Wednesday, October 12, 2016

[Santa Barbara County] LUSD candidates focus on bonds, grand jury report at forum

Potential school bonds, a recent investigation by the Santa Barbara County civil grand jury and finding and retaining teachers were among a range of topics explored Wednesday night by the four candidates running for the Lompoc Unified School District Board of Education.
The candidates, who are vying for three open seats on the board in the Nov. 8 election, each participated in a forum at the Lompoc Public Library. About 50 people attended the 90-minute event, which was hosted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
The forum was the first of this election cycle for the LUSD board candidates, a group that includes incumbent Henry “Hank” Gallina and challengers Dick Barrett, Jeff Carlovsky and Richard King.
Early into the forum, the focus turned to the grand jury report that was released in June and included several findings related to the district and the LUSD board that were deemed to be problematic. Each candidate was asked to identify issues from the report that they found to be alarming and present ways in which they would fix those issues.
Carlovsky, a former teacher and administrator, brought up the accusations from the report of a hostile work environment within the district.
“I think it was just basically one or two little instances that got blown out of proportion and I think the district’s done a great job of addressing those issues by making sure that there is an avenue for people to go to and get help when there is a problem,” he said.
He also pointed to what he termed as a “misappropriation of funds” and said that things “snuck through the back door.”
“They have some avenues in place now” to prevent that from happening again, he said.
Barrett, also a former teacher and administrator, also pointed to the report’s findings that the LUSD board did not have adequate controls of general fund expenditures.
“The board needs to obtain an independent specific audit of the general fund expenditures to clarify the use of public funds,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a difficult thing to do. … If that doesn’t happen with our current board, if I’m elected we will certainly attack that.”
King said he’d support the board following all the recommended actions from the grand jury and amending its policies, if needed, to be in line with those recommendations.
Gallina, who was the lone candidate to be on the board during the grand jury investigation, said he felt like the board responded to the report appropriately.
He also pointed to the district’s recent hiring of a third party to analyze procedures related to finances and conduct an audit of a department that was found to have questionable expenditures.
Gallina responded to the accusations of hostility by saying that those issues were “directed at one department.” As evidence of this, he referred to a recent climate survey conducted within the district that reported mostly positive attitudes from staff.
“There is, in the district itself, a great deal of collaboration, a great deal of respect and a great deal of coming together,” he said. “It’s too bad that one department had this situation.”
The candidates were later asked about what they’ve found to be the most pressing concern for teachers.
Gallina reinforced that he’s seen mostly positive attitudes from teachers and suggested that the district was returning to the “glory days” of the 1960s and ’70s, as far as morale.
Barrett, who repeatedly stressed his strong support of the school bond measures that will be used to improve infrastructure, pointed to aging buildings and facilities as some of the district’s biggest problem areas.
“The condition of our schools … is atrocious; it’s ridiculous,” he said.
Carlovsky said he felt that local media coverage too often focuses on negative things related to the district and not the positive stuff that is happening.
“We’ve got to do a better job of making sure the positives are getting out there, even if we’ve got to write our own articles,” he said.
On the topic of improving teacher retention and bringing in more minority and Spanish-speaking teachers, Barrett also said he felt that positive promotion of LUSD and the Lompoc Valley was important.
“We need to recruit; we need to get out there,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to hang our hats on, ladies and gentlemen. (We’ve got) a California distinguished school — three in the whole county and two of them right here? That should be all over, everywhere. That should be a recruiting tool to get people to come to Lompoc.”
Each of the candidates indicated that they supported the school bond measures and each had good things to say about the current district staff and the way that schools are currently operating. They all seemed to also agree that supporting district staff was critical.
In his closing comments, Barrett said that he would like to cut down on the hostility that has been exhibited at recent LUSD board meetings and put the focus squarely on doing what’s best for students.
Gallina closed by looking to the future of the district.
“We’re on a journey,” he said. “What the destination is, I don’t know. Our world is changing (and we don’t know what) this world is gonna look like in five years. But we have to keep the journey. The journey is to continue to find the best way to take care of our students and the best way to take care of our 1,500 employees.”
October 8, 2016
Lompoc Record
By Willis Jacobson

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