Board of Education candidate Barbara Kahn
Board of Education candidate Barbara Kahn
Retired social worker
Director of youth activities at local social service agency
40 years of school board watching classroom volunteering and working for children’s issues
I served on the Measure A oversight committee, worked on numerous parcel tax campaigns and over my 40 years of involvement with the district I served on committees including interviews for selection of administrators; curriculum advisory; master planning
If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
My first priority is to develop transparency in district decisions.
Secondly, and related to the above, is restoring trust between community, teachers and administration including a redesign of the website to make it more user friendly and add to transparency.
Thirdly, getting a handle on how money has been spent, including facility funds in view of the neglected state of our schools with the priority for spending being on facilities that educate the children as well as moving forward with a budget that focuses on the classroom and learning.
What would you do to encourage harmony between the school board, school district administrators and teachers?
I would return to Interest-based bargaining , a process that enables traditional negotiators to become joint problem-solvers. It assumes that mutual gain is possible, that solutions which satisfy mutual interests are more durable, that the parties should help each other achieve a positive result Immediately plan sessions among teachers, administrators and community on issues confronting the district. School board meetings are constrained and formal. Teachers have not been encouraged to participate and some teachers and administrators have been sidelined by the current administration. I think the board needs training in openness. Bristling at questions, rather than welcoming those leads to disharmony. I have participated in master planning in the past where there was broad community involvement, encouraged and stimulated by the district where ideas were shared and discussed and consensus reached, unlike the present master plan which was essentially orchestrated by the administration. Currently it seems that decisions are made prior to the actual board meeting and that input from the public is not taken into consideration.
The district recently released a facilities report that outlined $92 million in needed facility fixes. How would you address these needs?
Again I believe that we have to have a community discussion of what we want our schools to look like. It may be that in order to offer a comprehensive high school curriculum some modification needs to be made. Encinal is run down; has a makeshift facility for drama productions and assemblies. Alameda High school has a campus that is so impacted that students leave the campus at lunch break since there is no room on the campus. The campus is fragmented and students have to run from Encinal Ave. to Central for classes for them. Athletic fields at AHS are blocks away from the campus. Several facilities are not occupied for classrooms yet they need maintenance. The community has changed through the years with development on Bay Farm Island and the departure of the military – Bayport has been added, and further development is coming down the pike. Rather than doing a piecemeal fix, a community based plan should be developed. A number of years ago Alameda had a master plan that was developed by hundreds of people meeting in committees, led by community people and supported by the professional staff. The outcome was a body of citizens who were knowledgeable and supportive of district plans because they were part of it. Partnerships with the business community enabled us to do this. I believe that we must develop good relationships with all who benefit from good schools, including parents, teachers, students, all sectors of the business community as well as the city government. Decisions by the board such as the decision to relocate district offices to a business park are not part of a comprehensive solution, commit the district to millions of dollars, and lack community support which is imperative if we are to work together to achieve a long term plan for our schools.
Do you believe Alameda’s schools are underfunded? If so, where would you find the revenue to address this problem? And if not, what do you believe the district’s priorities should be and how would you shift funds in order to address them?
All schools are underfunded. The problem is a political one and has to be addressed in that light. We have tried lobbying and litigation, to no avail. Proposition 13 has seriously limited the funding options for schools and unless it is modified, we will remain underfunded. The federal and state governments impose mandates and do not fund them, and so we have to rob Peter to pay Paul. The districts priorities should be the classroom and teaching and learning. Everything else comes second. As long as funding is limited, everything that does not go to the above should be severely limited. There are some areas that are expensive and could probably do well with cuts that could go elsewhere. Testing is very expensive, and of questionable value, costing thousands of dollars that could be redirected. Currently, the district adds significant amounts of testing in addition to assessments mandated by the state. The volume of testing needs to be analyzed and scaled back. I would like to review the administrative structure of the district to assess how significant some jobs are to the first priority of teaching and learning and eliminate those that do not meet that criteria.
What services should Alameda’s schools provide, and what services do you believe every Alameda student is entitled to?
Every student is entitled to a safe and healthy environment with competent teachers. Every student is entitled to an education that recognizes and maximizes his/her strengths so that the student feels confident in his/her potential for success. Every student should graduate ready for the world of work or further meaningful education.
Every student should be exposed to the arts, either as a participant or with an understanding of the critical relationship between the arts and community well being. In our fast growing age of technology students must be able to adapt and use to new ways of securing and imparting information through the provision of ample library and computer facilities. Physical fitness and the lack of it is a growing problem in America. Through participation in competitive sports and physical education lifelong patterns should be begun.
How do you view the challenges and/or opportunities posed by charter schools?
Charter schools are here to stay. Like it or not, by law the district has to cooperate in the development of charters, while exercising oversight to guarantee that they are delivering what they promised. Charters are formed for many reasons. Sometimes they are formed because they replace schools that are failing. Sometimes they are formed to address specific needs and interests of some students. Sometimes they are formed for profit. Sometimes they are formed to provide an elite private school education at public expense. Sometimes they are formed to get out from under regulations and unions.
We are not inundated with charters in Alameda, and there seems to be movement of students between our public schools and charters as children’s needs and parent’s perceptions change. See the next question.
Would you propose to compete with charters and private schools in order to retain students, and if so, how?
The district has to be aware of dissatisfaction in some schools, and work with the parents to resolve the problems. The district has to be aware of changes in the community that indicate the need for something other than the traditional school. The district should interview families who leave AUSD for private schools and charters to see what the underlying issues are and see if there are ways to improve our programs so that families choose to stay and support the schools within AUSD.
There is a wide disparity among PTA organizations’ ability to support their individual schools in terms of the amount of money each can raise. How would you address this disparity?
This is a very thorny problem. There are schools in Alameda where PTAs raise enough money to fund additional staff and special programs, and there are some that raise far less. Some districts have tried to require all money that is raised to be pooled and distributed. The cookie cutter approach to giving every school so much per child is easy, but it may be that a formula for equalizing opportunity depending on the affluence of the school should be explored. The schools that raise the most money are already ahead of the game because of the nature of their population. The district cannot legislate sharing. The district in budgeting has to be mindful of these disparities, and provide through its budget and equalization of opportunity for all children.
How would you improve the way the school district does business?
Immediately insist that all work and purchases be done on a bid basis.
Administrators have a way of staying just under the cap they are permitted to contract, without board approval and this does not lead to best value for the dollar nor to transparency. This policy should be reviewed as well as the process for reviewing warrants by the public and the board.