LocationAlhambra , CA
Alhambra schools are facing a serious financial challenge with increasing costs from the pandemic and declining enrollments and revenues, candidates for the Board of Education in the Nov. 3 election told an online forum this week. They said both innovative approaches to increasing funds and a reallocation of resources would be needed.
Marcia Wilson, a dean at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, acknowledged the struggle in addressing a projected future budget deficit, but said Alhambra schools will “need to think innovatively” about how it deals with it. “We need to look beyond the typical ways in which school is funded because enrollment is not going to cut it,” she said.
Wilson proposed public-private partnerships because relying on a federal bailout is no longer viable. “We can’t just do public dollars,” she said. Wilson, who is also an adjunct professor at USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, is challenging Wing Kim Ho, a project construction manager, in Alhambra’s first district.
Ken Tang, an elementary teacher in the neighboring Garvey School District and opponent of incumbent Jane C. Anderson in the second district, was the only one to bring up Proposition 15 as a potential solution.
The proposition, which is on the statewide Nov. 3 ballot, would tax most commercial properties at their market value rather than initial purchase price. Its supporters, including many educators, see it as a way to raise more money for California’s public schools. In later questioning, all candidates indicated they supported the proposition.
Tang also brought up affordable housing as a cause of Alhambra schools’ decreasing enrollment, a contentious issue at the City Council forum earlier in the week. “We need to make sure our families can live in Alhambra – that is key to increasing our enrollment,” Tang said.
Anderson, who has served on the School Board for 14 years, put things into perspective. “We’re dealing with a deficit,” she said. “We have to decide what is most important.” Safety of children and staff was the priority, she said, and all candidates agreed in a question about prioritizing funds.
Both Ho and Kaysa Moreno, a third district candidate and El Camino math teacher, emphasized the need for teamwork when determining priorities in allocating funds.
“We need to have an open and transparent dialogue on programs’ effectiveness,” Moreno said, and to include “all stakeholders” such as parents, students and teachers.
Patricia Rodriguez-Mackintosh, the board president and the incumbent in the third district, did not respond to invitation to the forum and was not present. She has served on the board for 16 years. Rodriguez-Mackintosh, however, did participate in a Q&A with Alhambra High School students last month.
Throughout the discussion, the candidates emphasized the need for open communication. Moreno said a Zoom forum was the best way to hear community concerns for the time being. When people return to the classroom, she said it was important for board members to talk directly with students, parents and teachers, and not “just at board meetings.”
Tang proposed the most specific plan of having meetings with parents at least two weeks prior to board meetings. He also suggested having an agenda “clearly outlined before board meetings so stakeholders can ask questions before a decision is made.”
Ho and Anderson, both incumbents, were in unison in listing the modes of communication they used already, including board meetings, which are open to the public and parents, community workshops, the information booth at the Alhambra farmers market, and other community gatherings. “We are working with parents and students, not special interests,” Ho said.
School board members represent individual districts in Alhambra, but run at large citywide. The three challengers, all educators with backing from the Alhambra Teachers Association and California School Employees Association, constitute an informal slate in the election as do the three incumbents.
The Kids & Candidates Forum, hosted on Zoom Thursday, had 374 attendees, 74% of whom were district students. District staff made up 11%, parents 9% and community members 12%. The rest listed themselves as simply “Other.”
Co-sponsors of the event were the Alhambra Latino Association, Alhambra Preservation Group, the Alhambra Source and Voice of Immigrant Students Alhambra (VISA). Seniors from Alhambra, Independence, Mark Keppel and San Gabriel high schools moderated.
An online poll at the start of the forum showed that the top issue among attendees was “the current quality of distance learning” followed closely by “student mental health.” “Student safety” and “ensuring equity and respecting diversity” were the third-most mentioned issues.
All the candidates were in agreement in supporting a safe transition to a hybrid classroom setting. They also said they would support families wanting to remain in distance learning. “They have the right to keep their children at home,” Anderson said.
“I don’t think you can learn in a place where you can’t feel safe,” Moreno said.