The format at NCVV’s candidate forum was much different from the VANC event two weeks earlier. Tonight, the candidates appeared at different times and answered different questions – neither one in the presence of the other.
It was a relaxed setting and it resembled more of a conversation with the stakeholders than a Q&A.
Galatzan appeared right after the beginning of the meeting.
She opened by describing an experience from her first campaign. She was approached by a parent who told her about funds the LAUSD had received from Microsoft for the purchase of computers – about $30 million. These funds were set to expire in the near future if not used. In fact, they had not been touched.
She promised the parent that she would do something about it.
After her election, she did just that, but it required prodding and poking people in the LAUSD’s bureaucracy to find who was responsible for the fund and in charge of making the purchases before the dollars were lost.
With the assistance of the parent, her efforts were successful and every school in the district received new computers.
The point of the story was that there are amazing parents (also teachers and principals) with the energy and the motivation to help the schools. But there are also school employees who would rather pass the buck and not do the work necessary to provide for students.
From this experience, she learned you have to personally intercede to make things happen.
Galatzan moved on to the challenges faced by the LAUSD. Sacramento cut $1.5 billion from the budget; another billion dollar cut is expected.
Despite cuts, important strides were made. Community partners can bid on struggling schools, and teacher evaluation tools are being re-drafted to include test scores as part of the process. One reason why the latter is important is so layoffs will not disproportionately fall on the newer teachers – and, she emphasized, layoffs will be necessary.
Galatzan clarified the use of test scores in response to a question from an NCVV board member – progress will be considered along with scores. So, for example, if a third grade student was reading at a first grade level, but the teacher succeeded in raising the child’s proficiency to second grade, the improvement would be an important factor in the evaluation.
Asked about the dropout rate, she responded it was between 30%-40%, but due to the movement of students in and out of the district, it is difficult to get an accurate fix on the problem, The state was supposed to fund a tracking program, but the funds were cut. All districts are on their own.
In response to a question about the availability of shop classes and music, she said the funding for those programs was cut by the state. Parents are paying for them in some schools. The cost of equipment and suitable facilities to support non academic programs is high. However, the district has been partnering with community colleges who do have the equipment and facilities.
She commented briefly on the vigorous campaign involving the award to manage the new Granada Hills High School, saying it was every bit as intense as a race for public office. Galatzan did not believe a new school should opt out of the district in favor of a community partner, but she fully understood why non title 1 schools should. Without federal dollars, those schools cannot afford basic supplies, so it is only natural they follow the charter path. She succeeded in getting $85,000 for each non title 1 school in the district.
I asked about the article in the Daily News which reported the future health care costs for the LAUSD’s employees will run $10 billion. Galatzan said the article should have stated it was the pension plan, although she did say the cost of health benefits for this year was $1 billion. A task force is being formed to address the cost of benefits. Some of the members will not be affiliated with the district.
Another Board member asked if teachers were ever told that their pension and healthcare benefits were in lieu of raises, and could they earn social security. The answer was yes concerning benefits in lieu of a raise and no to earning social security. Even prior social security credits earned in another profession are wiped out for each year spent as a teacher. Legislation correcting this unfairness was introduced in Congress but has not progressed.
Overall, Galatzan did not sugarcoat the LAUSD’s dire situation. Her message appeared to be one of toughing it out. Under the grim circumstances, that course might be the only strategy.
Louis Pugliese arrived later.
He emphasized his career in education, including years of teaching at the elementary school level. His current job as a professor at CSUN involves instructing teachers. He majored in elementary education for his undergraduate degree and has a master’s in educational psychology.
Pugliese said the LAUSD needs to be to be more of a board of education as opposed to a school board. Its role is to set education policy, not just administration.
He believes in being hands-on with curriculum and instruction. Through his work at CSUN, he has used interns to visit LAUSD classrooms and report their observations as to what works and what doesn’t. As a result, he claims he as become a repository of what is good and bad at our schools. He wants to become the voice that guides the board in what is happening in the classroom.
Pugliese said he would like to see curriculum audits. He suspects that there is duplication of efforts. For example, the district hires outside services to prepare content assessments which are already included in text books. Other major districts have already conducted these audits.
I asked him about the $10 billion benefit liability. He said we have to find a way to pay for it, although he believes health care costs will peak down the line , then start to decrease.
He wants more equity between arts curriculum and academic subjects.
Class size is critical. The district is going to need adjunct support in the form of volunteers and interns to assist teachers in a large classroom environment.
In response to a question, Pugliese said if he is elected, he will take a leave of absence from his CSUN position to devote his full attention to LAUSD board duties. He criticized current board members for absences.
He emphasized the importance of offering curriculum the students can identify with. We have dropouts who are knowledgeable in non academic areas, but they are abandoned by the school system.
Compared to Galatzan, Pugliese was more philosophical with less emphasis on the economic issues facing the schools.
There is a clear difference between the two candidates. The voters will have to discern which one is better suited for the rough turbulence ahead.