Nick Kato is new to town, but he’s not wasting any time getting to know people. In fact, he’s chatted up some of the biggest names on the island, including Mayor Richard Bailey, former mayor and candidate for Coronado City Council Casey Tanaka, CUSD Superintendent Karl Mueller and Coronado Schools Foundation CEO Jeanmarie Bond. It’s all part of his video series on YouTube, a platform for discussing important issues in Coronado schools and in the community.
Nick Kato is running for Coronado School Board, and he’s ready to jump in and tackle what he says is the most pressing issue facing Coronado Schools: the budget.
“It’s not talked about nearly enough by the public, but the financial situation of CUSD is not the best,” says Nick. “If you look at the forecasts and the rate in which we are eating into our reserves, it is shocking.”
Nick should know; finances are his thing. Nick graduated Cal Poly in 2003 with a degree in business, then attended the University of Denver for his masters, graduating with highest honors. In 2005, he joined Deloitte (one of the “Big Four” accounting organizations) and two years later, moved on to KPMG, another “Big Four,” where he made partner. In 2017, he was appointed the National Leader of Infrastructure in Mergers and Acquisitions at KPMG. These days, he is busy launching his own consulting firm, Leo Berwick.
Nick says that CUSD’s financial situation isn’t anyone’s fault; it’s the cards they were dealt. He says the current board has done some “amazing” things to position us for success in the future, but there is more we can—and should—consider.
“A lot of people do not realize this, but CUSD has several assets on its balance sheet that have significant value,” says Nick. “Unfortunately, we are not maximizing their utility from a fiscal perspective. The existing CUSD school board has recently taken steps to do so, and I’m committed to using my financial background to continue to find creative yet fiscally conservative ways to realize value from our assets to help fund the future of our children’s education.”
Nick moved to Coronado last year from Toronto with his wife Rika, and has two children of his own. Three-year-old Buzzy is named after two big wave surfers, and one-year-old Hana is named after Hana, Hawaii, a favorite vacation spot.
He says the Coronado schools were a big part of what brought his family to the island. Unsurprisingly, the decision to run for school board was fueled in no small part by the hope to make CUSD as amazing as possible for his children and others.
“As a father of two, I have a vested interest in making this city’s educational system the best it can be,” says Nick. “I understand what it means for someone to want what’s best for their children.”
Part of a strong foundation for learning, as CUSD leaders have said, is making sure that every student feels safe, valued and respected. Nick says diversity and inclusion are topics that should be addressed.
“As a minority myself, that is going to be raising minority kids in the community, it is an important topic for me,” says Nick. “I really like the approach the current school board is taking by addressing issues that are easier to tackle ASAP, and setting up a committee made up of community members to further analyze the situation and collaboratively come up with solutions and action items.”
Nick says he recognizes there’s been a big push to get people’s stories out, regarding their experiences in Coronado and the adversity that needs to be overcome, but the focus needs to change a bit.
“I think the focus needs to shift from telling stories that paint Coronado as a bad place to raise your kids, to creating actionable items to make things better,” says Nick. “If we want more diverse teachers or students, we need to change the dialogue and message to something more positive.”
Of utmost importance, according to Nick, is creating an environment where we teach our children to be empathetic to all groups.
“Being able to have empathy for others, and appreciate others’ perspectives will be important when your children cross the bridge to attend university,” says Nick. “And it will be vital as they become citizens of the world when they embark on their professional careers in this global economy.”
Nick says that he wants to explore teaming up with a local non-profit to help raise funds for diversity and inclusivity initiatives at CUSD.
“A big roadblock for increasing awareness and training around diversity and inclusion is likely going to be funding,” says Nick. “Something that I’m going to be exploring in the coming weeks is to team with a local not for profit to raise a fund to help provide capital to CUSD as it rolls out various diversity and inclusions initiatives in the future. As a community we can come up with amazing ideas and all agree that it’s something that we want to do, but if the lack of funding prevents us from effectuating these changes, making a positive change is going to be difficult.”
Another issue Nick is passionate about: teacher compensation. He strongly believes in rewarding those who have proven their dedication year after year.
“I am a huge advocate of trying to find ways to increase the compensation of high performing teachers. Teachers that go above and beyond,” says Nick. “We demand a lot out of our students, and to maximize their experiences we need to have teachers that are also striving to be the best. I am a big believer in creating a high-performance culture.”
Of course, the global pandemic is creating all sorts of learning challenges for our kids. What’s the best course of action? Nick says his background could help him navigate through virtual learning, and view the current situation through a lens of opportunity.
“Having spent most of my career at a large global consulting firm, I have significant experience solving complex problems, dealing with adversity, and implementing positive change,” says Nick. “For example, our new distance learning capabilities could be beneficial to allow students to learn more effectively when they cannot attend school in the future because of illness, or other personal reasons. We could also use distance learning as a tool to collaboratively work with other school districts and students to help expose our children to a variety of perspectives.”
Nick says that, although he’s a relative newcomer to Coronado, he and his family have enjoyed extensive stays on the island since 2013, for up to six months at a time.
“It’s my happy place,” says Nick. “It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited or lived…Every time I leave Coronado, whether it’s for a weeklong business trip or to visit Costco, when I make the drive back to Coronado and across the bridge, I feel a sense of serenity and peace.”
When he’s not working, Nick’s hanging out with his wife and kids. You’ll also find him golfing, boating, or dining at Swaddee. He says he enjoys the small-town pace and feel of the island, and taking time to let it all soak in.
“My favorite thing to do is walk aimlessly around town while appreciating the varied architecture and beautiful gardens with my family,” says Nick.
But what he loves most about Coronado is the close-knit community.
“People know their neighbors and look out for each other,” says Nick. “Everyone in Coronado cares about Coronado, which is amazing!”
To learn more about Nick, visit his website at NickKato.com.