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March 27th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune
Arcadia schools face challenges as state budget woes continue
Three candidates are facing off to win two seats available on the Arcadia Unified School District’s Board of Education. The election is slated for Tuesday, April 21. Three candidates have filed for the two open seats—one, an incumbent, one, an appointee who now faces her first election, and a man who is a first-time campaigner.
The candidates are Joann Steinmeier, who is running for her sixth consecutive term, Janet Chew, a board appointee who filled out the term of Annie Yuen upon Yuen’s resignation in 2006, and John Davis, a newcomer who has no previous campaign experience. So far, the race has been without a great deal of rancor, the candidates say, because Arcadia schools are deemed to be well-run and the data to back up student achievement that sends a majority of graduates from the high school off to the nation’s most prestigious colleges. Behind all this good news are highly participative parents who care deeply for their kids and are dedicated to seeing that they get a good education. In fact, all three candidates for the board said they moved to Arcadia to avail their children of the fine education available here.
The candidates themselves are college graduates, mirroring the high education level in the community. An average of 90% of the parents of enrolled students either attended or graduated from college, a number that is close to double that of either Los Angeles County or the state. Among those running, Steinmeier is a businesswoman who holds a B.S. in Social Science from Cal Poly University, Pomona; Chew is a pharmacist with Pharm D. degree from University of California, San Francisco; Davis received a degree in Finance from State University of California, Los Angeles and an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Business.
Yet although the Arcadia schools are in great shape, cutbacks from various sources of revenue for the District are proving problematic and frustrating for just about everyone. The District faces the potential threat of money that was either promised or hinted at never arriving from the state, even with the highly touted federal promises. As Steinmeier observed, "It’s a moving target." The District has prepared a power-point presentation—available at the District website—outlining the fiscal issues and laying out actions that must be taken should various forms of revenue be curtailed or lost. The District has presented the board with a very conservative and perhaps severe view that all board candidates agree with. The recommendations include some cost cutting measurers, use of reserves, restricting categorical programs and allowing staff layoffs to balance the budget which District notably believes may leave a $3 million deficit on top of cuts last year and the threat of additional cuts ahead. The board passed Resolution No. 1190 at its February 25th meeting that put into motion the Reduction in Force notices to classroom teachers, setting the number to be notified of the potential layoff at 55-60 but agreeing to a cap of 41 classroom teachers should action become necessary. Final notices would be issued before May 15.
Because each candidate believes that Arcadia schools are virtually flawless, the question the candidates must answer remains, “How would I go about raising the estimated $3 million in revenue shortage?” Steinmeier puts it squarely on the line by saying her experience on the board will allow her to make the hard decisions that may become necessary. Chew says that everything is on the table but that she would look for savings in administrative staffing and supplies. Davis favors a business-style look across the board with an eye to savings throughout the operation and looking for consolidation opportunities with, perhaps the city, for beneficial savings in things like payroll services and a thorough review of the number of administrators, especially at the Vice-Principal level. Seeking other funding avenues, all candidates think they can rely on the Arcadia Education Foundation, a non-profit group that has raised millions for Arcadia schools since its founding in 1981, to mount a successful fund-raising campaign to reduce the reliance on what may turn out to be illusory state money.
In the midst of these worries, a major building program is about to get underway; the money is funded from the Measure I bond which was successfully passed by voters in November, 2006. The $218 million "Neighborhood Schools, Health, Safety and Repair Measure" is now in progress at several schools, but visible portions of work will be seen in the coming months at Arcadia High School. The school’s improvements include a two-story 50,000 square foot student services building, a two-story 42,566 square foot science building and a 38,360 square foot performing arts building and some ground improvements. A ground-breaking ceremony for that portion of the project has been set for April 2.
Other issues facing the board include various state and federal curriculum requirements and standardized testing. With such weighty issues burdening the city, choosing suitable candidates is no walk in the park, to be certain. Here is a brief look at both the histories and qualifications of all three candidates:
Joann Steinmeier, currently serving as President of the Board of Education was born in Alhambra, graduated from Temple City High School. Her interest in schools began when volunteer help was requested to assist teachers following a reduction in the use of teacher’s aids. She volunteered as a room mother for seven years at Longley Way Elementary, became involved with the school’s Parent Teacher’s Association (PTA) and was active as the legislative chair. When her children moved on to 1st Ave. Middle School, she founded the Music Club, served on the PTA council, and then ran successfully for School Board. She feels that her past leadership experiences and background qualify her to continue serving.
Janet Chew, appointed to the board in 2006, is running her first campaign to be installed as a "regular" board member. She was born and raised in the Central Valley city of Madera, Calif., an agricultural-based town the size of Arcadia. Her interest in school matters came about as she became involved with the PTA and as her children grew. She is also involved in a variety of local organizations. As a pharmacist, she is pleased that Arcadia High School will upgrade its already excellent science program with laboratory facilities. In her words, "We need to give our kids top quality education if we can afford it." She hopes to be elected to a full four-year term to continue her work of improving and clarifying various processes that are available to parents to constantly improve and upgrade evaluations of all programs and systems.
John Davis has been a resident of Arcadia since 1992, but shortly after arriving, joined the Holly Ave. Elementary School PTA, using his background in finance to serve as treasurer. He has served youth as well. He shepherded his son through Boy Scouts of America programs and was selected to serve the Boy Scout Council as chair of the Lucky Baldwin District. He is currently a board member of Arcadia Rotary. Davis says his academic background and years of financial training can aid both the board and the community to make good business-style decisions when cutting expenses, as now
seems imperative. He says he would find savings in supplies, but feels a closer and perhaps tougher look at the size of administration can yield, over time, significant savings. He also believes programs should be instigated as soon as possible to avoid getting into the kind of financial crisis the district is facing. Davis is now Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Mt. Sierra College, Monrovia. He is a founder and board-member of the college and has seen it grow and prosper over the years. Regarding district finances, he says, "From a business standpoint things could be made clearer [for the general public]." Davis also puts faith in the ability of the AEF to raise funds for Arcadia schools.
Two candidate forums have been held with scant turn out according to the candidates; no more are scheduled. But, the issues facing the district will have long-term impact on Arcadia schools. This board will have to make tough decisions. In a move to better communicate with Arcadia residents, a blog has been set up on the internet by District Superintendent, Dr. Joel Shawn. Dr. Shawn is inviting locals to ask questions specifically related to the school budget process. To date, the community has responded, many with tough questions. It is sure to be one of our more popular area blogs.
Following the election on April 21 the two candidates that voters select will join Cun Nguyen, Lori Phillipi and Maryann Gibson on the five-member board.
Candidate statements will appear in a future edition of these newspapers.
By Bill Peters