Friday, October 23, 2009

One LA Forum with School Board Candidates

I attended last night's PUSD Board Candidates Accountability Session, hosted by One LA. All ten candidates attended (yes, da Sons made an appearance).

One LA accountability sessions are really pretty fascinating. In addition to giving candidates opportunities to speak briefly (about 60 seconds) on specific issues, they ask the candidates to respond yes or no to key questions about these issues.

What key issues served as the focus for last night's session?

1. Reduction in force and layoff issues
2. Adult education
3. Parent/volunteer policy
4. Algebra Project
5. Willingness to meet in early January with One LA if you're elected

The questions asked about each issue were lengthy, and my pen didn't move that fast. But, my understanding of the gist of the questions is as follows:

1. Do you think we should try to prevent job loss and, when inevitable, do you think we should find humane ways of letting people know they are being laid off?
2. Do you think we should preserve funding for adult education programs?
3. Do you think we should modify the district's volunteer policy to make it easier for parents and community members to become involved in schools?
4. Do you endorse innovative educational programs?
5. If you're elected, to you commit to meeting with leaders from One LA in early January?

(Can any readers provide more specificity on these questions?)

When individuals actually provided a yes or no answer, all said yes they support to work for improvement on the listed issues. By my count, there were two times during the night where candidates failed to respond to the yes/no issue (unless you count, "Yes, I'd like to address these issues openly" -- that response seemed dodgy to me).

Listening to the one-minute responses gave me a good sense of candidates' quality of thought and insight on the issues. Given I knew absolutely nothing about any of these candidates' positions or qualificiations prior to the session, I was thrilled to leave the meeting with a much better sense of who seems ready for an elected position and who I am willing to support. I won't provide a blow-by-blow of reactions to each candidate, but I will say:

Big thumbs up for Hank Mollet. His careful thinking about the issues is obviously informed by years in the classroom. He came across as well-spoken, balanced, and in the race for admirable reasons. If I could vote for just one candidate, it would be him.

I believe there is another opportunity to meet the candiates next Tuesday. Does anyone know the time and place?


Ed said...

Other than his ease at presenting himself (undoubtedly, years of standing in front of a classroom will do wonders), which of his answer(s) did you find particularly convincing?

Which issues are these candidates campaigning to fix? Or are the incumbents happy with the direction of the district?

Pomona Joe said...

Maybe I'm too easily impressed, but I really admire all of the candidates for running and just putting themselves out there. To get up in front of a large group of people and to try to articulately respond to some complex questions in under a minute cannot be easy.
Having said that, I would agree that Hank Mollett came off sounding the best. He wasn't just dropping phrases like "our children are our future" and "21st Century global economy" but seemed to have an authentic command of the issues. I particularly liked how he responded to the question about supporting the Algebra program. When most of the other candidates just generally supported algebra as a thing everyone needs, Mollett raised the issue of schools forcing algebra on students at earlier ages than was done in years past. (This is done in an attempt to prep kids for the CAHSEE.) As a middle school teacher, I can definitely attest to the observation that this has been not been successful. I appreciated the honesty and expertise of Mollet's more measured response.
There were a number of other moments in which Mollett impressed me as someone who had a rigorous and authentic understanding of what's going on in schools. He's got my vote.

I was also impressed with Andrew Wong, though I understand he bears the animus of the teachers' union. Reluctantly, I must admit that Jason Rothman made a pretty good showing.

Hank Mollet said...

Here are the questions that were presented in advance. The fifth question was would we meet with One LA after the election.

1. Will you commit to working with us so the Volunteer Policy is implemented evenly across the district and if necessary, make changes in the policy in order to increase parental involvement?
2. In the context of this era of budgetary constraints, will you work with OneLA to make sure that Adult Education has the necessary resources to retrain people for the new economy?
3. If RIFs are necessary in March 2010, will you insure the process is done in a careful, thoughtful, respectful manner and in the least disruptive manner as possible to the education of students of our district?
4. Other OneLA institutions have worked with Los Angeles Unified to implement innovative programs like the Algebra project. Will you work with us to explore innovative programs like the Algebra project for our students in PUSD?

meg said...

Thanks for posting the full text of the questions, Hank.

I have a lot of respect for OneLA, and hurrah for them sponsoring this forum. (And hurrah for everyone who attended, candidates and audience alike!)

But those questions are weak sauce. How could a candidate answer "no" to any of them -- and esp. number 3?

Empty feel-good questions are the bane of the political process, and it takes a lot of rhetorical skill to get one's message across in that setting. Rhetoric is a great thing to have at one's command, but it's not the main thing I'm looking for in a school board member.

Just sign me, Cranky As I Wanna Be

Pomona Joe said...

It is worth explaining how One LA arrives at these questions and the purpose of these forums, (which are different than traditional debates.) I'll do my best given my understanding but probably won't do justice to the whole process.

One LA member institutions, (churches, unions, etc.) will usually conduct a huge number of small "house group" meetings or "one on one" meetings with people and groups in the community. At these meetings, notes are gathered and general issues and themes emerge. (When I was more involved in One LA we did these meetings once expecting to hear how upset people were about gang violence, but what we discovered was that people were really enraged about the lack of streetlights in the certain neighborhoods. We proceeded to organize around the streetlight issue.)

Those six questions apparently reflect the repeated, widespread concerns of the people listened to in these meetings.

I can totally see how these questions could be deemed "weak sauce." I completely agree. And it was baffling to hear how passionate all of the incumbents were about these problems given that the problems obviously continue to exist.

But again, the point of a One LA forum is not so much to debate two sides of an issue, but to get every official vying for office to hear the real stories and real concerns voiced by real people right in front of them. Each candidate is given a chance to demonstrate their understanding and authentic grasp of these issues and is given the opportunity to pledge their support in front of a large crowd of public witnesses. They promise, on stage, to continue to meet with representatives of the community (in One LA.) After the election, those elected will be held into account for the promises they have made on stage.

It was this process that got the city working hard to address the streetlight issue. For years, individuals had tried to "fight City Hall" but were given the brush off. People like me, who lived on a street with streetlights, were oblivious to the issue until it came up so repeatedly in these meetings. Being put in a position to promise their support on the streetlight issue in front of a crowd of 500+ people lit a substantial fire under the feet of our elected leaders.
We don't know who is going to win the election. Though it is true that basically all the candidates agreed on everything, the forum gave me an inkling as to who knew what they were talking about and who didn't. At the very least, every candidate is on record promising to work to address these six issues and pledging to continue to meet with people of the community through One LA.

John Clifford said...

These questions were so weak that it is impossible for me to even imagine any candidate being "against" any of these. It's kind of like "Should we be nice to our mothers," or "Should we let people die on the streets."

While I understand that these are important issues, the way that the questions were asked has no bearing on how one would prioritize these issues or work to enhance them.

An example is the generic question "2. Do you think we should preserve funding for adult education programs?" Would anyone be against adult education? But what priority should it have in the overall scope of PUSD. Given limited funding, do we funnel funds that might be used in K-12 to Adult Ed? Do we find alternate funding for Adult Ed (taxes or bonds)? Where is Adult Ed on our priorities list? Does it come after K-12? After K-8 but before 9-12? What kinds of programs should we be stressing in Adult Ed?

These are the kinds of questions that will help us to understand the thought processes and potential decision making of our candidates.

Now, I'll admit that while I've followed the race and definitely intend to vote, this is an area that I feel is best left to others. While I pay property taxes which go to the schools, I don't have any children in the system so I'll leave the heavy lifting to those with so much more of a stake in the outcome. They are the ones that I like to hear posit their thoughts so I can vote in THEIR interests.

This is why I have grave concerns about Rothman and Torres. They don't have children in the system, they don't pay property taxes, so what is their STAKE and why are their experiences and inputs more valuable than those of the other candidates. To me, that part is a no-brainer.

Pride in Garfield Park said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pride in Garfield Park said...

I agree with Pomona Joe that Rothman came off better than I had anticipated. (And, like PJ, I really appreciate residents' willingness to stand and serve the community!)

Returning to Ed's question about why I liked Mollett, his response to the question about volunteer policies stands out. He called the current policies draconian, an assessment that resonates with my understanding of the many procedural hoops and financial costs associated with trying to volunteer in the schools.

(Quick aside: One Pomona resident shared a story about AMOCA trying to get into Pomona public schools to conduct some arts-enrichment programming. After meeting with a heckuva lotta resistance and red tape, they took their outreach efforts North to Claremont. C'mon PUSD!)

Mollett's response to the algebra question also impressed. Pomona Joe summarized the content of the answer -- Mollett seems to "get" this stuff.

All that said, I really have no idea what a school board does. How does the role of the board intersect with the role of the superintendent? Does it make policy regarding curriculum? Employment?

Anonymous said...

I was happy to go to the One LA forum. Despite the weird format, I have a better understanding of the candidates for having attended.

I agree, Rothman proved very personable and genuine in his concern. Still, he did speak in platitudes when his answers are broken down. His inexperience did show. I believe that Jason Rothman may one day be valuable public servant, just not yet as compared to other candidates' experience and qualifications.

Robert Torres was awful. This may be a fine young gentleman. However he was obviously unqualified for this office at this time. I don't know the kid personally; and to see him in person makes obvious he is still a kid and not ready for any office beyond student government. Thus I hesitate to pillory him here. (Am I just old or should a candidate not check his cell phone while on the podium?) His performance was so bad and his obvious inexperience so blatant, that rather than hold it against him, I hold it against the adults in his life. His mother, the former mayor and our current state assembly person, Norma Torres, should know the significance of any public office. That she would allow her son to run means she thinks so little of the office or the public that I am scandalized. I'll stop there for two reasons. One, I'm frankly afraid that this nepotistic political machine will take action against me or any local causes I associate with. This candidacy and other history leads me to believe the family may not be above such action. (Robert Torres is currently our "Vehicle Parking Commissioner", scandalous in itself. So if you never hear from me again, please check to see if I'm stuck at the DMV fighting parking tickets.) More importantly, Robert is really too young for me to vilify. Though not legally criminal, his candidacy is morally criminal and he should be tried as a minor. Others should take the heat. It bears noting that there is some financial compensation for this office even if it's meager.

On the positive side, the valuable qualities of Jason Rothman and Hank Mollet have already been talked about, the later of whom I will vote for. But the candidate who stuck out the most in my mind was Adrienne Konigar Macklin.

Macklin spoke with a command on the issues, mentioned specific programs she has championed in the past and present as well as ideas for the future. She has the background outside of public office to aid her efficacy, a degree in education law. And she projected a presence I could imagine changing minds and passing policy through bureaucracy.

I likewise liked Andrew Wong. He spoke with similar command as Macklin. The biggest strike against him was that he is the current president of the school board and he did rally against current policy and procedures as outlined in the questions. But if he is genuine in being against these policies, why haven't they changed? I'll give him the benefit of the doubt but if the policies he spoke against still exist in one more election cycle he'll have to give a real convincing explanation for me to trust him another time still. All that being said, he spoke with enough detail and demonstrated enough command of the issues and efficacy of presence I will vote for him this time.

All the other candidates seemed earnest and genuine in their concern for the issues. I could see reasonable people backing any one of them. My three favorites are all in the same "bracket" making it tough on the other candidates. For the second bracket, the special election one, I'm on the fence for either Lustro or Matarrita. If Roberta Perlman was in that bracket, I might be voting for her.

In summation: If Mollet and Macklin don't make it, I'll be disappointed that obvious quality candidates did not make it. I'm also feel good about voting Wong. But if any of the other candidates win, I can see where reasonable people would vote for them. Any of the other candidates except for one that is.