By Jason KUROSU
With municipal elections a mere week away, discussions over Measure S, the obligation bond which will appear on the April 5 ballot, have increased. Residents convened at the La Crescenta Public Library to discuss Measure S and direct their questions to a panel consisting of members of the district, members of the “Yes 4 S” campaign and a member of the Glendale Teacher’s Association. The turnout for the panel discussion was small, so the press conference setting was reorganized into a more intimate discussion by moving the chairs into a circle.
Many of the residents’ questions were directed towards the district members on the panel, including Deputy Superintendent John Garcia, GUSD school board member Mary Boger and Chief Business and Financial Officer Eva Lueck, all supporters of Measure S. Much of the concerns raised were related to the priorities of Measure S. The bond measure would approve the issuance of $270 million to improve school facilities, including the renovation and upgrading of facilities and technology.
Some residents were concerned about the measure’s focus on school facilities.
“I’ve heard a lot about the technology that the measure would provide. But when it comes down to it, I am interested in class sizes and good teachers,” resident Mike Lawler said.
Increases in class sizes and teacher layoffs have become the primary concerns of parents when regarding school budget cuts. Some parents are also worried that the bond money will not address these concerns, a worry magnified by the financial crisis the state faces.
John Garcia cited improvements on keeping teachers within the district, noting that class sizes were kept down throughout the district last year, and in doing so, kept 50 teachers working who would otherwise have been laid off.
“We’re one of the only districts in L.A. county not to have any furlough days or layoffs to the teachers,” said Garcia.
The other member of the panel discussion, Glendale Teacher’s Association President Tami Carlson, debated some of these points.
“We’ve had increases in classrooms,” Carlson said in response to the statements about district improvements in class size. In addition, Carlson said that while there have not been layoffs, “there has been no refilling of spots left open by retiring teachers.”
Questions continued to come up about whether Measure S’s focus on technology. Garcia went on to stress the importance of the technological aspects of the bond.
“What we’ve got in classrooms now are inferior educational tools. We need to keep up with the times.”
Mary Boger also spoke on the lacking state of technology within schools.
“The kids with their cell phones have more technology in their hands than they have in the entire classroom,” said Boger.
Addressing the palpable uncertainty over where Measure S’s money would go, Boger said, “I would simply say look at what we did with Measure K.” Boger was referring to the 14-year-old bond measure that Measure S would extend.
Carlson, a teacher at Roosevelt Middle School, contended that “a lot of teachers were not happy with how Measure K’s money was spent.”
The measure has also generated discussion in relation to the budget crisis. The potential for increasing cuts to schools has supporters arguing that the measure may become crucial for the district as a much needed source of funding. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office projected that the district would be cut $68.8 million in the 2013-14 school year.
Carlson questioned the projection.
“I’ve seen a lot of these fourth year (as in four years down the line) doomsday scenario projections. Last year’s said $50 million. These projections are the equivalent of a horoscope; they’re off by 180% on average.”
Carlson suggested a sales tax increase rather than an obligation bond, arguing that voters will have a more direct impact on where the money generated goes to than in an obligation bond.
“I think it would work. They’ve done it in Santa Monica [Measure Y] and the good thing is that this cost is not borne on the entire community because of other people passing through and spending money here. Also, in Jerry Brown’s budget, he plans to lower the sales tax, so an increase would only return it to the current rate.”
What was presented as a panel discussion became a two-sided debate, one that won’t be won until April 5. Even after that, with financial tensions mounting, the jury will still be out for some time.