Jason Harward co-editor-in-chief
In the interest of moving forward with a simpler, more focused approach toward reconfiguration, the Board of Education unofficially promised the community that no students would be relocated in the 2018-19 school year at the Feb. 6 special board meeting.
The decision was made in part as a courtesy to parents, many of whom were concerned and angered about the prospects of reconfiguration on such short notice. However, the promise also gives more time to study the feasibility of a consolidation of the K-8s or a full consolidation to one middle school. Other options, such as three K-8s and one K-5 as well as a 7-12, are no longer being heavily considered after ethical and numerical disputes from some board members. For Board Member Isabel Hacker, anything less than a middle school is not far enough.
“We must enrich the education middle schoolers get and prepare them for high school. Settling would not solve the issue and can not be accepted,” Hacker said. “We need to encourage ourselves to have the courage and vision to move our district to a dedicated middle school.”
During the board meeting, the members also agreed to look further into a parcel tax of some kind and begin the process for a June or November bond proposal. According to Board Member Howard Goldstein, the parcel tax would help fund more positions short-term to move the BHUSD closer to becoming a “lighthouse district,” such as a director of primary education, a director of secondary education, full-time library tech support staff and a school resource officer at every campus.
The bond proposal, on the other hand, would ensure the funds to complete the current construction on the high school and El Rodeo, and fully fund the planned construction on Hawthorne. To get a bond on the June ballot, the Board must move rather quickly to hold the required two consecutive meetings before March 9 to take community input and openly discuss a proposal.
Goldstein, a proponent of working within and improving the K-8 system, thinks these hires, although expensive, would “solve accountability and give back resources that have been missing from the district in the last 15 years.”
For Board President Lisa Korbatov, the extended time period associated with a proper consolidation to one middle school is not fair to current students.
“[A middle school] would not address the short-term needs of those in the middle grades. Let us not wait to improve the quality of education; there are actions we can take immediately. Let us not allow the conversation about how best to serve the students divide us,” Korbatov said.
Although Korbatov does lean toward remaining a K-8 district, she thinks it is the community’s job to vote the Board–and direction–it wants for the future. Yet the coming future already contains certain commitments for the district. After getting closer to finishing the high school and El Rodeo, the district’s focus turns to Hawthorne. However, Hawthorne can’t be built in phases, presenting a clear deadline–albeit somewhat far off–for the Board to make its reconfiguration decision. Like it or not, the district will have one fewer school at that time.
“El Rodeo A, B, C and D, and B1 and B2 at the high school are what we have in our wallet to build and that’s where the train is going. However, when it comes to Hawthorne, we will not be able to phase construct; we have to take it offline,” Korbatov said.
While Hawthorne’s construction is the absolute deadline for any decisions, the looming question is whether or not the current financial trajectory of the district allows the Board to hold off a decision on reconfiguration. For Board Member Mel Spitz, waiting too long would mean a financial disaster. However, Goldstein points to the district’s sound audits, even going as far as saying Spitz was “misleading” the public.
In truth, both Spitz and Goldstein are technically telling the truth. Spitz is justified when pointing out that the district is deficit spending at an ever-increasing rate, but Goldstein is also right in claiming financial viability because of the district’s healthy reserves.
For Spitz, the only viable financial and educational option is having a middle school–he seemed to favor a consolidated middle school at Beverly Vista in the near future instead of waiting for a newly renovated El Rodeo in almost five years. No matter how it is done, he points out that many of the stakeholders in the community favor a middle school for its promise.
“The Future Focused Schools Team, our superintendent, 80 percent of high school students and several master teachers all have recommended reconfiguration to one middle school,” Spitz said. “How many more students will we allow to leave middle school unprepared for high school academics?”
For now, the Board will continue to look at ways to increase revenue and cut low-hanging fruit in the budget. The November election is presented to the community as a way to send its mandate–venture into uncharted territory with the hopes of reaching new heights or improve the system that has educated a century of residents.