Schools’ Success Not About Funding

For the first time in many election cycles, voters in the Santa Barbara Unified School District have a real choice among the candidates for the School Board. Generally, all candidates seek the endorsement of the teachers union and the dominant political party in the district and, therefore, despite attempts to differentiate themselves, they pretty much think alike and represent the same tired old policies that have kept our schools stuck in a last-century time warp.

By appeasing these special interest groups, they relinquish their objectivity and independence and are reduced to spewing one banality after another. Everyone who runs for the School Board professes to want to improve the schools, but if you listen closely, you will not hear any meaningful reforms they would enact. By virtue of my candidacy, for the first time, voters will have a real choice. If you are as alarmed as I am that approximately 2/3 of our 10th and 1lth graders are less than proficient in math, you may be ready to vote for an alternative voice on our Board.

I am the only candidate who will push to reform the antiquated and counterproductive tenure and seniority rules, which effectively guarantee an ineffective teacher a lifetime job and ensure that all teachers are rewarded for longevity rather than performance. I will be a persistent and consistent voice for abolishing the last-in-first-out rules, which were responsible for the dismissal of the Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year in 2010. I will provide clear direction for instituting a comprehensive and integrated system for hiring, training, evaluating, and retaining the very best teachers. Teachers who can make learning fun and motivate their students to perform beyond expectations are priceless. Rules that make it tougher to attract these teachers need to be expunged. I will also hold administrators responsible for implementing these reforms and ensuring they are up to the task of carrying them out. This means that principals must be able to identify great teaching and have the requisite skills to train and nurture teachers to perform at high levels.

Finally, I will insist that we junk ineffective curriculum, bureaucracy, counterproductive rules, mandates, and a culture which is all too accepting of mediocrity and poor results. I will be singularly focused on improving student academic outcomes in the core subjects of English, reading, math and writing. I will speak out every time I detect that my fellow board members do not elevate the students and their academic outcomes above the politics and narrow concerns of special interest groups. I will have a simple test: If there is any board action that doesn’t lead to raising academic achievement, I will oppose it.

As for Measures A&B, I oppose them. I have many reasons for my opposition, but I will cite the three most important. First, despite all you have heard from the strident and shrill voices pushing these property taxes, it is a fact that per pupil spending has actually increased by over $400 in the last several years due to the district having lost more than 1000 students since 2005. It is also a fact that spending for the district has exceeded inflation and population growth since 2000. Research has shown that there is no correlation between academic outcomes and spending for schools with similar population profiles. United States is second in the world for per pupil spending, but in the bottom half of the industrialized nations for academic achievement.

My second reason is the incredible waste of taxpayer resources by the educational bureaucracy in this state. We have a County Educational Office led by the County Superintendent of Schools, Bill Cirone. One might ask for which schools or districts he is responsible. Except for a limited number of special needs students and kids from juvenile court, every school district in the county already has a Superintendent appointed by a local schools committee. To understand the amount of taxpayer dollars going to uses other than the classroom, one needs to compare the budgets of the Santa Barbara Unified School District and the County Education Office. The District has a budget of $117 million and around 13,100 students. The County Office has in excess of $60 million and approximately 700 students in their three schools. In other words, the County’s budget is close to 60% of the District’s budget but with only 5% of the students. Or put another way, we spend $8,900 per student in the District and $86,000 per student in the County schools. The County employs well over a hundred administrators and hundreds of more employees. Granted the County Education Office has other functions, such as providing business services and teacher training programs, but many of these programs can easily be folded into the School Districts. The County Education Office is a relic of the 19th Century and has outlived it usefulness.

My final reason for opposing these Measures is by far the most important. If sufficient voters make clear to the School Board and the school bureaucracy that there will be no more tax revenues until these school reforms are enacted, it might fully motivate the people in charge to do what we all know is in the best interest of the students. So people don’t misunderstand, I could support the parcel taxes if 100% of money was going to strengthen curriculum and instruction, hire more teachers in English, math and science and implement the other reforms to which I alluded. Since the Board has not been inclined to pursue reforms, I suspect the loss of taxpayer dollars might help them to see the light. If I am elected, you can bet I will make sure they understand the message if voters reject Measures A&B.

Update: I would like to add my two cents to the Brandon Fastman article on Measures A&B, elsewhere on this site. He indicated class sizes would go up if these measures do not pass. Just for the record, according to my calculations, class size would go up maybe 2 to 3 students if Measure H, which funds 3.5 math teacher positions in 9th grade for all three of our high schools, were not renewed. It should be noted that even with these additional positions, only 43% of the students in 9th grade math are proficient or better. Finally, he also indicated that Measure I funded music, math, science, and technology in our elementary schools. However, 90% of the funds were spent on music. Although the remainder of the money was supposed to go to math, science, and technology, I could not trace any of the money to math and science.

Lou Segal is a candidate for the Santa Barbara School Board.

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