Forum draws small crowd

With election day less than two weeks away, La Cañada school board candidates on Wednesday night delved deeper in the nuances of district management — including hours spent on the job, the exploration of alternative revenue streams and teacher evaluations — at a debate hosted by the La Cañada Republican Club.

The event at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge drew about 30 people who heard from three of the four candidates in the Nov. 8 election: Jeanne Broberg, Ellen Multari and Ernest Koeppen.

Andrew “AJ” Blumenfeld, a 20-year-old Princeton University student, did not attend, a fact that did not go unnoticed by his fellow candidates.

“You need a board that is around, that is here, that is easily accessible,” said incumbent Broberg when describing the time commitment the position requires. “Board work goes on daily.”

The four candidates are competing for two seats.

Among the questions posed by the audience was how each candidate proposed to better engage local families whose children have already passed through the school system. Multari and Koeppen both said that the district is currently falling down on the job on that front.

“We have families who graduate who have been integral parts of our school communities for upwards of 20 years and then we kind of let them go,” Multari said. “I think we do have a tremendous resource in these alumni families.”

Koeppen advocated using college-style recruitment and marketing tactics to keep families engaged with the school district after their children have graduated. The technology entrepreneur also said that if elected he would fight what he described as a “death-by-1,000-slashes” approach to budgeting, or trying to plug financial holes with $100 checks from community members.

“I would like to see us take a five-year plan view as opposed to a six- to 12-month plan view, come up with a number we are really going to have to deal with, and as uncomfortable as it is going to be, deal with that number,” Koeppen said.

The district cannot expect any sort of turnaround in the state’s funding of education in the near future, Multari echoed. Instead, the board needs to go to the community and explore what combination of program reduction and increased financial giving they are comfortable with supporting, she added.

“I think the board owes the community an exhaustive examination of all the many funding opportunities that are available to us, including the expansion of our permit students if that is something that we want to explore,” Multari said.

Broberg reminded the audience that the sitting board has proven itself a prudent financial steward of the district, budgeting four years out while avoiding furlough days and program reductions. The district is currently working with a consulting firm to explore the community’s receptiveness to adding on to or extending the current five-year parcel tax, set to expire in 2014, she said.

“We should have from the community an accurate picture of what we all feel should happen as that five-year tax expires,” Broberg said.

Audiences members returned repeatedly to the question of evaluations, including how the district can calculate exactly what impact a teacher has on student learning and how evaluations should be used to review and critique profession performance.

Broberg described the current evaluation system as extensive, saying it involves the setting of year-long goals that are revisited by teachers and their principals come June. Multari said she was in favor of using all the tools available to ensure great teaching, and to encourage the sharing of best practices across departments.

Koeppen promoted regular teacher evaluations, not so much to hang the bad ones but to set the good ones apart, and to possibly compensate them financially.

“What we would like to do in my opinion, is to find the really, really good teacher and made sure they are constantly rewarded and the constantly brought forward,” Koeppen said. “Make the teachers that are really the good the bar for everyone else to achieve.”

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