Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Boardmember Mary Stanton has told the Signal Tribune she will not seek re-election when her term expires next year, a decision that now opens up the field for a new representative to take the post.
The longtime District 1 boardmember, who won her sixth consecutive four-year term in 2010, said via email on Tuesday, July 30 that she plans to end her tenure in July 2014 when she will have served 24 years on the school board.
“I will not be running again for school board,” Stanton said. “I am proud of all that has been accomplished during my tenure and feel this is a good time to step down. The difficult budget times are almost behind us, and the future looks promising for real sustained growth in achievement across the district.”
The school board’s District 1 encompasses north Long Beach, including Bixby Knolls and California Heights, representing 10 elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools, including Jordan High School.
So far, it appears there are three candidates who have stepped up to nab the open District 1 seat in the primary election in April 2014, including Jeff Price, Uduak Ntuk and Megan Kerr. All three candidates said they have filed forms with the California Secretary of State to start raising funds.
Price, who lost against Stanton in the 2010 election with 42.6 percent of the vote, has returned for another shot, recently launching a campaign website and a Facebook page.
The local attorney and president of the PTA for Longfellow Elementary School, which his 3rd-grade son Parker attends, said he plans to make the same points he made in his last bid for LBUSD boardmember, with top priorities being “health and safety.”
Price said his goals, if he is elected, would be to install additional bathrooms at Longfellow to serve the school’s nearly 1,100 students and fix heat problems in the school’s classrooms that Price said reach up to 95 degrees during warm days.
“I’ve gone to school-board meetings, advocating for that, and nothing’s been done yet,” he said.
A 20-year Long Beach resident of California Heights, Price added that he also wants the community to become more involved in school-board meetings, which he said have become brief and formulaic. He said school officials often focus more on awards than making real changes for the future.
“There seems to always be a ‘disconnect’ between the school board and the general population,” Price said. “I’m not saying that we’re a bad district; I think we’re a great district, but one of the problems that arises is, I think, the school board uses these awards as a shield against input and new ideas. I think that culture needs to change.”
He added that, instead of only focusing on funding for east Long Beach schools, the school board should shift more money into existing schools in poverty-stricken neighborhoods of north Long Beach. He applauded the school district’s proposed multi-million-dollar renovation of Jordan High School.
Price said the school board should also tackle the “achievement gap” between neighborhoods and different student ethnicities, adding that African-American students are expelled three to four times the rate of Caucasian and Asian students. “That needs to be addressed,” Price said. “I think [school officials are] trying, I just don’t think they’ve been successful.”
Ntuk, a petroleum-engineering associate for the City of Long Beach who works in a public-private partnership to operate the THUMS offshore oil islands, recently announced that he is running and has launched a campaign Facebook page.
Growing up near Jordan High School, Ntuk said it was the Long Beach education system that helped him rise out of poverty and he now wants to give back.
Throughout the past decade, Ntuk has worked with area schools, has served as a PTA chair, has volunteered during career days and has given presentations on engineering-career paths, he said. “I feel like I have a lot to contribute,” Ntuk said. “I feel like I can relate to the community.”
Ntuk has also partnered with various LBUSD teachers to host the Inaugural Long Beach Robo Bowl middle-school robotics competition. More than 150 middle-school students participated in the competition, learning about problem-solving skills, teamwork and real-world application of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, he said.
Ntuk said the school district should focus on career paths in civil engineering, bio engineering and computer science– fields that he said will become double-digit-growth sectors in LA County in coming years.
After being a strong supporter of Proposition 30, which imposes tax hikes to allocate more public-school funding across the state, Ntuk said the focus now is to rebuild the school district that has had to lay off up to 600 teachers in recent years.
“I think it’s time to start reducing our class sizes, restoring programs and making sure we’re looking out for the neediest students,” he said.
Kerr, a PTA member who has volunteered in various capacities for LBUSD for the past 12 years and who is also a lifelong resident of north Long Beach like Ntuk, has launched her own campaign website and a Facebook page.
According to her website, Kerr has worked in classrooms, offices, music programs, sports programs and green teams at every school her three children have attended, as well as at other schools in the LBUSD. She has also served on school-site councils as well as district-wide committees as a parent representative and was appointed to the position of school-board liaison by the Long Beach Council PTA.
Kerr said, “It’s a really important time for schools,” especially with California’s Common Core State Standards. But she added there is a need for the school district to have “clear, consistent communication,” which she hopes to bring to the table if elected.
Kerr said District 1 in north Long Beach has “some of the largest schools and some of the most diverse schools” in the district. At some schools, about 40 to 50 percent of students rely on school-funded lunches while at others the percentage is 80 to 90 percent, she said.
“Students in District 1 come from all backgrounds, so that presents a challenge,” Kerr said. “It’s important to make sure we’re using money effectively, bringing those kids along and bringing those kids forward.”
As far as the budget, she said cuts of the last six years appear to be “leveling off,” but LBUSD needs to be “strategic” in its allocation of funds as additional money may come in. Though running for school board wasn’t always her goal, Kerr said she is “passionate about education” and “passionate about students in Long Beach.”
Stanton’s seat, however, is just one of three seats that may open up on the five-member LBUSD Board of Education next year, as the terms of current LBUSD Board President John McGinnis, who represents District 3, and Vice President Diana Craighead, who represents District 5, also expire in July 2014.
The Long Beach Community College District (LBCCD) Board of Trustees may also see some changes next year, as terms expire for current LBCCD President Jeffrey Kellogg of Trustee Area 1, Mark Bowen of Trustee Area 3 and Vice President Thomas Clark of Trustee Area 5.
The elected officials are responsible for setting board policies and handling annual multi-million-dollar budgets for public-education institutions that represent Long Beach’s biggest employer.
In the approaching term, a lot will be at stake for LBUSD and LBCCD, which are now shaking off the tremendous fiscal challenges that have plagued school districts and community colleges across California in recent years.
In particular, the LBCCD Board of Trustees has taken some heat for handling recent budget deficits, specifically its decision to discontinue 11 instructional career trade programs that led to a recall effort by student leaders.
So far, one candidate has stepped into the race in a bid to take Kellogg’s seat for LBCCD Trustee Area 1, which covers an area west of Cherry Avenue, north of 36th Street, east of the Los Angeles River and south of Alondra Boulevard.
Dr. Marshall Blesofsky, a practicing physician assistant and a retired USC professor who also taught in the allied-health program at LBCC, has launched a campaign website, promising to “restore the career technical programs” discontinued by the LBCCD board and to make sure Measure E bond funds are “used for their intended purposes.”
According to his website, Blesofsky also plans to: preserve jobs and maintain classes; increase transparency on the board; develop new programs for jobs in energy efficiency retrofitting and design, mass transit and regional food systems; advocate for a “tuition-free, quality, federally funded, and locally controlled” community college; and “resist any efforts to corporatize public education at LBCC.”
Meanwhile, at least five of the nine City Council seats in odd-numbered Council districts may also open up next year, in addition to the mayor’s seat and the city attorney’s seat.
LBCCD Boardmember Doug Otto has indicated he will likely run for mayor. If he wins, the district would have to hold a special election to fill his term that expires in 2016.
Unlike elected city officials, however, LBUSD and LBCCD members have no term limits, which means incumbent members may continue to seek re-election indefinitely, according to Long Beach City Clerk Larry Herrera.
Other than Stanton, it’s unclear which incumbent members will run for another term. Herrera said the period in which LBUSD and LBCCD candidates may officially file nomination papers is from Dec. 16 to Jan. 10. Papers must be filed with the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters in Norwalk.