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New S.D. Unified School Board Members Discuss Goals For District

Audio

Aired 12/20/10

What will new San Diego Unified School District trustees Scott Barnett and Kevin Beiser bring to the school board? What impact will Kevin Beiser's experience as a public school math teacher have on the decisions he will make on the board? How does San Diego Taxpayers Advocate Scott Barnett think the district should solve its ongoing budget problems? We'll talk to Beiser and Barnett about their backgrounds, and discuss their primary goals for the district.

What will new San Diego Unified School District trustees Scott Barnett and Kevin Beiser bring to the school board? What impact will Kevin Beiser's experience as a public school math teacher have on the decisions he will make on the board? How does San Diego Taxpayers Advocate Scott Barnett think the district should solve its ongoing budget problems? We'll talk to Beiser and Barnett about their backgrounds, and discuss their primary goals for the district.

Guests

Scott Barnett, trustee for the San Diego Unified School District Sub-District C, and president of San Diego Taxpayers Advocate

Kevin Beiser, trustee for the San Diego Unified School District Sub-District B, and a math teacher at Granger Junior High School in National City

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. San Diego County school districts have faced some hard choices in the last few years, and those choices are getting even tougher. San Diego Unified is looking at about $120,000,000 in cuts for the next year, and school board members are weighing the possibility of cutting everything from teachers and school police, to closing down some schools. It's quite a challenging situation for the trustees of San Diego's largest school districts, and [CHECK] San Diego Unified school board trustees, Scott Barnett, good morning Scott.

BARNETT: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Kevin Beiser, good morning, Kevin.

BEISER: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Scott, start out by telling us a little bit about your back ground, and why you ran for the skeet so the San Diego Unified School Board district.

BARNETT: Sure, first of all, as a parent, who has a daughter in eighth grade, I was a PTA president in their elementary school years so as a parent I've been able to see firsthand what works and sometimes what doesn't work as a school district. [CHECK] I was executive director of the San Diego County taxpayers' association, I worked on the prop MM bond back in 1998, I was the first chair of the San Diego over sight committee. So in my profession, which I still do today in a business which examines budgets, I have been able to look at San Diego Unified from both a parent's level, and from the professional level, and even though that's been some great teachers, and great results, and still are today, from primarily a financial and management point of view, there's so much dysfunction in the school district going back, well, decades, and continuing. And I believe my combination of background and skills and a parent's experience, and professionally gave me the back ground and interest in trying to fix this problem.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Scott, as a taxpayer advocate aside from being I dad with kids and will 62, you're looked at as a little bit of an outsider, never having had this teacher's experience or any real experience in education. So how do you think your background actually is gonna help you on the School Board?

BARNETT: Well, I mean, first of all, and not to hit on the fact of being a parent, but when you're in the classroom every single -- when you take your kids to school every day, you deal with the teachers, you see what works for them, what doesn't work with them, you get a sense -- definitely that's been critical. But from someone who studies budgets all these years, it's clear to me that this district, and it's not -- I'm not making this up, does not have a handle on how many employees it has, where it spends its money, and where the money's is going. I'll give you two quick examples. Number one, just with a month ago, for the first time in this district's history, they started giving monthly financial statements of how much money they have budgeted, and how much they actually spend. When I ran the PTA at Doyle elementary, we had those monthly. And the School Board president, Richard Barrera, they have been asking for those a long time. Well, we have a great new CFO at the district, Ron Little, who's starting to put those in place. Second example, real quickly. Last spring when the school board was trying to decide whether they needed to lay off teachers or not they asked their HR department, and their budget department, well, how many teachers do we have working? They came back with wildly differing answers of so how can you manage an organization when you don't know how many employees you have, what they're being paid, what they're doing, and so we have this systemic problem that we need to deal with, and that's gonna be a major focus.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kevin Beiser, I want to ask you the same question about your background, and why you ran for the School Board.

BEISER: Well, as a teacher, I've had a lot of experience with the curriculum and academics, in turning around an under performing school, I'm a math teacher at Granger Junior High School in National City in the sweet water district. When I started there six years ago, it was the lowest performing academic school in south bay. But we worked together, adopted research based instructional strategies, after school intervention plans, got parents more involved, and we turned that school around. And to the extent today, it's a nationally recognized, national school to watch, and so when you can take a school with a hundred percent poverty, and one percent Caucasian, and have as a motto, a culture, that "No Hay Excusas Aquí", there's no excuses, and try to take away those excuses, and try to help those kids to learn, and be successful. Now our students go onto the high school, and 85 percent of them pass the Casey High School Exam the first time they take it. Of that is astronomical, especially in a community like national city, where now success is the option.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I'm just wondering, do you think that the San Diego School Board has been making excuses?

BEISER: Absolutely not.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay.

BEISER: But to the extent that I have experience.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay.

BEISER: Adopting research based strategies and being a part of a team of collaborative educators working together to solve problems, I think that's why I decided to get involved in San Diego Unified school district, because I think that there is an opportunity for more collaboration, and to try to look at our program [CHECK] right now, San Diego Unified has 95 schools in program improvement. And we need to really roll up our sleeves and take a hard look at those schools, and find out how can we provide support to shows schools and those kids, I mean, those children are not getting a quality educate right now, and we need to work together to try to adopt research based reforms and work together to adopt research based education.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, go ahead, Scott.

BARNETT: And during the campaign, in the short time I worked with him, it's been remarkable to hear the teacher's perspective from the classroom, someone who has had successful programs and ideas just in the short term which don't cost more money in order to make sure students learn better, and it has been very helpful. And so I think it's a great asset, and you know, my background is not as an educator, it's as a parent, and a taxpayer's advocate, so I think there's a great balance that Kevin and I bring to the board with working together on the beard members and all of these measures.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I want to tell everybody, I'm speaking with the San Diego Unified's School Board's two newest members, Scott [CHECK] and Kevin Beiser. Now, the two of you have gotten your feet wet a little bit, scorn members of the bore for a few weeks now. And I'm wondering, Scott, as you get closer, and you're looking 59 this hundred and $20 million, perhaps, deficit for next year, do you think that this idea of tightening up, knowing how much teachers there are, knowing how many kids are in school day after day, all of those reforms that you want to bring to the administration of the school district, how many money do you think you're actually gonna be able to save by doing that?

BARNETT: Well, beyond that approach, putting the citizens in place, the data systems in place, where we can track your finances from every single department, making sure we have the systems in place, for instance, as a parent issue every year, I have to fill out about sick forms for my kids, which we have to fill -- well, the same forms every year. Well, there's 130,000 kids in the school district, so there's 700 plus forms on paper that parents have to fill out. None of them can be done on line, [CHECK] and it and there are staff members who are taking those, reading them, and input, that's just one example of the absolute inefficiency. So to answer your question, [CHECK] Kevin and I were appointed that we are gonna go through with the department for the first time, with the employees' involve the, and brick in outside efficiency experts, and [CHECK] what is the purposes of this department, where do they spend their money, and can it be done more efficiently? I believe that once we put all these data systems in place, and we did through this process, that in the long term, we'll save tens of millions of dollars a year. In the short term, by July '50, when we have to adopt our budget, we are not gonna resolve all of these problems, it's taken decades to get in there, it's gonna take us probably at least 18 months to get out of that system, we will still have to make very tough decisions regarding this up coming budget. And there's two basic ways we have to do that. Number within, the way the board has proposed, and that is to potentially make cuts across the board in services and teachers, and layoffs and so forth. And that's -- and then the other approach, and this would involve us working with all our employees is to stay, should we, can we all take some pay reduction across the board, but keep everyone -- keep their jobs? And that -- but that would involve opening up contracts and negotiations. But that's are the discussions that we have to have with all our employees, the teachers, and the community.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, Kevin, some claim that the teacher's union has influence with members of the San Diego Unified School Board. Would you agree?

BEISER: Yes. I think that if you take a look, and I've really had a lot of opportunity to individual with people in the School Board over the last month, everybody's really interest in it together. And that's one of the reasons I ran for the School Board in the San Diego City. Because in a lot of other arenas where I've worked, the paraphernalias, the teachers, the administration are all working together, buzz we have a common goal, to improve student learning of [and will|and the] that's why we're in the business. So when you talk about San Diego City schools, I think that we allow the budget challenges to create a little bit of dissonance. And we've got to remember that all the teachers became teachers to help kids. And that's why we're in it. And so as long as we continue our class action, I think it's important. I'd like to go back to one thing that Scott had mentioned, and that's the member of doesn'ts in the San Diego City school TRAEGZ for the schools of we have a hundred and 24 different departments in the administration center. Let me say that one more time. We have a hundred and 24 different departments in the Ed center. And I know we can do a lot better. Already they've taken a look at some preliminary numbers with departments that do the same thing, that could be merged. And if we could get rid of some of that duplication, we could get that down to least 70 to 80 departments, saving potentially 50 to $60 million.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of our callers wants to get in on the conversation. Daniel is calling from Clairemont. Good morning, Daniel. Welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Nice to see that you've done something good, Scott, and you're getting involved in this. I want like to see how we might be able to get the citizen a little bit more involved. I know that we purchase schools, and they're there for 24 hours a day, but they seem to be used for 10 to 14 hours a day. Is there any way that we as citizens could get in there and use those facilities a little wit more? The computers other maybe the physical exercise things, and then at the same time, we could see what the schools are like, and which that's broken tiles and broken pipes and there's stuff that need to be fixed, we could get together and help it out?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, Daniel, thank you. Thank you for that suggestion of that's interesting. First of all, I'd like you to respond to what Daniel said and also are these the types of things, the sort of create itch whys that you're kind of batting around on the School Board these days.

BARNETT: Well, we have been discussing joint use, that's something that we are doing currently in some schools. One of the things that I would really like to accomplish in the next couple of years is equity at our schools. We have a lot of schools where those children can go and play on green grass, and we have a lot of schools where they do not have any green grass at all to play on. Of so during PE class, they have to go kick the sock upper ball around on a dirt field, and dust clouds are being kicked up, and the kids are having to run around in the dust. That's not fair to me. Of [CHECK] to have a good time, and to the extent that we want to try to mitigate that, a lot of schools have created joint use with the City of San Diego to create public parks and things like that so that that green grass or that space, the school uses it during school hours, and then on the evenly, in the weekend, that park reverts back to the community for community use, whether it's soft ball fields or soccer feels or just the public space green Greek.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Scott, would you like to respond to Daniel?

BEISER: Yeah, well, first of all, we agree that these are public assets, and we should maximize them for use of the public. And also that there are additional costs, check check and maintenance is an issue that we're already falling behind on. But I'll make another point on joint use, when I was [CHECK] we were gonna build 13 new schools, and the over sight committee voted unanimously to require over at least study joint use on every potential aspect from the community rooms to fields, to libraries. Well, the School Board then unanimously said, no, we don't want to do that. So we built 13 now libraries within the San Diego Unified schools, and none of them became joint use. Well, no, finally we do have one joint use library between the city, and the San Diego Unified schools, and there's gonna be another one, the so called schoolbrary downtown. But we have to realize that we have the state government, the federal government, the military, the county government, the [CHECK] and mostly because of turf reasons, turf wars, turf fields, we have been not working together for all of our constituents, our children and parents and our perspective, and the broader community, and that is not leveraging our assets, which we need to do in good and bad times.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You both know that prop J, of course, failed, the parcel tax proposal that would have generated millions of dollars for the San Diego Unified's School Board district. Now, [CHECK] were on this show last Monday, and one of our callers got them to start talking about the idea of creating some kind of public, private foundation where people can contribute money to help the school district during difficult financial times, and I'm wandering if the two of you have heard about that or if you would support an idea like that. Let me start with you, Kevin.

BEISER: Yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, Scott?

BEISER: Well, in fact just a couple of nights ago, I was visiting with a gentleman who has his grand kids at [CHECK] and he said that the quality of education from that public schools, you know, tantamount to a private school, and he said that to the extent me and my field and my grand children are able to go to Einstein academy, we don't have to pay $20,000 a year for a private school. So he said if some time down the line the school district needed some extra money, maybe 2 or $3,000 a year, my family would be happy to help. And so I think that there is definitely a need. I think a lot of members of the community recognize that we do have amount of great schools in San Diego City schools, and that there are people that would support such a foundation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Scott, let me get your intake.

BARNETT: Sure, absolutely, the talk that's been suggested, things that are going around, that is, if you're gonna vote yet, to pay $9,800 a year on your property tax for schools, why don't you voluntarily now, give that each year? And I think it's a great concept, and we should push -- support it. Only we're not gonna raise anywhere near the level of money. Secondly, there are foundations in a lot of areas in the schools, but they tend to be in areas north of eight, La Jolla, university city, and other areas which raise private funds for the schools in those areas, now, the problem is, of course, the funds where they are not raised are in the poorer areas where mostly kids of color go to school, and they don't have these private foundations. So on the other hand, there are more federal funds, title one, and so forth, available, so yes, any way anyone wants to help in a foundation is great, because if wouldn't necessarily go through the school bureaucracy, before it's applied to the variety school sites.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've gotta tell you, we are out of time, and we really should have had a much longer conversation with you two gentlemen, perhaps you'll come back.

BEISER: I'd love it.

BARNETT: Yes, thank you.

BEISER: Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Happy holidays to you both. I've been speaking with Kevin Beiser and Scott Barnett, the two newest members of the San Diego Unified School Board. And if you'd like to comment, please go online, KPBS.org/These Days. And stay with us for hour two of These Days, coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.

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