students [with] clientele like San Bernardino with very unique challenges, that are stressful for teachers and educators. If you want to attract them, you have to lower class sizes,” he said.
Offering similar incentives as higher level administrators, such as stipends and living expenses if they choose to reside locally, could attract more teachers, he said. Currently, only a small fraction of teachers live in San Bernardino, but upping offerings could help them come and stay longer.
If elected, Martin will fill the remaining two years in the seat left vacant with the passing of Dr. Margaret Hill, whom he described as a close mentor and a friend.
Martin is also formerly the Community Engagement Manager for Ontario International Airport Authority, where he worked with several area school districts, bringing students to the airport to learn more about aviation career options.
Next up, he said hiring a high quality superintendent with the right experience to lead schools forward in academics is critical.
“If you look at our graduation rate, we are someone between 96-98%, but if you look at our proficiency scores in math and reading, we’re under 30%,” he said. “We have roughly 40- 50% of our students graduating and not being able to read, write or do the math.”
Martin is a graduate of San Bernardino High School, and he worked his way through college. Once graduated with a bachelor’s degree, he landed a position with the Equity and Targeted Student Achievement department, working with families, teachers and community members for districtwide engagement.
There, he learned the extent of local needs in schools. He went to work for the California School Board Association, where he also advocated and advised school board members throughout San Bernardino and Inyo counties.
In working for the association, he said many school board members didn’t understand their roles and responsibilities coming into their seats. He taught them about school board governance and finances.
“We advocated for K-12 policy and funding at the state and federal level,” he said. “I’m coming in on a full understanding of what it is to be a school board member, specifically the challenges for San Bernardino and how we move San Bernardino forward.”
To see the current budget, see
For more information on San Bernardino County Candidates, see