Board of Education candidate Michael Robles-Wong

Board of Education candidate Michael Robles-Wong

Alameda Elections '12
Michael Robles-Wong

Name
Michael Robles-Wong

Occupation
Retired Business Manager

Relevant Experience
I’m a retired public administrator and have extensive hands-on experience with budgets, financial records, contracts, personnel and collective bargaining, including 2 years working at a larger nearby school district. During the past 40 years, I have been an active volunteer, often involving myself in personally challenging endeavors. I have been a president or board chairperson for several of those community based organizations and professional organizations. I most recently served as the chair of the Measure A parcel tax and my family is a part of the public education lawsuit (Robles-Wong et al v. the State of California).

If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
My top three priorities as a board member would be: support more collaborative negotiations between the union and district; work on upgrading our facilities; and lead the district forward by achieving consensus.

What would you do to encourage harmony between the school board, school district administrators and teachers?
Search for greater opportunities for collaborative strategies. Teachers aren't the problem. They are part of the solution. We have to have constructive conversations, based on shared interests, in order to move forward.

The district recently released a facilities report that outlined $92 million in needed facility fixes. How would you address these needs?
The $92 million needed for facilities upgrades is daunting. The district certainly doesn't have that kind of money. I think one key here is working with the city to see if there are ways we can pool resources to work on upgrading facilities that can serve both our students and our community. One of my mottos is to search for solutions where the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts; in both my volunteer and professional experience I have found that collaboration between and among groups and agencies can be very powerful. I think that a city-district partnership here may help us achieve what neither side could achieve on its own.

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?
I definitely believe AUSD is underfunded. This condition is caused by numerous factors, including the fact that our funding formula was never re-worked after the Navy left our town in 1997 and the state's very irrational redistribution of public education funding. The pain this underfunding causes our district is compounded by teachers' traditionally low wages. In my opinion, the solution lies in gathering the forces to drive changes to the state’s distribution system, as well as working with nearby districts to perhaps pool resources, much like what we did to start the lawsuit in 2010. Alameda is not alone in being an underfunded district; all districts in California are underfunded and I believe we all need to work together to help the students in this state receive an education that will allow them to compete – and succeed – in the global economy.

What services should Alameda’s schools provide, and what services do you believe every Alameda student is entitled to?
State and federal guidelines already mandate what student services the district has to provide. I am, however, concerned in instances where funding a service to only a legally acceptable minimum renders that service ineffective, for example our drastically reduced counselor staff. I believe that every Alameda student should meet several times a year with an academic program counselor beginning in middle school, because academic choices towards college eligibility start at that grade level. Parents should attend AUSD choice workshops prior to their child’s 6th grade.

How do you view the challenges and/or opportunities posed by charter schools?
The district should be constantly evaluating academic strategies that improve student performance, and then adopting those strategies when they’ve been proven to work here in Alameda. This requires that we closely monitor the results of new charters, magnets and innovative programs /school of choice. My perception is that the district is not evaluating the success or failures of the charter’s academic strategies with the same intensity that we have recently begun with our newest magnets and innovative programs. By evaluating programs, and then acting on those findings, we can ensure that we are meeting 21st century challenges while using our limited resources effectively.

Would you propose to compete with charters and private schools in order to retain students, and if so, how?
My perception is that the district has been experiencing student migration to both charters and private schools at the start of middle school, but regaining some portion (not necessarily the same students) back in high school. Hopefully, the recent initiatives in the magnets and innovative programs/schools of choice will have a positive impact in the near future. If these and other strategies can mitigate the middle school institutional issues driving that 6th grade attrition, then an active marketing campaign for the district's mainstream schools should be initiated in the upper grades at our elementary schools.

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?
You're right. Schools that have more low-income parents often can't raise the same amount of money as schools with higher-income parents. This is grossly unfair for the students. One idea would be nurturing a collaborative effort among all small businesses located in an identified area to support a mutually beneficial plan. Another idea is to strengthen existing "sister" relationships between schools in our district so that parents who are skilled at fundraising can mentor parents who want to learn how to do that.

How would you improve the way the school district does business?
Our main business is educating our children at a high level in a nurturing and safe environment. If students and their parents are making other choices and going elsewhere, it behooves the district to diversify its own approach and become more competitive.