Antioch School District Debate

The following is a transcription of the answers to the first question in the Antioch school board candidates debate on Aug. 25. Eight candidates are running for two seats on the school board. They are Joy Motts, Gary Hack, Angel Luevano, Debra Vinson, Teri Lynn Shaw, David Pfeiffer, John “Jack” Yeager and Vincent Manuel. All of the candidates except Manuel participated in the debate.

Question: The district faces another $6.4 million in cuts to avoid insolvency. It’s already cut 107 teaching positions. What steps would you take to keep the district financially afloat?

Joy Motts: It’s a huge challenge. With the budget not settled at the state level there’s still more information to come. So I believe it’s going to take all stakeholders. We’re going to need to get our teachers and our parents, our administrators, our community involved in determining how we are going to go forward in funding public education. Truly we need some new outside of the box, innovative thinking in order to try to take on these troubling times and these challenges we have fiscally. I’m prepared to take on that challenge. I’ve worked with the school for many years. I’ve been out in the community and have relationships with many in the community, business partners and all. I think that strength I can bring that to the table in making determinations in how we can go forward in funding public education.

I think it’s only fair that we involve everybody in the community. It’s a huge challenge – at the state level and federal level too. We have got to take into consideration how this affects what we are going to do at the administrative level, at the classified level with teachers, get parents involved to determine priorities there. It’s only fair that we get everybody involved in making those choices in how we go forward. What programs we are going to be able to continue with and how we are going to be able to take on being fiscally responsible and still meeting the needs of all our children.

Gary Hack: Right now Antioch has a qualified positive certification of accounting for the next three years. There’s issues like all school districts are facing in California. The issues primarily for Antioch come forward in the next couple of years, not particularly this coming year. I think the number one priority for the board, they need to hire a chief business officer. That person is not in place at this moment in time. Unfortunately, in the last 10 years Antioch has had four chief business officers. And there has been no consistency, no planning, no plan of consistent attack and planning and vision. That needs to be resolved as soon as possible so we can continue to go forward into the future. The board also needs to review the financial documents over the last few years and see the pattern of expenditures and assets. But the interim reports and the budget reports. Primarily they need to look at the actuals. Because sometimes there are discrepancies between what we think will happen and what actually happens.

Also I think the board needs to review the recommendations from the two outside agencies that they brought in in the spring. They reviewed all the policies, business practices, special ed and administrative polices in the district and came up with dozens of recommendations that either enhance revenue or restrict or reduce expenditures. You add that to the budget advisory committee. And the school board whose brought issues out also. You do all of those and you can address a lot of the issues that are facing possibly and mitigate those issues. I have been part of that recommendation process. As a member of the board I’d like to be a part of the decision-making process, the prioritization and the time lines. Also bargaining is there with the employee groups. Bargaining is in process right now with the classified employees. Theoretically we will start in the fall with the certificated employees. Although they are under a closed contract, so that might be problematic. But you put all those together and I think Antioch has the opportunity to address the issues that are facing them financially. And I would like to be a part of that process.

Angel Luevano: I think that part of the problem here is that we haven’t gotten a handle on the deficit. It’s tough because we don’t know what that is. We don’t get those numbers until way after we have done our budgets. But I do think that we are on the right track with the review of the spending and expenses that the district is doing. I think that (Superintendent) Don Gill is doing a good job in that regard. I believe that we are going to see some good news coming up pretty soon. I understand that there are going to be some things that we are going to be able to do some shout-outs about. The problem is that the fix is so vast. We have so much that we have to do because we were so far behind. But we have to look at those resources and decide what our priorities are.

Academic excellence is key. We have to succeed there. So no matter where we cut if we start losing too many teachers, what we are going to have is that we are going to have to cut the services. While we can’t do that and still maintain academic excellence, I think we are going to have to look at what cuts have been made, whats working, what needs to be relooked at again. So some specific plans for that is to review the Total School Solutions report and look at what their recommendations are. I believe they are going to be looking at several departments and going into director or coordinator positions. I do have a concern about the English language learners, and whether or not we are going to be doing the right thing by the cuts we make in that area.

Debra Vinson: I believe that the budget issue right now is complex for all school districts. But specifically with Antioch having to make over three years the $6.4 million cut, I think that we need to take a more strategic look at every line item that we have on the budget now. We also need to look at where those allocations are, whether those are proposed expenditures, exact expenditures and whether or not we can over the next year, even the next three years, let go of some of proposed items that we have on the budget that make up the budget. The other thing that I think is really interesting is Antioch is a unique school district in that we have a chance to receive more funds from the U.S. Department of Education. I do understand that Antioch did receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education for a specific cause. I also believe specifically that there are grants out there because we serve a unique population of students. There are grants we can take advantage of, and that will allow the district to not use any allocated funds that they would have for those specific expenditures.

The other thing about the budget is passing a state budget. That has been chronic issue for California. All schools are impacted by it. It is unfortunate that employees have to be also impacted by it, because you are looking at layoffs. So once again I think the district can take a look at the number of the students in the classroom, the number of students that attend. Looking at attendance to make sure that we do everything we can to have 100 percent attendance. Looking to make sure that we have full on board parent participation. There are many people in the community who have resources through corporations. Perhaps we can write letters, receive donations. In terms of laying off staff I would hope that we would be strategic in doing that to make sure we put all of our resources together, all of our minds together, parents, administrators teachers, unions, everybody coming up with their specific information to look at what we can do to offset the $6.4 million deficit.

Teri Lynn Shaw: All of the information – we have been very transparent, the board has and the district – all of the information is available because it’s public information and so are our board meetings. You’re welcome to come to our board meetings where all of this is discussed. But as everyone has said thus far, we are trying. And we have had to make cuts. But the main thing is that we want to cut as far away from the classroom as possible. And it does impact other families because we are all people. So cuts really do impact all of us. Because it impacts our community and it impacts our children as well. But cuts are inevitable. But the main thing is, as has been discussed, is grants and thinking outside the box and getting creative. And that was something I spoke about back in 2006.

We have got to get creative when it comes to education, when it comes to funding. It’s a public school education. For so many years we have been able to have free education, and we would like to keep it that way for our students. It makes it public. But we do need stakeholders, we do need community members and we also need business partners. And so that is what helps. For instance, I work for Biotech Partners, which is Bayer Corporation. It’s bio-science. Bayer funds the education of these students for a bio-tech program. When you start  bringing in those types of partnerships then you can do that. So there is opportunity there. It’s unfortunate. We are being impacted. Everybody is being impacted in California when you look at that. Like we said, we don’t find out until school has already started. So you do have to project. But the best thing you do like families – and in this district we are a family. I don’t just mean the board members, I mean all of us care about these kids. They belong to us, and we are really thinking best about their future. So, like a family, when there’s budget times and there’s a bad economic and a crisis then you tighten your belt. But you don’t give up and that’s what we are doing.

David Pfeiffer: I have over 34 years in the private and public sector in management. I was at San Francisco Airport after 9/11 when the airport lost over 40 percent of its traffic, which greatly reduced our revenues. As an employee of the city and county of San Francisco we went through some major budget cuts. I think one of the things that was different there, versus the school board here and what’s going on in Antioch as previously mentioned, is that we had plans that we followed. We had plans in place that forecast out different scenarios in advance. So we were able to adapt. Every city, every school district in the state right now is struggling with a budget crisis. The difference is that we have a reactionary school board right now. We don’t have one that has a plan. They have had multiple business officers. They have had multiple superintendents. I think what we have got to do is regroup. I personally have put in 12 requests for public information dating back to August 6 I haven’t received yet. We do need an open, transparent school board. We need to be able to see what’s going on, how the money’s being spent.

And as a candidate I think it’s especially critical that we get it quickly so that we can come up with plans of action. Because, in my opinion, this really is an indictment of the existing school board, the situation we are in right now. We have got administrators, teachers, students, classified union employees that do everything from drive buses to clean toilets that are all concerned about their jobs. They shouldn’t need to be worrying about that right now. They should know what’s going on and how we are going to fix it. My concern is that we step up to the plate quickly, we know what’s going on so that we can come up with real plans. I think it’s important that the community, students, parents are involved so we can weight what they feel is critical and what we need to cut that they feel that they can give up. There will be cuts coming, but I think we the public need to be better informed on what’s going and how the money is being spent right now, so that we can better come up with a real plan.

Jack Yeager: I have been in education for over 17 years, some of that overseas. I have watched other schools go through the same kind of problems. I myself am a teacher; I teach in Pittsburg. And I have seen what cuts can do when late budgets from the state are handed down. I know what losing hours means. When you lose 25 percent of your income because of that, it does affect your living style. As far as Antioch is concerned, I know that there are problems here. There are two reports that I know of that money has been spent to go through recommendations on how to streamline the operation. Unfortunately, some of those recommendations will depend on others than the school board to give something back. Or not to go into something extra than what we already have.

We have a limited time to do this. And we have a very limited budget in which to make this right. Unfortunately, we need to re-examine all phases of the education system in Antioch. There may be places we can cut that programs are no longer available by the state or federal, they are no longer funded. Individuals who have been there as coordinators, directors may need to consolidate what they are doing to help us reach a balanced budget. The alternative, unfortunately, would be a state takeover. At that point nobody wins. Everybody will lose. If we cut teachers we go above the state mandatory number of students per class, which we have already exceeded, and that lessens the quality of education that we get for our children.

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