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Voter's Guide: Las Lomitas school board candidates weigh in on issues

Four parents are vying for the chance to help lead the Las Lomitas School District forward at a time its enviable curriculum and small class size are being threatened by a troubling reality: less per-student funding due to shrinking revenue and growing enrollment.

The four candidates are running for three seats on the five-member school board that oversees the district, which operates Las Lomitas (K-3) and La Entrada (4-8) schools in Atherton and Menlo Park, respectively.

The district has much to boast about, with students ranking No. 1 in the state on the API academic test, and parents who regularly reach deeply into their wallets to support the schools. But like most school districts in the state, Las Lomitas has been struggling to maintain its robust educational program and smaller class size while property tax revenue flattens and threatens to dip.

The current school board is considering asking voters to approve a new parcel tax next year to help avoid staff layoffs and to prevent any more growth in class size, which this school year increased by two to four students at every grade level.

The Almanac solicited written comments from the candidates on a range of issues. What follows are some of their responses.

Jay Siegel

Appointed to the board in 2009, Mr. Siegel said his "on-the-job training" and his professional experience in economic forecasting and financial research will benefit the board as it continues its efforts to tackle the district's financial challenges.

His multi-prong approach to addressing those concerns include increased communication with families and district residents about the financial situation, which could lead to more support for fundraising efforts; negotiating "a fair and just contract" with the teachers that wouldn't increase the district's deficit; and including input from teachers, staff and parents in the development of a balanced budget for the next school year.

Mr. Siegel also supports a new parcel tax, although the board has yet to make a decision on whether to place a measure on the ballot next year.

In addition to the short-term challenges of enrollment growth and falling revenue, Mr. Siegel said the board needs to update the district's long-term strategic plan; engage in a curriculum review; and find a creative approach to changing the middle school program schedule, which some believe needs to provide longer class times while providing a wide range of electives for students.

Mr. Siegel praises the district's educational program for its focus on educating the "entire child," providing "an organic learning experience." He said the high API scores are "a reflection of the quality of teachers, especially in the core subjects, the quality of administrators in providing the support required for an excellent learning experience," and strong parent involvement.

Ann Jaquith

Ms. Jaquith said she believes that "having someone on the board who has a background in education would be helpful to the school district in determining how best to make use of scarce resources to improve the overall quality of students' education." As a former middle school teacher, and elementary and middle school assistant principal, now working as an educational researcher at Stanford, she said she would provide that help.

In addition to general belt-tightening and considering a parcel tax, the school board needs to focus on making more effective use of the resources the district has, she said. "We are fortunate in our school district to have many outstanding teachers. However, in our schools, as in most schools, the overall quality of instruction varies from teacher to teacher."

That situation, she said, has led to uneven quality of classroom instruction.

To address that issue, she said, "we can strengthen how our schools support the development of our teachers." Research and her own experience indicate "that high-quality teaching can be nurtured and supported through organizational structures, distributed approaches to leadership and by establishing cultures where institutional as well as individual learning is expected, supported and rewarded."

Another area Ms. Jaquith would like the district to focus on is student assessment, she said. "I would like to see a greater emphasis in our classrooms placed upon performance assessments and assignments that require students to think deeply, to demonstrate understanding of important disciplinary concepts, and to wrestle with intellectual, ethical and moral problems that do not have simplistic or straightforward answers."

Regarding a new parcel tax to raise more revenue for the district, Ms. Jaquith said, "I support the parcel tax as one part of an approach to balance revenues with expenses and to make sure that we are getting the most out of the resources we invest in our children."

Richard Ginn

Mr. Ginn applied for appointment to a vacant seat on the board last year, and although Jay Siegel was appointed instead, Mr. Ginn has since attended board meetings, including the all-day budget planning sessions, he noted. "I have been learning all I can about the issues facing the district."

He's well-suited to address the district's financial challenges, he said, given his work as a chief financial officer and investing partner at a structured debt company. "Sometimes our portfolio companies have budget challenges of their own, and I have been very active in those situations," he said. "I have training and experience with tight budgets."

The district's main challenge in the coming years "will be maintaining its status as one of the best schools in the state while adjusting to lower revenues per student," he said. "That task will require people who are committed to high-quality education, care about the school district, and are trained to deal with financial and budgetary issues."

He supports an increased parcel tax to bolster the budget as the district struggles with revenue decline.

Mr. Ginn said he would like to see the district consider more technology and science-oriented courses, such as robotics and computer programming. But he noted that the wide range of enhanced programs now offered, such as music, PE, counseling, and "reading recovery," gives students a chance "to learn much more than required by (academic testing) and to develop in other ways."

Mark Reinstra

Although he's been active with the Las Lomitas Education Foundation and volunteer work at his children's schools, Mr. Reinstra said that he wanted to "increase my commitment to the district, and the retirement of two board members encouraged me to run for the board." He would bring strong experience, judgment and perspective to the board if elected, he said.

Mr. Reinstra said the board may need to close the district's current funding gap through a combination of a new parcel tax and spending cuts, but he acknowledges that deciding on what to cut will be difficult.

"I intend to solicit input from many people to get their perspective on what matters to them and their children," he said. "Based on that, together with my own analysis, I will try to make the difficult choices."

Declining revenue and higher enrollment are driving the decisions to increase class size, and this is "the biggest concern that our parents have right now," he said. The education foundation made it possible to lower class size some time ago by providing funds to support teaching staff, but the district needs to focus its efforts on further lowering class size, he said, adding that a new parcel tax may help.

"If we need to do a parcel tax to maintain the quality of our schools, including the small class sizes, I would support it," he said.

An area of concern for him is the tension created during contentious contract talks last school year with the teachers' union. The difficulties facing the district now, he said, can be best addressed "if we are all pulling together."

"We need to finalize the agreements and re-establish the wonderful, supportive working relationship that we have enjoyed over the years," he said. "I think that members of the school board can help to eliminate these tensions."

CANDIDATE BIOGRAPHIES

Jay Siegel

Education: Stanford University, doctorate, economics and statistics; Antioch College, bachelor's degree, economics.

Civic service: Trustee, Las Lomitas School District, 2009-present; past board member, Las Lomitas Education Foundation; past board member, Center for Economic Conversion, Palo Alto; various volunteer work at Las Lomitas School.

Experience/occupation: Financial industry professional; former assistant professor, political economy.

Age: Information not provided.

Family: Wife, Linda Carr; daughter, at La Entrada.

Mark Reinstra

Education: Stanford University, law degree; University of Wisconsin, bachelor's degree, industrial engineering.

Civic service: Active in Las Lomitas Education Foundation; volunteer work in school library, classrooms.

Experience/occupation: Attorney; partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

Age: 45

Family: Wife, Susan; two children, at La Entrada

Ann Jaquith

Education: Stanford University, doctorate in education; Harvard University, master's in education; Dartmouth College, bachelor's degree.

Civic service: Member, Las Lomitas School Site Council; district classroom volunteer; board member, Bay Area Teacher Training Institute; various volunteer work with educational organizations, including Academy of Sciences Education Department; volunteer AYSO.

Experience/occupation: Educator and educational researcher, Stanford University.

Age: 45

Family: Married, two children in district schools.

Richard Ginn

Education: UCLA, MBA, focus on finance and accounting; Stanford University, master's, engineering economic systems, and bachelor's, quantitative economics.

Civic service: Head administrative coach for son's AYSO team; past coach, YMCA youth basketball teams.

Experience/occupation: Financial industry CFO and managing director.

Age: 39

Family: Married; two children at Las Lomitas School.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Shawn
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 19, 2010 at 8:01 am

Just what we need people with agendas pushing their agendas....parcel tax this and that to cover this and that. Pay for it out of your own pockets that's what your foundation is for.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 21, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Tax those who use your schools (voucher) don't expect everyone to pitch in. Too many people not pulling their weight. This ship is sinking, yes the "best" school district in CA is too...revenues will continue to go down and more will rent their homes out since their taxes are low from prop 13.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stalworth
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 23, 2010 at 3:30 am

Doesn't it seem like schools are always "short" on funds?

Constantly doing fundraisers and pushing for more taxes.

No pain no gain, suck it up and start cutting costs. Too spoil and entitlment for other peoples tax dollars. East what you kill, get the people using your schools and benefiting from marketing your school ranking to pay and contribute. Get real estate agents to pay each time they use your name in their ads. Get those "rich" parents in your schools to cough it up. What's up with the taxing everyone (oh, except the seniors, like that real helps they already have tons of equity and probably renting their home out or being used by family to pump kiddos into your school for pennies) a "tiny" parcel tax that no one will feel. Well feel this....people will get sick and vote and not give no more.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Liz
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jan 20, 2011 at 2:23 am

As a longtime Ladera resident I have supported first the Ladera school and then Las Lomitas and La Entrada. Our schools have become used to having generous funding from the community, but, as with everything else, hard times are here for our schools.

I don't know where the idea originates that many seniors are renting out their homes and are no longer contributing to our schools. First of all, we have contributed for many years, which is why our schools have always done so well, and secondly, most of us are still paying parcel taxes to support those schools. Remember, those are not private schools; they are public schools.

However, if you think that raising property taxes on seniors will help the situation, think again. As more houses would flood the market when seniors are pushed from their homes, prices would fall and property taxes would decrease. In fact, quite a few residents have had reassessments already, resulting in lowered property taxes.


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