By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer– In the last issue of The News-Review, we outlined the role of the Kern County Board of Education. Ernie Bell wanted to include a clarification. “A lot of people come to us thinking we have the jurisdiction and capability to get involved with the curriculum. That is not the case. Individual school districts have that responsibility.”
Incumbent Ernie Bells tells us why he is running for office, “Most importantly, education has been a lifestyle for me. I have 35 years of education. I always said that when I retired, I would like to stay involved with our communities. When this position became available, I talked about it with my wife, I knew I want to be involved. I care about our children and our communities. I inquired and was appointed. I would like to continue with that appointment as I’m enjoying myself. I feel like I do have a lot of experience in that regard. Having been a teacher in our school district, having been a high school principal for 10 years, having gone through human relations and five years as Superintendent of Sierra Sands School District.
“I think I have really good experience, especially in understanding how a board works – board relationships. As board member at Sierra Sands, we took the Masters in Governance classes from CSBA (California School Board Association) and that guides how boards operate so that they understand their purpose as a board member and how to be involved. I’m excited. I’m having a great time participating at the county board currently. I hope to be able to continue with that.”
When asked about his platform he replied, “That’s always an interesting question, but my number one platform is all about the kids. Everything we do is all about the kids, the staff members, the teachers and all the employees that work with them, protect them, and keep them safe.
“I am a very conservative person. A lot of people call me the ‘old school guy.’ But it’s all about the kids. It’s all about parents having a voice. There’s been a lot of controversies here in the last several years with all of the problems with COVID. In my opinion, parents need choices; they need to understand what those choices are. We need to understand the complications or the benefits. They need to have that platform. That’s what I do. I’m very connected to folks, because of the relationships that I’ve developed with educators, with community leaders, and I want to stay connected.”
As to the most significant education issue, he states, “The first thing is money. Everything we do revolves around money, the money we get from the state, the money we get from our government and so on. From that, you have programs to offer your children and then you have the facilities needed to offer those things. But first and foremost is money and we’ve been very fortunate this year and next, the state is providing our school districts with the money they need to do what they need to do mostly.
“Most importantly, what goes along with that money is to ensure that our kids are safe and that means adequate facilities. That means working with school districts, parents, and community members and making sure we have safe campuses and safe avenues for children to participate in school activities. That’s critical.”
As for education specifically in Indian Wells Valley, he says, “For this valley: safety, number one. Some of the other issues that have come up in the last couple of years because of the pandemic in regards to vaccinations and those kinds of things. Parents need a voice; they need to have that choice. I believe our school district and most of the school districts in the county have tried to advocate for that choice.
“As a school board member, I have to follow the laws. Those laws were mandated for choice: you can be vaccinated or you can agree to weekly tests, which 99% of everyone in our school districts did. But still, you have a choice. That is critically important to me, that parent choice, that parent voice.”
Bell has deep ties to Ridgecrest. “I was born and raised in this community. My kids all went to the schools, my grandchildren are going to the schools. I’ve worked with the leadership of our town for a number of years. Most importantly, my being from this town and from this area, I understand the small community atmosphere. Everyone knows everyone and you’re a village. I work very closely with a lot of the leaders at China Lake and as a former superintendent, I’m very connected. I’m connected to families, and their needs, because of where I am and what I’ve been able to do. I think everyone has my phone number because my phone rings continually asking for thoughts and ideas but also to participate. I participate in a number of different activities here in town.
“I’m currently coaching football for the high school team. I’m enjoying that again. I used to coach when I was teaching. Probably some of the most fun times I’ve ever had is working directly with kids and in the classroom. I’m not a politician. I’m a straight shooter. People know that about me.”
Bell has been inspired by many educators, “There’s a very special man, my fifth-grade teacher, Wally Bruce. I was one of those young men that struggled in school. I was kind of a pill, my mom would call me a little pill. I got into a little bit of trouble. Mr. Bruce called me that same day and gave me a life lesson. He sat there with me for an hour after school. That changed my life. I didn’t get in trouble after that. I went to middle school and high school and his influence shaped my life, big time.
“When I was in high school there were several teachers that had a major influence and impact on my getting into education. Two of them are my coaches: Bruce Bernhardi and David Benz. They had a major influence on my life as a coach, but also they were my teachers. I always said I would like to get into education to be a teacher and a coach.” He also credits his science teachers, Bev Hill and Gene Vejtsea.