Musical Chairs

A Basic Aid Future Frames Hope District Board Race

by Ethan Stewart

Looking to secure the financial future of the three elementary schools in its district, the Hope School District Board of Trustees voted earlier this spring to do away with a long-standing tradition of accepting inter-district transfers. By doing so, they hoped to attain the coveted status necessary for Basic Aid funding, whereby the district derives its funding from in-district property taxes, rather than typical state funding based on average daily attendance numbers. Given the fact that nearly 400 of the district’s 1,300 students transfer in from outside district boundaries, the decision to embrace Basic Aid has not been without detractors, who point to the inevitable faculty layoffs that downsizing the number of students by nearly a third is sure to require. Über-successful on standardized tests and no longer a haven for “white flight” transfer students coming from Santa Barbara’s attendance-challenged elementary district (in 2005-06, Santa Barbara elementary schools lost 239 students to Hope schools), the Hope district faces a crucial election this November, as three seats on its five-member board of trustees are up for grabs. With a four-year term of service attached to the position, whoever fills these seats will play an integral part in ushering in the age of Basic Aid. All the candidates acknowledge that Basic Aid is where the district is heading, though they have different ideas about how to approach the uncertain future ahead.

With current board president Mike Underwood and trustees Steve Weintraub and Joe Liebman all terming out, six candidates have joined the race to replace them. The rundown of candidates goes like this: Rebecca Bjork is the mother of a second-grader and a kindergartner at Vieja Valley Elementary School and has a background in public administration. She considers board communication with parents and long-range financial planning to be essential in the coming years for the Hope School District. Next up is Patricia Hiles, a retired attorney, former probation officer, and California public school teacher off and on for 45 years. Hiles says she is committed to continued academic success and truly free public schools (i.e. no expectation of financial contributions from parents). Scott Orlosky is the father of two girls in the Hope district, and feels he has a solid understanding of the district, its facilities, its faculty, and the issues facing them. Orlosky — who has received endorsements from Underwood, Weintraub, and former Hope boardmember Gregg Faulkner — considers focusing on student and staff needs while continuing to gather public input on the downsizing necessary for Basic Aid essential to the continued success of the district. Neil Rabin, retired CEO of Miramar Systems, has had children at Vieja Valley for nine years. Like many of his fellow candidates, Rabin says he understands the importance of community involvement, as well as the importance of having a transparent decision-making process. Carl Still is also the father of two students in the district, as well as an active member of the Hope PTA and the three-years-running editor of the Vieja Valley yearbook. Still lists as his top priorities high educational standards, social responsibility, and the fostering of a healthy and amicable relationship among the district’s three schools, associated PTAs, and parents. The final candidate is Tony Winterbauer, a father of two current and one future Hope district students. A current member of the Hope School Site Council, Winterbauer has received the seal of approval from the Hope District Teachers Association for his resolve to make tough decisions and provide an open ear for concerned staff and parents in the coming years.

Speaking this week about the various issues facing the new board of trustees, Superintendent Gerrie Fausett echoed the unifying theme of all the candidates’ platforms when she said, “I think what it comes down to is the management of resources, as we downsize and then — through lots of community and parent meetings — determining what type of district we want to be in five years when we get the Basic Aid funding.” In a district known for its community input and celebrated for its success, board meetings will no doubt be a battleground of sorts in coming years, with the ability to compromise and listen having just as much impact on the future of the Hope district as the payday promised by Basic Aid.

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