Election: San Diego Unified School Board - Trustee Area E
June 4, 2012 1:33 p.m.
Marne Foster, community college instructor and administrator.
William Ponder, retired university administrator.
Related Story: San Diego Unified's District E Seat
CAVANAUGH: We begin a program dedicated to a roundup of San Diego election issues. We'll talk about the tone and substance of the election advertising we're seeing and highlight some races that perhaps haven't gotten as much attention as they deserve. First a conversation with the candidates for the district E seat on the San Diego unified School Board. This is a district that includes neighborhoods in southeastern San Diego, and is currently represented on the board by trustee Sheila Jackson. Jackson is stepping down, and the two candidates running are community college instructor and administrator, Marney Foster, welcome to the program.
FOSTER: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And retired university administrator William ponder. And Mr. Ponder, William, thank you for being here.
PONDER: Thank you, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask both of you first, why are you running?
FOSTER: Well, I'm running because I am a proud parent of four students that have been a product of San Diego unified. I have four children, two that are in college on full scholarship. I'm a product of San Diego unified school district. And my involvement as a current voltier for the last 20 years as well as a parent facilitator with the parent institute for quality education, I see where I really can have a positive impact at a time where we have critical needs, especially in district E more than 50% of our students are following below basic and far below basic. And there's a lot that can happen in the area of student achievement where I have -- where my background has focused on as a teacher as well in San Diego, continuing education for the last 14 years. So I have a lot to contribute, I have a lot invested in San Diego unified school district.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that, and William ponder, why are you running?
PONDER: Well, I've got 30 years of experience and taught in the San Diego unified school district a number of years ago. But also K-12 education has been a passion of mine, and the last three years, I was with the U.S. Department of Education in the district. But I also have experience with community colleges. I was at the university of California for almost a decade, dealing with admissions and outreach, actually recruiting students from San Diego and other areas to the university of California. And as a university vice president, very, very involved in education reform, dealing with programs like mesa and the national science foundation. And I was born and raised here too. Graduate at Lincoln high school. So I'm here really looking at this as a way to bring all of that 30 years of experience directly focused on the educational needs of the children in our district.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you both for that. And let me start with you, William Ponder, anyone who has been listening to the news knows that San Diego unified, San Diego's largest school district is in financial crisis. It's laying off 20% of its teaching staff. What would you like to see the district do?
PONDER: Well, I think there's a couple of things that need to be put in perspective. That $122†million that the district has in deficit comes from some decisions that the current board made. And those commitments and decisions put the district in the situation it is currently in. I think a number of things around, looking at that, and talking to, be and bringing together all of the constituents, and everybody who is involved, and talk about what do we Ned to do to deal with that? We've got to look at the current financial situation, current concessions, the current number of faculty who have been laid off. We've got to rethink the structure. The finances. And we've got to do some things different in terms of creating new revenue. One of the things I've been involved with, in terms of a tiger team in the district, is looking at real estate, and creating and looking at how real estate over the long-term could be used in term was creating another revenue stream that would be sustained, and wouldn't be liable to the city or the county or the state or the federal government. It could be used to help to at least start to head in the right direction financially.
CAVANAUGH: Let me get a response from Marney Foster on this. What would you like to do? What would you like to see the district do to turn this financial situation around?
FOSTER: Well, what is key, and I'll piggyback a little bit off of what William Ponder said, was really involving all of the stakeholders in a way that we really haven't done before. And what that calls for transparency. Really educating the community and the city in terms of what that budget actually looks like. It's really key because we have a situation where teachers, if those pink slips are rescinded, they start working, some of them may start working at the last minute, some may start working, and they are actually substitutes for their own classes, which means that they don't receive any health benefits. And the last thing that we want to see happen is for teachers to be working with our young people in a situation where they're stressed and don't know how they're going to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck, as well as their health benefits. So that necessitates some creative solutions, and to have discussions that we haven't had before. And beyond that, really what we need to do is make education a priority as a community, city, and state. And it really involves looking at proposition 13, proposition 98, looking at and really working with our legislators and making sure and demanding that we visit the state's lottery.
CAVANAUGH: I'm going to stop you there. I want to give you both equal time. And I have two questions directed primarily at you individually, Marney, and William. Marney, you're being backed by the San Diego's teacher arbitration zoos, the teacher's union. Would you press the union to recommend back the pay increase to get over this fiscal crisis?
FOSTER: That is a good question. And really what needs to happen is dialogue. Before now, we haven't had -- I say we, but there haven't been a conversation, and a dialogue. Without conversation, without communication we get nowhere. So we really need to start there.
CAVANAUGH: Do you mean a dialogue with the teacher's union?
FOSTER: A dialogue with the teacher's union, and the board as well. They need to start talking.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. So they would basically you're talking about dialog, you're talking about talking about possible concessions.
FOSTER: Talking about what that would look like.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. A response to that William Ponder?
PONDER: Currently the union has put its own financial folks to look at the budget. If they find something there that's reasonable and makes sense, then the board and everybody needs to sit down and look at it. As I understand it, the situation is this. If the governor's tax initiative doesn't pass, then the board is going to have to go back and look at its own financial situations again, and it's going to have to do some things in terms of further reductions. The other thing about it is that the current contract is up in June. So I think if in fact there aren't the kind of substantive discussions and concessions and agreements within the collective bargaining agreement to fix that, then the new board sitting down in June ever 2013 is going to have an option to sit down and actually go about the process of dealing with it. The other process is this, the board's, the district's reserves are at 9%. They should be at 15%. To have a stable educational environment, you have to have adequate reserves. One of the things that I see as being important is to insure that both the union and the board understand that if we don't stabilize our fiscal house, we're going to have a hard time negotiating and bargaining on any kind of issue.
CAVANAUGH: I have a question for you, William Ponder. You've received backing from one of the sponsors of a failed initiative last year that would have stacked the School Board with appointed trustees. Do you want to see changes in the makeup of the School Board like that?
PONDER: No, I don't. I think unless we are in a situation where the district is insolvent and a state trustee comes in, and says this current structure is not workable, I think that the current board structure, if responsible people are on the board, can make this work. Now, I do believe this: I believe those folks and individuals that have been identified can play a critical role in helping us. So university presidents, and community college presidents, and corporate people, those folks can help us. And I believe they have a role, and they can with that role help support us to do what we need to do.
CAVANAUGH: And Marney Foster, do you want to see any changes to the makeup of the School Board or to reaching out to -- we heard suggestions about the City Council being more involved in the San Diego unified School Board. Do you think that's a good idea?
FOSTER: Well, as the person who coordinates program review in San Diego for continuing education, really we need to leave that subject matter experts. Where the government can play a role in terms of the mayor's office is really working with legislators and putting pressure on legislators, as I was stating before, to really look at proposition 13, proposition 98, where they've borrowed $13†billion of funds that go to our schools, as well as as I mentioned before, the state lottery, which is funding us at 34%. And really needs to look more like 50 or 60%. And so that's the way that our mayor can provide leadership into education, with San Diego unified. And then beyond that, we can partner with businesses and corporations for internships, scholarships, grant, fostering an adopt a school program, and establish bridging programs with colleges and universities like what we have at San Diego continuing education and Mesa†College where we have some schools that are actually on the campus and students are dual enrolled and go to school three days a week, and are in internships two-days a week, and that goes through their A-G.
CAVANAUGH: I want to get in another question. That word insolvency has been raised in our discussion. One board member has suggested the district declare insolvency and should be taken over by the state. What is your opinion on that? Should San Diego unified do everything it can to avoid that? Or is that a viable option?
FOSTER: Absolutely not. Insolvency is completely irresponsible at this point. If we are looking to the State of California to invest in our schools and they're not doing so right now, and have borrowed money from our schools, what makes us think that an insolvency plan is going to work?
CAVANAUGH: Let me get a response from William Ponder.
PONDER: I think the board has looked at this. The board has sent its last budget to the county, board of ed, saying it's qualified, which means we can pay our bills this year. We're not totally sure we can pay our bills next year. I think they are trying every possible way to figure out a way to be able to solve this. However, I do believe that if in fact the current financial situation is not solved and we go into 2013 and 2014 with the kind of deficits that continue, I don't believe the district can sustain this. And I think that's what I think a number of the board members are really concerned about, and I think that's the reason why Scott Barnett did say he felt given what he sees sitting on the board now, in terms of the direction of the district. So we will see if in fact concessions are made. We'll see if board members do what they need to do is see if we can avoid that.
CAVANAUGH: This is the last question. Let me start with you, William Ponder. What do you think an individual School Board member can do to make changes when the problems facing the district are so immense?
PONDER: Well, I think first that an individual board member is going to have to work with the other board members. That's find ways to compromise, find ways to create consensus. I think an individual board can also go out and work with the community, work with private industry, with foundations, city, county, other individuals to help us to figure out what's going on. I think an individual board member can do that. I think also an individual board member can lead by example. By actually going out and spending the time to actually get programs in place, and do things and show the rest of the community that it is possible for us within the city to do this, and not to look to the state or the federal government to solve our problems.
CAVANAUGH: And Marney Foster, the same question to you. What can an individual School Board member to make changes when the problems are so big?
FOSTER: I think an individual school member can really use this time to bring people together, the community together, in a way that we haven't worked together before because the situation is so serious and critical and dire. What I would look to is my current relationships over the last 20 years, working with organizations like reality changer, working with organizations like the parent institute for quality education, and delta leadership. The urban league. And there are some amazing programs that really serve students that already have parents that are actively engaged. What about working together as a community in community-based organizations, families, churches and such and businesses working together to cast a wider net so that we address and involve and reach the students?
CAVANAUGH: And we'll have to leave it there. I am so sorry.
>> That's okay. That's the message. Yes.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with the candidates for district E on the San Diego School Board. Thank you both very much.
PONDER: Thank you.
FOSTER: Thank you, Maureen.