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School Board Candidates Speak at Forum Hosted by High School 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, including 14 years of project management.

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.

Candidate Matt Smith, who is running for re-election, has served on the school board for the past eleven years. He received his bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University and has worked for AT&T for 28 years as a technical sales manager.

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.

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

“If I could sum it 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, and has a son and daughter within the school district.

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.

Knollenberg also brought up the computer tracking system to monitor student academic patterns and needs that districts in California are in the process of implementing.

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, he said.

Knollenberg 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.

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’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.”

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.

Other questions posed to the candidates involved teachers’ concerns that the board might be overlooking, the recent evaluation of the current superintendent, and what priorities each candidate would have if a bond were passed.

While Knollenberg said he would like to see a bond structured to ensure it has long term benefits, all three candidates shared views on facility maintenance for a number of the campuses.

Smith said the bond that had been proposed two years ago should have been passed, and that he was still in support of one.

In 2007, the district hired a consultant who surveyed the community, reporting that 77% were in favor of a bond. However, the vote to put the resolution on the February ballot did not meet the two-thirds vote, he said.

Smith said that although a bond was difficult to ask in these economic times, the maintenance needed at the schools was serious.

The candidates also answered questions regarding the allocation of funds for students with special needs, community fundraising similar to San Marino and South Pasadena, as well as way strategies to increase parental involvement in a diverse district.

The forum was the third sponsored by the two students groups, who previously co-hosted 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.”

By Sameea Kamal

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