For the first time in many election cycles, voters in the Santa Barbara Unified School District have a real choice among the candidates for the school board. Generally, all candidates seek the endorsement of the teachers union and the dominant political party in the district, and therefore, despite attempts to differentiate themselves, they pretty much think alike and represent the same tired old policies that have kept our schools stuck in a last-century time warp.
By appeasing these special interest groups, they relinquish their objectivity and independence and are reduced to spewing one banality after another. Everyone who runs for the school board professes to want to improve the schools, but if you listen closely, you will not hear any meaningful reforms they would enact.
By virtue of my candidacy, for the first time voters will have a real choice. If you are alarmed as I am that approximately two-thirds of our 10th- and 11th-graders are less than proficient in math, you may be ready to vote for an alternative voice on our board.
I am the only candidate who will push to reform the antiquated and counterproductive tenure and seniority rules that effectively guarantee an ineffective teacher a lifetime job and ensure that all teachers are rewarded for longevity rather than performance. I will be a persistent and consistent voice for abolishing the last in, first out rules, which were responsible for the dismissal of the Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year in 2010.
I will provide clear direction for instituting a comprehensive and integrated system for hiring, training, evaluating and retaining the very best teachers. Teachers who can make learning fun and motivate their students to perform beyond expectations are priceless. Rules that make it tougher to attract these teachers need to be expunged.
I will also hold administrators responsible for implementing these reforms and ensuring they are up to the task of carrying them out. This means that principals must be able to identify great teaching and have the requisite skills to train and nurture teachers to perform at high levels.
Finally, I will insist that we junk ineffective curriculum, bureaucracy, counterproductive rules, mandates and a culture that is all too accepting of mediocrity and poor results. I will be singularly focused on improving student academic outcomes in the core subjects of English, reading, math and writing. I will speak out every time I detect that my fellow board members do not elevate the students and their academic outcomes above the politics and narrow concerns of special interest groups. I will have a simple test: If there is any board action that doesn’t lead to raising academic achievement, I will oppose it.
As for Measures A & B, I oppose them. I have many reasons for my opposition, but I will cite the three most important.
First, despite all you have heard from the strident and shrill voices pushing these property taxes, it is a fact that per-pupil spending has actually increased by more than $400 in the last several years due to the district having lost more than 1,000 students since 2005. It is also a fact that spending for the district has exceeded inflation and population growth since 2000. Research has shown that there is no correlation between academic outcomes and spending for schools with similar population profiles. The United States is second in the world for per-pupil spending, but in the bottom half of the industrialized nations for academic achievement.
My second reason is the incredible waste of taxpayer resources by the educational bureaucracy in this state. We have a County Education Office led by the county superintendent of schools, Mr. Bill Cirone. One might ask for which schools or districts he is responsible. Except for a limited number of special-needs students and kids from juvenile court, every school district in the county already has a superintendent appointed by a local school committee.
To understand the amount of taxpayer dollars going to uses other than the classroom, one needs to compare the budgets of the Santa Barbara Unified School District and the County Education Office. The district has a budget of $117 million and around 13,100 students. The County Education Office has in excess of $60 million and approximately 700 students in its three schools. In other words, the county’s budget is close to 60 percent of the district’s budget but with only 5 percent of the students. Or put another way, we spend $8,900 per student in the district and $86,000 per student in the county schools.
The county employs well more than 100 administrators and hundreds of more employees. Granted, the County Education Office has other functions, such as providing business services and teacher training programs, but many of these programs can easily be folded into the school districts. The County Education Office is a relic of the 19th century and has outlived it usefulness.
My final reason for opposing these measures is by far the most important. If sufficient voters make clear to the school board and the school bureaucracy that there will be no more tax revenues until these school reforms are enacted, it might fully motivate the people in charge to do what we all know is in the best interest of the students. So people don’t misunderstand, I could support the parcel taxes if 100 percent of the money was going to strengthen curriculum and instruction, hire more teachers in English, math and science, and implement the other reforms to which I alluded.
Since the board has not been inclined to pursue reforms, I suspect the loss of taxpayer dollars might help them to see the light. If I am elected, you can bet I will make sure they understand the message if voters reject Measures A & B.
Board president Susan Deacon, in her Noozhawk article supporting Measures A & B, indicated that our students are scoring 50 points higher on the SAT tests than the state average. She didn’t tell you that only 44 percent of the students even take the exams. She also indicated that a majority of our students are “college ready” by graduation in English. Somehow they went from one-third ready after 11th grade to more than a half upon graduation.
I noticed she didn’t make any claims for math. However, unless she tracked our students after they graduated, she would have no way of really knowing. The California Colleges Student Success Task Force recently concluded that up to 90 percent of students attending community colleges in California need remedial instruction in English and math. At Santa Barbara City College, only one-third of the full-time students graduate and less than 25 percent transfer to four-year colleges. The number of students who go to four-year colleges directly from our high schools is probably no more than 10 percent to 15 percent. Only one-third of our graduates even finish one full year of postgraduate education.
Finally, she indicated that California is 47th in per-pupil spending, but that number is skewed by adjusting it for regional cost-of-living differences. By using the unadjusted number and adding educational funding from all sources, including the state of California as well as teacher retirement spending, California is in the top quarter percentile of all states for per-pupil spending.
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— Lou Segal is a candidate for the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Trustees.