School board candidates on the issues
How the CUSD trustee hopefuls responded to our questionnaire
Please give a snapshot bio that would show voters why you’re a good candidate.
Liz Griffin: I’d like to refer you to my information pages at smartvoter.org.
Jjon Mohr: I am 50 years old; my wife, Dianne, and our 11 kids have lived in Chico for 15 years. I am a 27-year veteran of PG&E (building foreman). My wife and I own and run Mohr Sound; we do small events and events up to 40,000 people (sound, lights and projection). We have been a foster family for the last 14 years.
I have had the awesome experience to be a scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America for several years; I am an Eagle Scout and three of my boys are Eagle Scouts with two currently as Life Scouts very soon to be Eagles. I was the Big Sir in 2006 for the Chico Sirs # 46.
I know the PV mascot personally and like him I am no fan of corruption, greed, or criminal behavior. I have several years of experience with kids. I also have years of budget experience from the corporate view to the small business. I have had years of experience working with large groups, presiding over some. My primary focus, having stated my experience, most importantly will be the success of our kids. I will make sure that our kids get the attention, programs and funding we expect and they deserve. Our kids will go from dead last to first with me on the board.
David Pollak: Having lived in the community for 22 years, I feel I have a grasp on what the educational system is all about in Chico. I have three daughters—a 16-year-old, a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old—who attend public schools. My wife is an educator of 16 years and currently works for Butte County Office of Education. I am a sales manager of a $20 million-per-year beverage distributor in Butte County, and I manage 43 employees.
Jann Reed: Did not answer the question but has a page at smartvoter.org.
Zane Schreder: As the son of an educator, having siblings as educators and husband to educator, I understand the dedication and commitment of being a teacher. For the past 10 years I have worked as a project manager for numerous school districts throughout northern California. I feel a sense of pride working for the children of so many communities and watching the improvements to their learning environments. Most of these districts are facing the same budget issues and declining enrollment as is CUSD.
I am seeking a position on the CUSD Board of Trustees to bolster a sense of pride in the schools within our district. I am running to better the learning environment for all children in attendance at CUSD. I have two children currently in public school in Chico so I feel very strongly about creating the best schools possible.
I will bring fresh insight to the many challenges, including economic challenges facing CUSD. One of my best assets is my ability to think outside the box and present innovative solutions. Through my work, I have the unique opportunity to observe how many schools in the North State are improving, growing and adapting to the varying challenges facing school districts.
Is the district on the right path financially and academically?
Griffin: Having attended the past several school board meetings, as well as the orientation by the district, and having listened carefully to presentations regarding the current budget status and results of last year’s academic performance testing, I believe the district is currently on the right path.
Mohr: Academically—yes. Financially—NO!! If there where three Jjon Mohrs on the board, the teachers’ salaries and benefits would be frozen, [and] the district salaries over $100,000 would be reduced to a new scale. The superintendent’s salary would be $140,000 including benefits; all other district jobs will top at $105,000 and go down from there; if the time comes we can afford a raise, it will be the same across the board.
CUSD is terribly in the hole, with its negative certification; out of 1,000 plus districts in the state of California we are among the 14 worst. To put it plainly, there is no confidence in our current district leadership or board.
The board needs to [be] wiped clean as well as Kelly Staley and Bob Feaster should be fired. Both of these failed leaders have been part of or the problem going back to the Scott Brown era.
Pollak: I believe that the district has put [itself] in a financially challenging position and needs to continue to solicit outside assistance within the community to help support our schools and programs for children, as well as self-evaluate their programs, services, and personnel to make sure they are in performing with efficiency. There needs to a long-term plan that includes both long-term and short-term planning.
Reed: I believe the district is taking the right measures to insure financial solvency in the near future. A spending freeze has been imposed, budget sub-committees continue to look for savings, staffing is at contract levels across the district, and negotiations are taking place with all union groups to look for cost reductions within the contracts.
Schreder: NO. I believe the district has been in a reactionary mode and has not taken the time to come up with a long range goal for the district.
I believe we owe the professional courtesy to our teachers not to go through the roller coaster ride every March when the district is working on its budget to give out the hundreds of layoff notices. I know a few of the teachers who received such notices and have seen their anguish and uncertainty for employment in the community.
There has to be a better way than to do worst case scenario and issue unfathomable layoffs. There is one certainty in schools—the kids need to have a teacher and the district has its contractual district loading standards.
We as a community need the future teachers to provide the best education to our children. These mass layoff notices gives districts in surrounding communities the pick of our best future teachers. I know I would not want to ride the roller coaster and be put through the stress and anguish of the teachers. After all, they have a more important role: teaching the children of Chico!
Was closing elementary schools the right decision now, three years ago, both or neither?
Griffin: I believe it was the right decision on both counts. If it becomes cost prohibitive to operate them, we are going to have to look to some ideas we once thought were unthinkable, like closing neighborhood schools. School districts throughout the country are facing similar problems. Many innovative models are being put into operation which strive to preserve a sense of community while streamlining services and cutting costs. These should be evaluated by our district.
Mohr: Closing schools will never be an option for me. With most districts building or at very least doing OK with all the current challenges, our district was in the red three years ago, while everything was being cut back, reduced or the very worst, closing Jay Partridge (Jann Reed’s vote killed the school), the board approved a salary increase for the district directors and a $192,000 salary for the superintendent. Since then most of the directors, principals and assistants have enjoyed a $20,000 increase to their salaries; if their salaries had stayed the same or even been cut as have all the services that affect our kids, we would be $500,000 ahead, instead of being $1,500,000 behind and in the red.
Pollak: With the declining population of students, it was financially the right decision at the time. However, nobody likes to see schools close or children effected due to fiscal management.
Reed: A highly respected demographic analyst reviewed the enrollment numbers in this District and determined birth rates and declining enrollment numbers (CUSD is down over 1,000 kids since the mid-90’s) did not justify the number of elementary schools in the District four years ago. Nevertheless, 3½ years ago I identified enough savings in other areas of the budget to avoid closing any schools. The board majority did not agree with my assessment. Although, at that time, I did vote against closing schools, I was part of the subsequent decision of which schools to close. Nice irony.
Many of the savings I identified at that time were eliminated from the later budgets and the district was facing an $8.5 million deficit in early 2008. At that time, Forest Ranch and Cohasset had enrollments under 50 students (46 and 38 respectively). It was impossible to justify keeping schools open with such small populations when there are other district schools with adequate space to accommodate those kids. There are single classrooms across the district with more kids than the entire population of the Cohasset School when it was closed.
Schreder: Three years ago I believe the wrong schools were closed. Now we have more students north of town and need more facilities for them. We need to look to other alternative education learning environments to allow all parents the choice of what is best for their children.
The district should have looked at starting a dependent charter for the latest schools they closed, giving each community the opportunity to have school in their local communities.
Did the district do right by taxpayers in opting not to build Canyon View High and instead use the bond funds for existing campuses?
Griffin: I believe that when there is a demographic shift and the projected attendance numbers no longer justify building a new facility, it is appropriate to use those funds to improve existing campuses.
Mohr: Yes. Had the school been built, with the declining enrollment we would’ve found [ourselves] with larger bills and less money. When the bond was being voted on, I was its strongest supporter; I, like many could not of imagined a down turn in enrollment.
That being the case, with the land purchased, when the time comes for our town to grow, we are ready; meanwhile I have recommended we use a small section of the land to build a new buss yard and warehouse facility. These improvements would be paid for with the sale of the existing district bus yard. Also with the remaining proceeds of the sale, with matched grant money, our district could purchase 16 new natural-gas-powered school buses. The savings in fuel costs will save a minimum of $200,000 a year.
Pollak: From what I have learned about the [deliberations] involved in making this decision, I believe that they made the correct decision. If the high school was built, the district would be in more of a financial crisis than the one they are in now.
However, I believe that the district should have offered to thoroughly educate the community on their decisions and why the school wasn’t built. Then, they should have shared a plan on how they would like to spend the money, instead of spending it without having community input and support.
Reed: In light of the enrollment numbers and the operating cost of another high school, I believe it is right to “table” the building of Canyon View and to use the bond dollars to make improvements on our existing high schools campuses thereby benefiting the very same population of students that would have benefited from Canyon View.
Schreder: I have heard the saying by many people with the district of “paralysis by analysis.” There is no question that our existing high schools have a lot of students attending them. With the time it took to get the site chosen and approved the buying power for the third high school was lost. That is the problem; we need to be more proactive and put an emphasis on our facilities.
I believe spending the money on the projects on the high schools is good for the students. The big question is what are the remaining projects going to be and when will they start in the planning?
Considering the standardized-testing scores, how good are Chico public schools?
Griffin: They are very good. The standardized testing scores, which indicate that several schools have not met their API goals, I think do not accurately reflect the quality of instruction. If you examine the scores carefully, you will see that some schools have made great strides, while others have made slow but steady progress towards their goals. English language learners and low income families are faced with many challenges. I’ve commented further about my objections to standardized testing at my site located at smartvoter.org.
Mohr: Very good; there will always be room for improvement. My hat is off to the parents and teachers for their consistently good work helping there kids get it done. And most of all, our kids—they’re putting down the Gameboys, turning off the TV, getting their studies done, and after school getting involved in sports, drama, arts and school clubs. A full calendar of events for our kids will reflect positively in any testing situation.
Pollak: From what I know about their standardized-test scores, it is apparent that there are discrepancies between the schools. The schools that have ample parent support, have fairly high test scores; the schools that lower parental support have lower test scores. I believe that teachers and schools are doing what they can to help all the children with their learning, but I do feel that the schools could reflect, self-evaluate, and refine what they are doing to meet the needs of all children.
Reed: Much better than they look at first glance at the test scores. The NCLB “bar” is set so that eventually many, if not most, schools in California will be in program improvement. By the laws of mathematics you can never reach a point where all students are “above average.”
Schreder: Some great, some good and some need improvements. Just because a school has high API scores it does not translate to a great school. API is one factor; the other would be similar school ranking based on similar schools which take into account the socio-economics, ethnicities, subgroups of Special Education and English language learners, etc., of the schools students in the state. A 10 is the highest, 1 is the lowest.
What do you think about No Child Left Behind? Should Congress reauthorize it?
Griffin: I’ve commented extensively on this at my site located at smartvoter.org. I believe the act should not be reauthorized in its current form.
Mohr: Yes. I have heard most teachers have time for is only teaching for the test. That may well be the case; nevertheless until something better comes down the pike, I’m all for it.
Pollak: I am not an expert on No Child Left Behind, but I do feel that it has added an accountability piece to our education. It gives districts and schools goals for performance. However, performance goals should be able to be adjusted based on the districts and their demographics. I do believe that congress should reauthorize it, but they need to make amendments to it that allows districts flexibility.
Reed: I think NCLB is a noble idea in its intent to insure all students succeed in their education but severely flawed in its expectations and its implementation without funding. I do not think it should be re-authorized in its current form, but I do believe in reasonable accountability for public education.
Schreder: The positive from No Child Left Behind is that is covers all children. The problems I see with NCLB are that states were given the ability to choose their proficiencies. Most states chose “Basic” while California chose “Proficient,” which means the starting mark for California is considerably higher than the other states.
While it is good that all students are considered in NCLB it is not a realistic goal that all children including ones in special education and beginning English language learners will test at the proficient level. CUSD has five schools in program improvement. At some point it appears most of California schools will be in program improvement.
NCLB sounded like a good idea and there are many positive elements to an accurate school accountability system. The system must be fair and use multiple measures to study all educational areas. The assessments should be regionally appropriate. When schools do not meet proficiency standards, positive supports should be enlisted, as opposed to punishments.
An accurate school accountability system is essential to developing consistently successful schools and thus students. NCLB sounded good in theory however it should be reworked to meet its original goal
If you were writing a report card for Kelly Staley as superintendent, how would it read?
Griffin: I believe Kelly Staley has done an excellent job. She has shown strong, confident leadership in a difficult time.
Mohr: Kelly Staley and her partners in education will be removed. In my opinion, it’s just a matter of time; at that point the community will no doubt issue a lousy report card.
Pollak: From what Kelly inherited, she is doing a good job. I would give her a B for her performance thus far. The budgetary constraints along with [the district’s] public image are her biggest obstacles.
Reed: A-, because there is always room for improvement. I believe Kelly has an excellent grasp of the expectations of the community regarding the education of our youth. I also believe she puts in an extraordinary effort to be a team player and an astute leader. I believe she is taking the necessary steps to learn this job and perform it to the best of her abilities. I also hired her.
Schreder: It is too early to tell. I believe we should give Kelly a chance. Change can not happen in a day and we need to let her prove herself worthy of her position.
How would you grade the Professional Learning Communities?
Griffin: The goal of professional learning communities, teachers working as a team to identify at the earliest opportunity those students who are having difficulties and providing concentrated, individualized support, is worthy. I have not yet seen any data as to how particular schools are doing with this so can’t give a grade.
Mohr: B. All I have to go on is what I have heard, and to date, what little I know of, it’s all been good! Any time good minds get together to better what we offer our kids, we all should back that effort up.
Pollak: The grade I would give it is about a C. The PLCs will help this district thrive as long as everybody is on board and believes in the process.
Reed: In concept, I think it is the right idea. In practice, some schools are buying into the ideas and implementing them easier than others. Overall, I believe this will be the norm in the future. There is too much at stake to believe any one person has all the necessary skills to be the best at teaching each and every subject matter across the curriculum. Sharing ideas and best practices just makes sense to me.
Schreder: They are very important to allow teachers the opportunities to collaborate and share lessons, student information and concerns of students. To give them a grade is to difficult considering the vast amount of learning communities within CUSD. The teachers would be the best ones to grade these communities.
Are charter schools a threat to the district?
Griffin: Although it is my understanding that no daily student attendance monies are generated by charter schools, I do not believe they are a threat to the district. I believe they can be a testing ground for innovative practices which may prove beneficial to the traditional schools.
Mohr: No, charter schools are not a threat to a moral district. Had the community not stepped up when our district failed the kids in Forest Ranch, the end story would be very different; what made it all possible was the charter school funding. In this case it was a win-win for the Forest Ranch community and the CUSD.
Pollak: I believe that charter schools give families educational choices and are needed to offer a variety of school options for the children. I think that the district would not have approved the Forest Ranch Charter School if they felt it was a threat. The word “threat” indicates a lack of trust within the school and the community. Without trust, everything that goes on within the district will be questioned.
Reed: Maybe. It really depends on the actions of the California legislature whether that is to be true or not. Currently, charter schools are in favor by the state and legislation is being written in favor of charter school success. Implementing change across all areas of public education might give all school districts an equal chance at doing things better rather than the current practice of imposing restrictions on traditional districts while offering flexibility to charter schools.
Schreder: No. I think the district should look to charter schools and see what they are doing to attract the students they are and work on starting some dependent district charters to foster the learning communities.
What is your personal statute of limitations for wrongdoing by administrators and staff still employed by the district? (In other words, how recently must an alleged action have occurred in order to merit investigation?)
Griffin: In my mind there is no statute of limitation on wrongdoing. People should always be held to account for their actions. However, if one has acknowledged wrongdoing, has made all possible reparation, and has been rehabilitated, he should be forgiven.
Mohr: If it has anything about sexual misconduct and a school employee, there is no statue of limitations. If the misconduct is of a criminal nature, there is no [statute of] limitations. When it comes to kids, the highest level of conduct should be expected and enforced.
Pollak: There is no statue of limitations on illegal or unethical wrongdoing. The superintendent should not be able to (without board approval) order in investigation on any employee without probably cause and misuse their power. There needs to be checks and balances on all aspects of the educational and political systems.
Reed: In general, it depends on the situation. In reference to Jeff Sloan, which I believe is the true reason for asking this question, that matter was settled when he and the board of education signed a settlement agreement in August 2006.
Schreder: I think that’s a difficult decision. There are lots of proceedings that have to take place—hearings, fair hearings. Schools are a very difficult arena, and you can’t just cast judgment; you have to give people who are accused their day in court and their just hearing. I don’t think there is a statute of limitations, but I think we need to look at it and make sure it’s not bringing up something from the past that’s irrelevant at this point.