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Extended Version: School Board Candidates Speak at Forum Hosted by Students

November 2nd, 2009 by Sameea Kamal

In preparation for the November 3 school board election, two Temple City High School student groups came together to host a forum for the three candidates running for the two open positions.

Candidates Matt Smith and Joe Walker, who are running for re-election, and Kenneth Knollenberg spoke at the October 24 forum organized by the high school’s Junior State of America club and a student-run community publication, the Temple City Voice.

The program started out with introductions by each of the candidates.

Knollenberg, a lifelong resident of Temple City, attended the district’s schools growing up and went on to get his bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Cal Poly Pomona.

He worked in the United States Navy in Long Beach for 25 years in engineering and 6 years in special projects, with a total of 14 years of project management.

Knollenberg said he has an expertise in environmental groups, as well as putting together detailed plans and executing them from the very concept all the way through to the actual installation, training and running of projects.

His years working for the federal government and on the supervising committee for the Credit Union supplied him with a budget and strategic planning background, he said.

“If there’s one thing that I think that the school board lacks is a detailed strategy, or strategic planning sessions where they identify specific things that are going to get done and then keep monitoring till they are done,” he said. “They need to set goals and the goals need to be measurable, they need to be doable and they need to be definable enough so you know what you’re doing.”

Candidate Matt Smith, who is running for re-election, has served as head of the school board for the past eleven years. He received his bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University, and went on for further education at Cal State LA. Smith works for AT&T for 28 years as a technical sales manager, and has three sons who went through the school district.

Prior to his work with the board of education, he worked with the youth in the community as a manager and coach of sports teams and was a part of the school site council in the district for three years.

Earlier this year, Smith was recognized by the California Parent Teachers Association for his involvement, he said.

Smith said he is running for re-election because he has a unique background and experience.

“If I could sum (my campaign) up in one word, it’s stability,” he said.

Smith said he has been a part of the board through many issues, and that this background will lend itself well to the many new changes in staffing.

Joe Walker introduced himself as an active member of the community who has lived in Temple City for about 16 years. He worked for the LA County Sheriff’s department as a crime analyst, analyzing crime patterns, trends and series. He has a son and daughter in who are in the school system.

“Being on the school board you’re able to affect some really good stuff,” he said. “ It’s been a thrill and an honor to serve on this board for four years and I hope I will continue for another four years.”

Walker said he would like to continue to increase the district’s test scores and set high benchmarks.

“One thing people know about me is that I’m willing to listen to everybody,” he said.

Maybe too much so and I get criticism, but that’s okay, I can take it. I just want to continue what we’ve been doing … I’m in it for the long run.”

The candidates were asked questions on what they saw as necessary improvements for the students’ education, and what the most pressing needs were in the district.

Knollenberg said the fundamental need is to have a basic long term plan that is fully funded on a continuous basis.

“Even though there is a series of different initiatives that have started, it’s very difficult to tell what the total life cycle process will be on the plan,” he said. “The state of California is going down the path of adding additional computer tracking school systems that will help monitor each and every student. The number one area is to be able to identify needs in every student and find some way to bring that person up to their full potential.”

According to Knollenberg, the system will take three years to fully implement, but there has not been a presentation for the public record on the total cost, how it till be put in place and whether or not those paying for it will get a return on their investment.

“You can’t run programs without knowing the total costs, especially if you’re going to do it over a three year period,” he said.

Knollenberg said the most pressing need is to change how the district makes the money they have and the mindset that the budget has to be balanced by cuts.

“We never look at the side of how can we go on and get money through grants or other programs that will bring us revenue for special programs to help offset our costs,” he said.

Knollenberg also said he would like to see the budget monitored at each meeting so the district can monitor the actual budget versus expenses on a month to month basis rather than reviewed as a packet.

Another concern is deferred maintenance at some of the schools, such as air conditioning.

“If those go out, there is going to be a very difficult problem before them to come up with enough funding to fix them,” he said.

According to Smith, the most critical issue is to have a stable budget.

“During my tenure of 11 years we’ve had to make budget cuts six out of those 11 years … and it causes nothing but stress for people throughout the district,” he said. “The current level is $38 million but our budget has been going down,” he said. “We’re back to where we were four years ago and that’s not right – especially with increased student enrollment,” he said.

Smith also said he looks forward to seeing the database system that helps identify where to strengthen the curriculum for each student and that it is another reason he wants to stay on board.

“We are a district in a transition – we are basically having a complete turnover of school board members in the last four years with the exception of myself,” he said. “All that is going to be well for us but its going to be a transition.

“We’re doing a good job, I’m very proud of us as a school district,” he said. “Our success doesn’t happen by accident but by good, thorough, detailed planning.”

Joe Walker said that the improvement he sees necessary is for the district to address the needs of students at all levels.

“We have students who have 4.0 GPA’s and we have “C” students who have interests in vocational arts, mechanics, etc.,” he said. “I want to make sure all our students get a top notch education.”

Walker said that in terms of the budget, the district may not have the ability to generate money but they can monitor what is there.

“There’s nothing pressing, there’s no emergency situation,” Walker said. “We just need to watch the money, watch every cent. There’s no guarantee, if they say right now it’s at 38 million, what happens if in a year they say it’s going to be 36 million? We need to be prepared.”

The segment for audience questions began with a question of how the relationship between the city and district is, and how it can be improved.

According to Smith, the relationship has gotten a lot better in the past few years.

“There was a lot of talk of how horrible it was though I wouldn’t use the word horrible, he said. “The district accomplished a lot with the prior council … All in all the relationship has gotten a lot better.”

Walker said the relationship has changed because the council has changed in a positive way.

“We’re going to keep asking for some big ticket items because they have the resources and we have the room,” Walker said. “It’s a good relationship and it’s really getting better.”

Knollenberg said although he does not have a personal reference, he has attended both city council and school board meetings and that they both have a vested interest in taking on projects that enhance citizens’ experience.

“You get a feel for what’s happening in the city because in a sense the school system is a number one employee for the city,” he said. “The school system is one of the reasons that property values are stable … The city council is building upon what the schools are doing and the schools are building on what the city is doing with business and redevelopment.”

Candidates also answered questions on what are the primary concerns the teachers have that are not being addressed.

“We would have to ask teachers that, but they might say they’re not being included in the decisions,” Walker said. “But our teachers are not a quiet group, they let their feelings be known.”

Knollenberg said feedback from school board meetings show that there is a credibility issue between what the school board says and what the teachers believe.

“Whether it’s true or not is up for debate maybe, but the perception is that the school board is not always candid enough with the teachers and what they’re going to do in the future with the school system,” he said.

Smith said that after meetings and talking to teachers one on one, the district may not be as transparent as it should be.

“We do work very hard to be transparent of what we’re going to do and why and we seek their input,” he said.

The candidates were also asked what top three things they would address if the district passed a bond.

All three candidates agreed there were facilities that need to be renovated.

Knollberg said he would like to see a bond issue structured so that it would have a long term benefit.

“If it were used for air conditioning maintenance, (we should) re-do the entire system to offset the utility costs which will then drive down your total cost of the bond over the life cycle of the bond,” he said. “The other one is to start looking in terms of green energy types of projects, where you lump series of projects together where they accomplish something that helps the environment at the same time as it drives our cost down.”

Smith referenced a bond for $55 million proposed in 2007, which garnered 77% of community support based on a consultant’s survey but did not meet the required two-thirds vote to place it on the February ballot, he said.

“I was in support of it and still am,” he said. “Bonds are hard to think about in these economic times … but the maintenance needed is really serious, the conditions are a little scary.”

Walker also said there were buildings at the high school that need to be replaced, and agreed with the green solar aspect, green technology

There’s lots of great tax savings, you get money back from it,” he said. “That’s the only way were going to be able to move forward.”

The audience also asked how the candidates would fund nonacademic programs in the current economic state.

“All the programs have some direct or indirect benefit,” Walker said. “We do reach out to our community a lot for donations and fundraisers, almost every Saturday there’s a car wash. Unfortunately those of us who have kids occasionally have to reach in our own pockets.”

Knollenberg agreed with Walker, adding that the difficulty is there is no way to measure the significance of some of the programs.

“The end product is to have someone graduate,” he said. “In some cases going through these special programs is the only reason some students stay in school. There are people who came before this board that were into chess club and those four to five people have done exceptionally well in the chess tournament nationally and because of that I think they will graduate from school with no problems at all.”

“We need to encourage people to be able to fund these specials programs,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort to raise the money but it is one of the things that helps increase the participation of the student in the school system.”

Smith said this last year in looking at the budget, the board did not look at nonacademic budget reduction.

“There’s a certain amount of money a year to support those programs, that’s a good start,” he said.

He also referenced the success of booster clubs for sports and performing arts.

“Giving these kids an extra reason to come to school ….is a big plus,”he said.

In terms of community fundraising similar to that of San Marino and South Pasadena, Walker said it is unfortunate that Temple City does not have a business base to support school activities.

Knollenberg said that both San Marino and South Pasadena have hired full-time staff which allows them to raise the amount of money they to, and that to reach similar levels, Temple City would need to get out and look for the same.

The candidates also answered questions regarding the allocation of funds for students with special needs, strategies to increase parental involvement in a diverse district, and the candidates experience and views with the recent evaluation of the superintendent’s contract.

The groups have previously co-hosted similar forums for the 2009 city council election and the 2007 school board election.

According to Sophia Chang, Editor-in-Chief of the Temple City Voice, the forum went smoothly in terms of how it was run.

“In terms of everything being organized and executed well, it was definitely a success,” she said. “However, in terms of garnering the attention of our target audiences, students and workers of Temple City, we did not quite hit the mark.”

For viewing of the forum, please visit the Chamber of Commerce website:

http://www.templecitychamber.com/TCUSD_Forum_09/forum_video.html

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