Feb 7, 2014 at 1:00pm
Torrance Unified School District is one of the most successful, welcoming districts in the state, and certainly in Los Angeles County. In spite of staggering funding cuts, the school board has done more with less. Test scores are rising, and more parents want their kids to go to Torrance Schools, even if they do not live in the city.
One district official informed me that the school district makes money with every permit student, since the district can choose whom to take. Often, they take students who do not have federal demands attached to their education (special education students). Moreover, these students work hard and behave, because they want to stay in the district.
Torrance Unified is a clear example of what school choice can accomplish when parents decided where their kids go, and school districts have more authority to determine who can stay (or rather, when a student has to leave).
Election Year 2013 had its hits and misses. Despite one challenger, John-Paul Tabakian running for one of three open seats, the three incumbents were also seeking election, and they all won. Lessons learned, expectations changed, and this year, local conservatives and anyone interested in the long-term welfare and success of Torrance Unified have the opportunity to cast votes for two of the seats.
Don Lee is running again. He has one more election in him, and wants to oversee the new bond money accorded the district through Measures T and U.
Terry Ragins informed me that she was running again, although rumors suggest that she may not run again after all. She may decide to end her tenure on the Board and spend more time with family and other career pursuits.
Whoever chooses to run for the School Board, whether incumbent or new-comer, the following issues need to be addressed.
1. Proper management of the Measures T and U bond monies. I have been listening to local residents share deep concerns about how the money will be allocated. Two homeowners complained that TUSD School Board sold the bond measures with a loose promise of "Trust us" regarding how the money would be spent. One resident was really upset, complaining that these bonds are always sold on the pretense of "It's for the kids!" but the money gets wasted.
2. Common Core. More parents are worried about this curriculum, including the data mining attached to it. I talked to one South Los Angeles parent who had to push back against course programs which sought personal information from students and their parents. Local parent groups are also complaining to school boards about the introduction of controversial programs relating to Islam, as well as explicit material in sex ed course and English classes. I have spoken with individual parents, who have shared their worries about the federal program cobbled together with input from governors across the country.
3.SCROC. So far, the Governor's proposed 2015-2016 budget contains funding for vocational schools, but nothing specific has been appropriated yet. The two ROC centers will be lobbying really hard for continued funding for SCROC. Board Member Terry Ragins has been working hard on this project, but Member Michael Wermers has broached the subject of either funding another funding stream or restricting the ROC programs entirely.
4. Site maintenance, repair, and upgrades. Torrance schools need ongoing upkeep and maintenance, which was the purported purpose behind the T and U bond measures. Which schools need particular attention? Should the district discuss expanding schools or opening up another school? Are there any abandoned or sequestered sites which could be converted in the event that enrollment rises, requiring another campus?
5. Human Resources. Torrance teachers are underpaid, and Torrance schools are understaffed, particularly in administration. After talking with School Board member Michael Wermers, he explained the importance of having an adequate administrative staff, since requiring ten different departments to report to one person is impractical and unsustainable. I remember when Torrance high schools had three assistant principals and one principal. Now, they struggle with only two assistant principals. Can anything be done to provide better salaries for Torrance teachers and better administrative support?
These issues, along with general fiscal prudence and efficiency, should concern all candidates running for Torrance School Board in 2015.
Arthur Christopher Schaper is a writer, blogger, and political commentator on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance.
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