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Alameda County, CA November 6, 2012 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
Board Member; Alameda Unified School District


The questions were prepared by the League of Women Voters of Alameda and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on , ,

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

? 1. (Most pressing problem) What is the single most pressing problem facing the Alameda Unified School District in the next 24 months and how would you work with your elected colleagues to solve it?

Answer from Michael J. "Mike" Robles-Wong:

Collective bargaining with the unions will take center stage, aggravated by the state funding issues. Our teachers are not the problem; they are a part of the solution. I would work to establish Board and teacher workshops and other forms of regular communication separate from negotiations that would serve to collaboratively involve teachers in helping the board develop policy solutions that we could all live with.

Answer from Jon G. Murphy:

The Funds are not being spent for direct educational needs of our teachers and students. The current board members have been making poor budgetary decisions in the allocation of our limited finacial resources. I would work towards changing the terms of the contract, the lease on the new Administrative office space in Marina Village and I would work with the Board to restore trust in our district by planning an affordable pay increase for teachers and restoration of important programs which had recently been cancelled.

Answer from Ron Mooney:

Clearly the questionable State funding of our schools is the most pressing problem facing our schools. Depending on whether Propositions 30 and 38 pass or fail, and the implementation of the results, we must be make critical choices to keep improving student success, the implementation of the Master Plan and paying our staff as fairly as possible. Working together the Board must continue its path of focusing on student achievement and keeping policies and priorities aligned to support our programs for students.

Answer from Trish Spencer:

The District's top priority is always quality of education for all of our students. That is why families send their children to us: to educate them. Too many students are not achieving their potential across the academic spectrum. Too many students have other issues and concerns that contribute to their inability to achieve their potential. It is only by working together with all our stakeholders (parents, students, employees, community members) that we will best be able to serve all our students and help them achieve their potential. Unfortunately, many now believe employee morale is at an all-time low. I am proudly endorsed by both our Teachers' Union (AEA) and our Classified Staff Union (CSEA); I am the only incumbent endorsed by either of these Unions. I am the only candidate with a proven track record of working with our employees. That doesn't mean that I always vote the way they want; it means I reach out to them for input on decisions that I believe they may be able to help solve. I also reach out to parents, students, and community members for their input. It is very hard to provide quality education for all students, especially with limited funds. It truly takes a team effort to educate children and my record shows that I'm an effective team player.

Answer from Niel Tam:

The single most pressing problem facing the Alameda Unified School District in the next 24 months is keeping a balanced budget. In the 2009-10 school year Governor Brown reduced our revenue by $1,421 per student. The school district receives its revenue based on the number of students enrolled in our schools. The state reduced this revenue from $6,367 to $4,946 per student.

The severity of the State deficits led to the school districts implementing furlough days, reducing the number of school days and doing massive lay offs. It was a difficult few years. Yet Alameda Unified School District forged ahead and we were able to have a balance budget this school year by being fiscally conservative and built up a reserve.

On January 5, 2012 Governor Brown reported that he will eliminate the $9.2 Billion 2012-13 budget deficit through a combination of cutting programs and passing of Proposition 30. The state legislature passed the state budget on the assumption that Proposition 30 passes. If Proposition 30 passes, the budget for the school districts maintains flat funding. We will receive the same amount as the previous year. But the state will not pay for Special Education transportation cost. AUSD must pay $218,620 from its budget.

If Proposition 30 does not pass, the Budget contains midyear trigger cuts, including $4.8 billion in education reductions which will be the equivalent of taking 3 weeks of instruction out of the school year. The trigger cuts will also result in $370 in reduction per student resulting in the school districts receiving $4,874. This means that AUSD must make $3 million in cuts for the 2013-2014 school year and $6 million in cuts for the 2014-2015 school year.

I will continue to work with my elected colleagues in monitoring our district budget, being fiscally conservative and building up our reserves.

Answer from Tom Lynch:

I believe there are some major issues that this Board will need to face. The most pressing problem is to solve the lack of trust between the teachers and the administration. This deterioration of the relationship started with not sharing any of the $2M+ surplus from the prior year with our teachers. It got worse when the Superintendent's contract was renegotiated, paying out 100% of the Superintendent's bonus, and providing her 100% medical benefits.

To solve this issue, I would goal the Superintendent on the following items: 1) To develop and gain agreement with the teacher's union on a plan to bring the avg teacher's pay in Alameda to the same level as the avg teacher's pay across Alameda County. Currently, our great teachers rank second to last in pay throughout Alameda County getting paid more than the only the Emery District which employes 50 teachers; 2) Goal the Superintendent's on the implementation of the Governor's recently signed legislation to have teachers evaluate the performance of the Principal at each site and then to extend that to a teacher's evaluation of the District administration.

Other challenges this Board will face are: 1) How to fund the $92M worth of repairs that have been identified for our schools. 2) How to move District Administration back to AUSD property and cancel the $5M Marina Village lease. 3) How to improve our High School athletic facilities 4) How to manage and deliver the same level of school programs and resources if neither Prop 30 or Prop 38 passes on Nov 6th, which would result in a $3M+/yr decline in revenue to AUSD.

? 2. (Community input) What process would you recommend the School Board use for the community to provide advice for the district's consideration in decisionmaking and how would you make it evident that the district considers the advice?

Answer from Niel Tam:

In 2009/2010 AUSD saw its revenues reduced by $1,421 per student. The 2010/2011 proposed Governor's budget had revealed no meaningful restoration of public education funding, and this looks to be the trend for years to come. The severity of the deficits, uneven enrollment and the need for more choice in this district led to the creation of the Master Plan. The district must do more with less, reducing its fixed costs while ensuring effective services, high quality programs and still have fiscal integrity. This plan relies on the community to lobby for and successfully pass a new replacement parcel tax. In the spring of 2009 the school board commissioned the superintendent to develop a blueprint for the district's decision making on finances, shiffing programs and facilities over the next five school years. 8 community workshops hosted by the board and the superintendent, 29 smaller meetings by community facilitators, 30 school-site meetings and two community surveys as well as a teacher survey were held to create this Master Plan. Two scenarios were created. Plan A if the parcel tax passes, and Plan B if the voters rejected it. Measure A did pass and now we are implementing the stated goals in the Master Plan.

We will continue to have community meetings to review and to give the district feedback on the progress of the goals in the Master Plan. We also created the Measure A Oversight Committee. The Measure A Oversight Committee meetings are open to the public. A report will be presented to the public.

Answer from Ron Mooney:

We continue to increase the publication of community updates, Board packets and agendas to the community. We held dozens of workshops to gather input from the community on the many topics, starting with the Master Plan, working through Measure A, discussions regarding the calendar, physical education requirements, academic rigor, class alignment, key areas of review and measurements (10 Steps to Success), and many more. Including adding `auto-dialer' messages, email alerts, and advanced publication of draft agendas. The Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent routinely report on the comments we have received and the reasoning of recommendations.

Answer from Trish Spencer:

The School Board needs to reach out to all stakeholders, parents, students, employees, and community members, for their input and concerns about how to best provide quality education to all our students. As Board members, we regularly receive emails and phone calls expressing concerns. I always respond. I meet with parents and others and try to help guide them through the process and listen to their concerns. During Board meetings, I sometimes ask Staff questions or express concerns that others have shared with me. Unfortunately, too often I hear that I'm the only one that responded to a constituent's email. When members of the public come to Board meetings and express a concern, if appropriate, I will request that the matter be placed on an upcoming agenda. Again, I'm the only Board member that regularly does that. I first ran for School Board after serving as PTA Council President for two years. I am the only PTA Council Pres. that has ever done that. It was after seeing how non-responsive our Board is to the public, that I ran for School Board. Unfortunately, I'm only one person on the Board and do the best I can as one person on a five person Board.

Answer from Michael J. "Mike" Robles-Wong:

My observation is that the school board meetings are very structured, long, and technically detailed. Much of the "speed of business" and having direct public access to your elected official is compromised. Having periodic "town hall" meetings scattered around town would be one way to informally elicit input and feedback, with an executive summary with proposed actions posted on the AUSD website following each meeting.

Answer from Tom Lynch:

This is a great question and an area which I think can be much improved. Our Superintendent did an excellent job at community building prior to the passage of Measure A. I would would work with the Board to task her to continue that work and focus on areas where the community can provide feedback on such as: technology, facilities, curriculum, and school wide resources.

I have already built effective communication channels at the PTA Council where I'm currently the PTA Council President. The Superintendent speaks monthly at our meetings providing the PTA leadership an update on the State of the District. In addition, email distribution lists have been developed to facilitate the communication between all 18 PTA Units in our School District and to share ideas and thoughts. I would also expand the role of the PTA "School Smarts Program" beyond elementary school to both MS and HS. This is a great parental training program on how to engage the school District from your Child's teacher, to the Principal, to AUSD administration, to school board members. The more we can enable parental involvement in the School District, the better our children's education will be.

Answer from Jon G. Murphy:

I would recommend an improved Budget Allocation Model based upon the model we use for our college district. The priorities should be student and teachers needs for conducting teaching and learning and all following priorities emanate from there. This is the bottom-up style of prioritizing what gets funded. Recently the School Board has taken a staunch top-down approach to the point where we have not been listening to the teachers' needs. Teachers and students are falling through the cracks and they are frustrated as their classroom needs continue to be unmet. The Budget Allocation Model (BAM) will minimize the value placed on rhetoric and the sales-pitching and special-interest presentations by refocusing the Board's decision on predetermined planning about what is of utmost important followed by a sequential prioritization list. This priority list should follow our mission statement and our long-term goals for our sustainability and based on our 5-Year Strategic Plan. If our Mission Statement ever places teachers and students secondarily then we need to redevelop our Mission Statement.

? 3. (School District City Cooperation) How might the School District work more effectively with the City?

Answer from Jon G. Murphy:

We need to work with the city to explore alternative affordable office space already owned by AUSD and/or the City of Alameda so the bulk of the budget does not go towards office space and Window Replacementon a structurally unsound building and on a 211,000 dollar fence around same building. The ciy Council and the AUSD must mutually support the cause of sound education and sound decision making for the betterment of Alameda and it's future leaders, our children.

Answer from Ron Mooney:

We have increased our City/School Board sub committee meetings and continue to discuss at a policy level items we can work together for all of Alameda's benefit. As I have said often, we have the 'same owners' and we need to work together to find any cost savings and providing services to our community the best way possible. Working together we should be able to provide better levels of service to our citizens.

Answer from Tom Lynch:

1st, I would establish a formal bridge with the City by asking that a task force be formed between the School Board and the City Council to explore areas where the School District and the City can work together. Areas of exploration include Joint Power Agreements over the use and operations of athletic facilites, like they have done in the Lincoln School District in California, or what to do with facilities such as Historic Alameda High School

Answer from Michael J. "Mike" Robles-Wong:

It helps to personally know and have had prior business experience with many of the key policy makers and staff of both organizations, which I do. The collaborative process works when you are able to re-frame the issues so that both parties can see a greater benefit by working together than separately. For example, the city and the district should work together on a facilities master plan not just because it makes sense on our small island, but that in these financially strapped times, how likely will taxpayers approve two separate "wish" lists?

Answer from Niel Tam:

A school board member and the superintendent from the Alameda Unified School District meet regularly with the staff from the City of Alameda. We find these meetings to be effective.

Answer from Trish Spencer:

There is a joint School District/City Committee. That committee could and should meet more regularly and encourage and invite the public to participate. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. The School Board operates like other Boards, the majority of the Board dictates. Here, the majority is three people, and I regularly find myself in the minority. I am truly interested in working collaboratively with not only the City but our other stakeholders, parents, students, employees, community members; but again, I am in the minority. Recently our Board voted to install an unsightly fence around Alameda High and after the fact the City's Historical Advisory Board had it on their agenda to review. That should have happened before the School Board made its decision, not after. It is critical that the School Board work collaboratively with the City as we need them as effective partners. The swimming pools are another example. The City currently helps pay some of the costs of operating the high schools' swimming pools. The City is currently only committing to help with this cost on a year-to-year basis and there have been suggestions that this support may end, as the City partners with other organizations for pools. That would be a serious problem for the school district and our students. Alameda is too small a City to not have its City and School District partnering wherever possible.


Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' responses are presented as submitted. Direct references to opponents are not permitted.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.


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Created: February 1, 2013 14:01 PST
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