Funds, Drop in Enrollment Are Key Issues in School Race
Declining school enrollment, funding problems and lack of community involvement are the main concerns of four candidates running for three seats on the La Canada Unified School District board in Tuesday’s election.
School board President Irene Mendon is the only one of three incumbents up for reelection who is running in what has been a low-key race conducted mostly through brochures and at coffee get-togethers. Two other incumbents, Linda Vine and Richard Macumber, decided not to seek reelection.
Running with Mendon for the four-year posts are Anne Galloway, a university associate professor; Anne Kalkstein, a former personnel director, and Joel Smith, a senior manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
A fifth candidate, Bill Koury, a corporate sales manager whose name will appear on the ballot, dropped out of the race last week but will continue his volunteer work as a director of the La Canada Educational Foundation, a private organization that raises money for the school district, he said. Koury said he got in the race when only two other candidates had filed and he feared a seat might be left vacant.
Oversees 2,998 Students
The five-member school board now oversees 2,998 students and four schools, contrasted with 3,536 students five years ago and 4,720 students 10 years ago. Because of the declining enrollment and corresponding reductions in state funding, the district has been forced to close four other schools in recent years.
Earlier this year, the school board proposed a parcel tax that would have assessed each of about 7,000 land parcels $150 annually for five years. However, the measure was defeated in a special election in March. The district had estimated that the tax would generate $900,000 to $1 million annually for La Canada schools.
After the parcel tax’s defeat, several budget cuts were made. A high school English writing program was eliminated. An elementary instrumental music program was saved only with the help of a community group. Because of a shortage of funds and declining enrollment, eight teachers and a library aide also were laid off this school year.
The newly launched California lottery is projected to bring in about $150,000 per school year, Mendon said. That, she said, is not a “great windfall.” The adopted budget for the 1985-86 school year is $11,275,678.
“The main issues will be to continue to find financial resources for the district, both at the state and local level, decisions about what programs to keep and remove in the face of financial shortages and finding new money and making the most of it,” said Vine, 44, who decided not to seek reelection after one term on the board because, she said, she is starting a career as an accountant.
The board also may be faced with selecting a new superintendent for the first time in 20 years. The current superintendent, Donald C. Ziehl, has indicated that he may be retiring within four years.
Macumber, 43, business administrator for a law firm, is the senior member of the school board. He is completing his second term and said he decided not to seek a third so that other people could have the opportunity to serve.
Here are the candidates and a summary of their positions:
Anne Galloway, 41, an associate professor in the School of Education at California State University, Los Angeles, said the school board should try to tap private companies for donations as other districts have. But she stressed that corporations won’t give until they are sure school boards have exhausted all other “monetary and non-monetary resources.”
“Money is a problem for most people. You never have enough to do everything you want to, but you reach a point at which you have to say, what are the basics and what is the frosting,” she said.
Galloway said the advanced placement classes, a program that is threatened by budget cuts, could be saved by financing a joint class with St. Francis High School. She said that any legal problems about church-government relationships could be solved.
Galloway also said the board needs to do more long-range planning.
“There are two ways to approach a situation. One is to look at the problems, or two, to look at the overall situation. You have to first look at where you want to be in 10 years and then you can look back and see what the stumbling blocks are,” she said.
Galloway, an educator for 20 years, has lived in La Canada Flintridge for 17 years and has three children in the La Canada school district.
Anne Kalkstein, 53, a former vice president of personnel at May Co., identified financial problems as “the obvious and primary issue.”
She said she feels it is the school board’s responsibility to make the community more aware of the financial problems facing the district. Then, she said, people in the community will support the school district through donations and “creative approaches to problems.”
“Many people who no longer have children in the district think everything is A-OK because the problems haven’t been publicized. By making the community aware of the problems, they will support the school district,” she said. “The district has an A-1 reputation, but we’re not where we were 10 years ago and the community is not aware of the updating that is necessary.”
Kalkstein said she was unaware of the schools’ financial problems until she started talking to people about the parcel tax election in March. She said she thinks many people felt that the lottery would take care of education. She supported the parcel tax and said she would support another such proposal if it were on the ballot again.
Kalkstein has been a La Canada resident for 13 years and has two grown children that attended Los Angeles district schools.
Irene Mendon, 49, school board president and the only incumbent running, said she is running on her record of the past four years and that, as the only incumbent, she “will help provide continuity.” She said she is concerned about declining enrollment and the resulting drop in state funding.
She said the board has been successful in turning to the private sector to keep some programs going. A community group, the Assistance League of Flintridge, is providing instruction in instrumental music at the elementary level, replacing the program that was cut from the official budget this year. The same group has also helped keep summer school open, a program that lost its funding through Proposition 13 in 1978.
She said she would support another local tax initiative. She said one of the reasons the parcel tax lost was because voters were uncertain about how much income the lottery would generate for the school district.
“Once we’ve received income from the lottery for one year, we will have definite figures. If it is not as substantial as some people say, we will be able to point to actual figures,” she said.
Mendon has two grown children who attended La Canada public schools and that, she said, has given her a “very broad perspective.” She has lived in La Canada Flintridge for 15 years.
Joel Smith, 50, a senior manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, first ran for the school board in 1983, but lost. He said he is mainly concerned with financing and with improving community involvement.
“The state is concerned about schools that are on the bottom. We have a different set of goals,” Smith said. “We try to maintain our public schools on the level of private schools.”
Smith, who is also a director of the La Canada Educational Foundation, said that organization plans to increase its fund-raising activities. For more funding, he also suggested approaching other private organizations and companies. He suggested more volunteers from the community working in the classrooms could help teachers with large classes, and said he supports Galloway’s idea to jointly run advanced classes with neighboring private schools.
Smith, who supported the parcel tax, said one of the reasons it failed was that voters were confused about how the money would be used. He said that, the next time a parcel tax is presented to the voters, a specific use, such as smaller class sizes, should be stated.
“If the community is sufficiently involved and understands our problems, it is more apt to support us in the future. The community must see us as credible,” he said.
Smith, a La Canada Flintridge resident for ninge years, has two children at La Canada High School.