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    6 of 7 School Board Candidates Pledge They'll Vote To Televise School Board Meetings; Meyer Says He Needs To Know More, Including Costs

    Stearns Park School Bd Candidate forum 4/24/03(April 25, 2003) -- Facing voters at a Los Altos area community meeting, six of seven candidates running in the June 10 special election for southern ELB's School Board seat pledged that within 90 days of their election they would vote to televise School Board meetings.

    The six -- Norm Ryan, Richard Green, Marilyn Russell-Bittle, Andy Nagle, Yolanda Benavidez and Gary DeLong -- took part in an April 24 candidate forum attended (at its peak) by roughly 40 people at Stearns Park, sponsored by four community groups.

    Responding to a direct question by seeking a show of hands of candidates who would commit to voting within 90 days of their election to televise School Board meetings, all six raised their hands. Their response drew considerable applause.

    The day after the event, the absent candidate, Jon Meyer, declined to make the same commitment to televise Board meetings when contacted as a courtesy by (Mr Meyer attributed his absence at the candidate forum to a Signal Hill commitment made three weeks earlier that collided with the Stearns Park invitation he said he received a week before the event.)

    Given the opportunity by to respond to the same question put to the other six School Board candidates, Mr. Meyer said he could not commit to vote to televise School Board meetings without knowing more, including costs. posts what we consider some salient candidate excerpts below:

    Norm RyanNorm Ryan: ...You know what it's like when you go through all the [cell phone] plans that are available, thinking you have everything you need...and then you decide on the plan and then you spend most of your time wondering if that plan really was the best for the job, because the rules are so complicated and there are so many options? Well that's what it's like as a parent in the [LB] school district...I believe that one of the best preps for this job is having been a parent and gone through the system.

    The Long Beach Unified School District has some great programs, but how do you find out about them? How do you get qualified? And...who do you have to go to get [your child] in?...Parents who want their kids to succeed go through that process...[Our friends ask] how hard did you have to work to get all that set up? And the answer is: very hard, much harder than our parents did. It shouldn't have to be that way. Your first and foremost advocate for your child's success should be the Board member...

    ...I've reviewed over a hundred state, agency, town, city and school budgets, 18 of which were school districts. I'm currently getting my C.B.O. [Chief Business Officer] credential...Even though the budget crisis is a cause for fear, it's an get in there and change the way we do business because we have no choice. [I]f we don't have the people in place that know what they're doing, then the choices we make, I believe, will be fatal to public education in Long Beach...When you go through 18 separate budget processes of schools, you see what the similarities are and understand what is apparently normal, and then when you see the differences you understand why we're unique, I think the question then becomes, can we use that uniqueness to our advantage? I believe the Long Beach Unified School District can, I believe I can do it otherwise I would not run...

    Richard GreenRichard Green:: ...I'm here because I do not believe this district is currently well managed. I am in this race because I think this campaign should be about big ideas, more than a horse race among the candidates.

    I'm in this campaign to talk about important ideas like open government, transparency of decision making process, you having the ability to watch on television your elected leaders spend your hard earned tax dollars...

    I'm in this campaign to talk about big ideas like democracy, community empowerment, and community outreach. I'm in this campaign to talk about wonderful ideas like developing new schools and investing in neighborhoods again. That set of concerns has driven me to this race.

    First and foremost, I absolutely feel at the core of my belief that this district has moved in the wrong direction. It's time for change and new leadership...

    Ladies and gentlemen, I'm in this race to raise critical issues because I think that our children are being shortchanged, day in and day out, by programs that are run from the top down, where local administrators are not empowered to do their best, and where teachers are constantly having to work against a bureaucracy on Hughes Way [LBUSD HQ]...

    I have three primary concerns that I wish to raise in the race. Number one is district reform. Our [school] district is the fifth largest district in the state of California. We have nearly 100,000 students, 96 schools that speak 46 languages. Ladies and gentlemen, the top down style of administration of the district cannot -- cannot -- understand and address the critical needs of local, neighborhood schools.

    ...[I]t's time that we 'fess up to challenges that we have had as a result of Proposition 13, and the failure of good finance in the state of California in the post-Proposition 13 era...

    ...Prior to Prop 13, you as a resident gained equity in your home and increased the property value based on your relationship with your neighborhoods school, and as your property increased in value...and there was a symbiotic relationship between your neighborhood, your value of property, your sense of community and the neighborhood school.

    Unfortunately, since 1978 [when the public passed Prop 13], our district has become overly dependent on the bureaucrats in Sacramento. Our district now has 90% dependency on funds from outside the district. In fact, most of their funding is tied to Average Daily Attendance, ADA, which is student warehousing. Frankly, the more students they can get into a neighborhood on any given day, the more revenue sources they can get from Sacramento, even if it drives down your property values. There's something wrong about that structure.

    Neighborhoods are being impacted by schools that are fenced in, paved over and overcrowded. The name of the game for revenue generation is getting as many students as you can in existing facilities, and that ladies and gentlemen, devastates neighborhoods.

    Not all schools are created equally in this district. There are schools in this district. There are schools in this district that have no concertina wire. There are schools in this district that are very well kept, beautiful lawns, manicured, where the community is invited to participate as equal partners at the table. That should be a model throughout the entire district.

    Second, we need to reconnect our district to our neighborhoods by doing some simple things. I'm glad to hear that several people are beginning to discuss the importance of televising of board meetings. Even more than that, that's symptomatic, televising a 20 minute board meeting will not solve the crux of the problem at Long Beach Unified. It's time that the board take the show on the road. They should be here tonight, meeting in this auditorium, so that they can take a look at the site and the facilities around you, identify first hand the challenges that you face as community activists and concerned parents, celebrate the successes...and give you the opportunity to participate in the process...

    Lastly, investing in safe, clean and green schools...I'm in favor of a safe student corridor program based on neighborhood watch, where neighbors would help ensure the safety of our students and their neighborhood...Clean schools...let's take a look at our dependency on diesel buses and look at alternative fuel...

    Marilyn Russell BittleMarilyn Russell Bittle:: I'm very proud of this school district, I'm proud of the excellent programs at our high schools, but I am concerned, I think one of our key issues is that we have to improve communication. I believe we have to improve communication internally between the Board, administration and teachers...I also believe that we have to improve the communication externally, between the School Board and parents, our concerned citizens, our community members, and I think that's been lacking in the past.

    We have to have more forums, I certainly agree with televising the School Board meetings. I don't know why it hasn't happened before. I know there've been many excuses...I think that would be one way to improve communication...I think a key element of being a good communicator is listening, and School Board members have to listen to parents, they have to listen to concerned community members, and we have to be out there attending meetings, whether they be PTA meetings, visiting schools, listening to teachers, listening to administrators, and also attending City Council meetings, listening to what the concerns are

    I believe that we must have collaboration as far as decision making is concerned. We cannot have buy in, we cannot have true improved student achievement unless we have that collaboration.
    ...We have state standards, in Long Beach we have implemented those state standards...[it's] very frustrating, because with the state standards come then a curriculum that is mandated, and there's not a lot of leeway. But what we have to do with collaboration with parents, with teachers, with administrators, look at what's best for individual community schools, and say then what tools do we need? How can we free up the teachers so that teachers have all the assistance they need?...

    But recognize, after class size reduction, we had to hire a lot of teachers that did not have credentials, that had emergency credentials. And as far as we were concerned, the [Teachers] Association, we're concerned about that, because we want qualified teachers in every classroom. So those teachers needed more assistance, and that's when we got "you will be on page 39 on Tuesday at 2 o'clock." It drove us crazy. For experienced teachers, you don't need to do that, and that's why I'm saying we've got to collaborate. How can we meet the needs of those teachers who need help and then [for] experienced teachers...give them the freedom, give them the tools...

    [A]s far as the standards, Long Beach has implemented those standards, and they're very high standards, and it's how can we then make sure that students are going to be successful as they take these tests and so on. But I totally agree with you, it's very, very frustrating, but that's where we all have to work together. And as School Board members, we've got to make sure that teachers have time to teach, and use that initiative that they have. We hire the best, the brightest, and we then say, we put them in a box and say we don't want to hear from you any longer...And we've got to stop doing that. We've got to use all of these resources.

    Yolanda BenavidezYolanda Benavidez:: ...I have had personal experience of working with our children and their parents, and I would bring that voice to the School Board. We need better communication between the district and the parents and community. That's why I support televising meetings of the School Board, but more than that, you need a board member who will listen to you and engage you in our childrens' education...

    We also must be sure and certain that as we face the budget cuts that are passed down from the state and the County that we can never forget our children are our top priority. Our students are much more than numbers and figures, and I will work hard to ensure that we do not make any cuts in the classroom..
    ...I mentioned to you earlier that I feel that the student has to be the top priority of our district. It is a fact that the budgets are going to be cut, but I think then that the cuts should start all the way from administration...I agree with you we do have a good district, but there will be cuts and we will have to study the issue, see what is coming up in order to be able to function better...

    Andy NagleAndy Nagle: "...90% of the money for the [school] district comes from the state, and we have some very hard choices to make...I agree with Mrs. Benavidez that we should try our hardest to make the cuts at the central administrative level. I'm not that's entirely possible but that's why I'm running, because we have some hard choices to make..."
    ...I think the biggest problem is the budget, and I also would like to focus the campaign on creative financial solutions other than from the state...I do have some disagreement with Mr. Ryan and Mr. Green with regard to the way in which the district is run. I think overall it's a wonderful district. Of the urban school districts in the state, we're the only school district...which isn't handing out massive pink slips to teachers. But we have problems, and I anticipate we have some of the toughest choices we'll ever have to make in the future, but up to this point, I think the district has done a wonderful of anticipating things like the budget cuts. They have voluntarily cut back $20 million even before the budget cuts came up so I think overall it's managed well...

    ...Finally, with regard to open communications, I agree we should have televised meetings. I know the Board doesn't want that because they feel there's going to be people that are going to be playing to the TV [but] as Don Rumsfeld said, sometimes democracy is untidy...

    Gary DeLongGary DeLong: ...I believe that the district is currently well managed. I also believe that there is always room for improvement...As a Long Beach resident and business owner, I believe the district has accomplished some great achievements in the last few years, but as a parent, I believe we need to try harder to be better.

    I will seek out those areas where we can improve the delivery of education for our children. I believe in building in consensus and cooperation wherever possible, but I also believe in Ed Eveland's legacy of being bold and willing to venture into uncharted territory. We need to think outside the box...
    ...We have a [district] budget of close to a billion dollars a year. To that we can't come up with a $30 or $40 million dollars [in savings] out of central administration, we're not trying hard enough. We need to do those things first before we even think about cuts in the classroom...

    A June 10, 2003 winner-take-all special election is scheduled to fill the LBUSD board seat covering much of southeast Long Beach now vacant following the death of longtime incumbent Ed Eveland. All six candidates at the forum pledged to complete a full four year term if elected following completion of the remaining one year of Eveland's current term.

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