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Smart Voter
Santa Clara County, CA November 4, 2003 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
Board Member; Los Altos School District

The questions were prepared by the the League of Women Voters of Los Altos-Mtn. View Area and asked of all candidates for this office.

See below for questions on Challenges, Charter school, Bullis site

Click on a name for other candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

1. What do you see are the challenges facing the school district for the next four years?

Answer from Margot G. Harrigan:

The biggest challenge will be our ability to maintain class size reduction and our excellent educational program hand in hand with declining funds from the state.

Secondly, with Phase One of our Master Facilities Plan nearly complete, the next challenge will be to plan and fund Phase Two for completion of construction of much needed new facilities.

Thirdly, the Board , working with staff, needs to put in place a plan to recruit teachers to move into administrative positions.

Answer from Bill Cooper:

In the short term, the board will face the challenges of determining how to best utilize the Bullis School site. It will also need to select the best location to house the new charter school. These are two very emotional issues and there are no easy answers to these interrelated challenges. The Bullis site should provide as much revenue to the district as possible. The infrastructure of the Bullis site must be maintained for potential future use by the district.

Due to the volatility of state funding of education, the board will need to closely monitor its revenue sources and be prepared for unanticipated dips.

The most important challenge will be to support the quality of instruction (teachers) and curriculum that makes this district so special. This should be the guiding vision that determines every decision made by the board.

Answer from Albert "Al" Hill, Jr.:

It is extraordinarily important to the community-at-large for the Board to exercise its fiduciary responsibility to ensure the District's development of a long-term, thoughtful, balanced budget that will allow our community to continue to provide a first-rate education to the children of Los Altos.

Much like a public corporation, it is important for the District to have some Board members who are "outsiders" with the capability to evaluate complex issues and to make difficult decisions. I will bring to the Board more than 26 years of expertise in financial management, auditing, budgeting, and commercial facility construction and leasing. I am committed to bringing an outsiders' fresh perspective to the District's decision-making process.

I have two young adults, Katharine and Andrew, who graduated from Los Altos public schools: Loyola School, Blach Intermediate School and Los Altos High School. Our family has been highly involved in curriculum and academic issues, music programs and student athletics. My spouse, Ellie, has been very active in Los Altos' schools, serving two terms as Loyola PTA treasurer, teaching mathematics at Egan Intermediate School (7th and 8th grades) during a credentialed teacher's six weeks leave and evaluating curriculum and mathematics textbooks. Both Ellie and I have participated in advisory groups for Los Altos High School.

2. If a charter school is approved, what do you see as the issues and benefits for the district?

Answer from Bill Cooper:

Economically, the degree of impact is yet to be determined. It is certain that the school district will be impacted in terms of lost revenue and lower enrollment. Due to enrollment shifts, there is the potential for boundary changes.

On the plus side, a charter school "competing" for students with the Los Altos School District will further motivate the district to strive to continue to offer the very best education possible to its students. In this regard, competition is not necessarily bad.

Answer from Albert "Al" Hill, Jr.:

The Bullis Charter School was conditionally approved by Santa Clara County. We must minimize the negative financial impact to the District, but now is the time for a cooperative spirit to be advanced by school and community leaders.

Answer from Margot G. Harrigan:

The most significant impact to the district of a charter school will be reduction in our district student population. The enrollment loss and the state funding (ADA money) associated with each child will have a mild to highly negative impact, depending on how many students actually leave our district to attend another school.

However, if the County is the chartering agency, LASD will NOT have responsilbity for fiscal or curricular oversight, negotiations of details regarding the charter school operation, or supporting and funding Special Ed children attending a charter school.

Longer term, I have several concerns, in particular: 1) how the distict will deal with families who change their minds after attending the charter school and want to return to an LASD school, 2) when the charter school children move on to Egan or Blach Jr High, there may be challenges in integrating a body of students that have not had the same curriculum; and 3) what the long term impact on LASD will be should the charter school not fulfill their stated goals and fail.

3. How should the Bullis School site be best utilized?

Answer from Bill Cooper:

The Bullis site should be rented to the tenant(s) that provides the maximum revenue. There should be a one-year termination clause built in to any rental agreement (as was the case with Covington lease). The site should be rented with an eye toward potentially reopening Bullis as a seventh elementary school if and when circumstances allow. The grounds should be made available to the Los Altos Hills community for recreational use.

Answer from Margot G. Harrigan:

The Board voted in September to accept the recommendation of the "7-11 Committee", which is to lease the site in order to provide additional revenue to the district.

I feel strongly that when that site is finally leased, the contract must have maximum flexibility, that it not be a long term lease and that it must have provisions for the site to be used by the broader Los Altos Hills community for after school and weekend community and recreational activities.

Answer from Albert "Al" Hill, Jr.:

Clearly, the Bullis site is a valuable asset which must be retained by the District for possible future use. However, I am a proponent of giving the Bullis Charter School a fair and open hearing regarding its possible use of the facility.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' answers are presented as submitted. Word limits (300 words total for all three questions) apply until noon on September 26. At that time a paper Voter Guide will be prepared. After September 26 answers may be amended to be of any reasonable length. Direct reference to opponents is not permitted.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily.

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Created: December 19, 2003 15:07 PST
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