Money talk

School board hopefuls focus on education funding

Though the four candidates for two open seats on the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees fielded questions about everything from cookie dough to whether charter schools create a caste system Monday night (Oct.1), one topic predictably dominated the discussion—money.

Incumbent Elizabeth Griffin opened the forum hosted by the League of Women Voters in the Chico City Council chambers with a statement emphasizing the importance of continuity on a school board. The job has a daunting learning curve, she said.

“It’s very important to have people on the board who are there for more than one term because you barely get started and your term is over,” she said. “You’re starting to feel empowered and like you can make some change happen, and then your four years is up.”

With two measures concerning school financing on the November ballot (Proposition 30 statewide and Measure E in the school district), the other candidates were quick to tout their grasp of economics. Linda Hovey, a retired school business manager and self-employed bookkeeper and accountant, set the stage for fiscal talk.

“The thing I learned the most is school finance,” she said. “That was my job. I understand school finance, and I understand budgets.”

Erik Lyon and Gary Loustale followed suit, with Loustale—a career-technology educator with CUSD—being the first to mention Prop. 30. If the proposition—a temporary increase on sales and upper-level income-tax rates—fails, a number of “trigger cuts,” primarily to education, would occur in 2012-13.

Loustale wrapped up responses about the overall effect of fundraising efforts by outside organizations with a plea for everyone to vote yes on Prop. 30. All the candidates agreed that such efforts help, but each also used the term “drop in the bucket” to describe their effect on the district’s $100 million budget. Hovey and Griffin also said they support the ballot measure, while Lyon was the only candidate opposed.

“I think it’s a shame that our governor is kind of holding the kids and the schools hostage with this Prop. 30 thing,” said Lyon, a marriage and family therapist who made an unsuccessful bid for the office two years ago as part of a three-candidate slate called the “Putting Kids First” coalition.

“I think it’s unfortunate that our elected officials haven’t been good stewards of our money,” he said. “As it is, California already pays some of the highest taxes in the union. … We have other tax increases coming because of Obamacare, and with a $16 trillion debt the feds are going to have to increase taxes.”

Lyon said he thinks Prop. 30 might give the schools a “nice little bump” for a limited time, but that in the long run he believes it will encourage people to leave the area and the state.

“They can call it a temporary tax increase all they want, but the fact is tax increases are never temporary,” he said.

Hovey countered Lyon’s statement by saying, “California does charge a lot in taxes, but we are really down in the basement when it comes to what we spend on our children’s education.”

Loustale also mentioned Measure E, which would authorize the sale of $78 million in general-obligation bonds to improve school facilities in Chico.

We have the opportunity at this time, in this community, to make a real difference in the infrastructure in our schools,” he said. “Some of these elementary schools are very old and need repair.”

The candidates largely agreed on other topics, including the ineffectiveness and negative impact of standardized testing, necessary improvements in teacher evaluation, the past success of the CUSD board in the face of financial crises, and the fact that—regardless of the outcome of Prop. 30—new forms of revenue and educational strategies are necessary.

Griffin said CUSD needs to look at how other districts statewide and organizations like Move Forward California are facing budget problems to come up with creative new solutions. She also emphasized the importance of integrating technology, going so far as to call it education’s “salvation.”

“When we fully integrate our schools and technology,” she said, “we’ll be able to promote individual learning in ways we’ve never done before, which will lessen loads on the teachers, eliminate the need for textbooks and eventually even the need for brick and mortar buildings.”